Strengths: Youth and contract structures. Yes, I’m reaching a little bit. But after two consecutive terrible seasons, it’s hard to come up with strengths. That said, core players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are quite young and have time to rebound from poor 2012 campaigns. And while not a ton of progress has been seen from the Theo Epstein rebuilding plan, the Cubbies have not, save for the terrible Edwin Jackson deal, committed a ton of money to middling players who don’t deserve it, allowing them the flexibility to make larger investments when their prospects mature into everyday producers and the win count begins to rise. Infield prospect Javier Baez is only 20, but appears to be close to Major League ready after hammering 37 home runs across two minor league levels in 2012.
Weaknesses: Lack of impact players, and the bullpen. They’ve got some nice pieces, and decent values on the roster (see: Schierholtz, Nathan), but no real impact players. There’s no ace, though Travis Wood and Jeff Szamardzija have some ability. There’s nobody in the bullpen that can be labeled as a late inning, shut down guy. If you’re going to commit to a full rebuild, you will want to see some semblance of results by year three and you just have to wonder where those results are going to come from.
Off-Season Needs: Figure out which of your prospects are closest to ready for the big time, and sign some low cost, short-term stop gap guys. Don’t repeat the Edwin Jackson calamity. If you’re looking for examples already on the roster, guys like Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena stand out.
2014 Projection: Maybe they get to 70 wins? Maybe Rich Renteria turns out to be the next great manager? Maybe Theo Epstein’s reputation from Boston is overblown, and this team goes nowhere. I’ll give it one more year to see progress and guess 70 wins.