Fixing the 2013 Cubs

In my last post, I detailed the 10 places (what a high number!) that the Cubs could stand to upgrade by merely getting an average player. Those 10 places were:

1. Centerfielder
2. Third baseman
3. Ace Pitcher
4. Rightfielder
5. Ace reliever (closer)
6. #2 pitcher
7. #3 pitcher
8. Fireman reliever
9. Utility infielder
10. Utility outfielder

What have the Cubs done to fix these positions?

1. Centerfielder
Last year, the Cubs primary infielder was, believe it or not, Reed Johnson. He provided 1.0 WAR before being traded, and afterwards a timeshare of DeJesus, Jackson, and Campana brought the season to a close. The Cubs so far have decided to move DeJesus to CF full-time, which will provide 1 additional WAR over last season. DeJesus is projected to have 2 WAR, but the league average at CF is 3; while the Cubs have probably improved, they still have some work to do in this area.

2. Third baseman
The Cubs have had a forced hand as far as 3B is concerned; there were only a few options available, and none of them ideal (Youkilis, Chavez, Keppinger). In the end, they just re-signed the oft-injured Ian Stewart and are ready to roll the dice with some permutation of him and Valbuena at the hot corner. I’m not convinced Stewart will provide much more than a single WAR; on the other hand, I don’t know how reasonable it is to have expected more from this position. All 3 3B are huge injury risks, and none of them are going to put you over the top or be here when you expect to be, so you might as well sign the cheaper in-house version of Chavez. 

3. Ace Pitcher
The Cubs haven’t really signed a true #1 this offseason but only because there are only two available. Greinke was #7 in baseball this year, and signed with the Dodgers. Sanchez was 22nd in the league this year, and the Cubs haven’t really been rumored in play with him so far. He’d fit the bill for sure, though. The other way to “fix” this is to develop Shark into a #1 pitcher, which is possible but not certain. I’d really like the Cubs to sign Sanchez, and I’d be willing to give him a very long deal for it.

4. Rightfielder
This problem was exacerbated when the Cubs decided to move DeJesus to center (where he still isn’t valuable enough). The Cubs gave Schierholtz the starting job this off-season; he provided 1.5 WAR last year and this year I expect him to do the same. He have not really addressed this problem at all, but the options to do so via free agency are little and less.

5. Ace reliever (closer)
The Cubs addressed this already, by signing Kyuji Fujikawa. He’s got the coolest name in the MLB, and I also think he’s good for 1 WAR. Funky deliveries from Asian relievers are always good the first year, even if they aren’t good afterwards. Think of Shingo Takatsu or Koji Uehara; he doesn’t throw like either of those guys, but even Takatsu was good his first year. This is the first problem the Cubs had that I think they legitimately solved, and the potential for a lot of surplus value here exists as well.

6. #2 pitcher
If the Cubs sign Sanchez, they fix this problem by way of making Shark the #2 (a role in which he would already be above-average). It’s another in a long line of reasons the Cubs should sign Anibal. The Cubs’ contingency if Shark is the de facto ace, is putting Garza in this role, where I expect (if healthy) he’d be a legitimate #2 option. I project him for 3 WAR. Feldman also has a chance to grab 3 WAR and be a #2 option if he’d stay healthy.

7. #3 pitcher
If the Cubs sign Sanchez, Matt Garza is the #3 pitcher on the Cubs. If this was the rate, that would be a GREAT sign that the Cubs would be a strong pitching team (at least on paper). As it stands, Feldman or Baker would fall into that role. Both have a good shot at 2.5 WAR, and I’d like to depend on only one of them. 

8. Fireman reliever
The Cubs missed out on Grilli this offseason, who would have fit into this role nicely. The signing of Fujikawa puts  this role squarely in Marmol’s hands, but Marmol will be traded this offseason almost certainly. I’d like the Cubs to sign another very good reliever; do that (and sign Sanchez), and you could make a case for the Cubs’ staff to be not just average but with upside to be legitimately above average.

9. Utility outfielder
10. Utility infielder

These guys are not super important, but we still haven’t really acquired them. One hopes that the addition of Schierholtz means that one of Campana or Sappelt can be a serviceable 5th outfielder, but that only works if Soriano isn’t traded; if he is, you’re counting on both of them. The infielder isn’t even on the periphery right now.

In summary, the Cubs haven’t really fixed their outfield issues, and it’ll get a lot worse if/when Soriano is traded. If they miss out on Sanchez, they’ll also have made a few risky bets to cover the starters. Third base is still a black hole, however unavoidable, but the bullpen has at least been slightly upgraded. The Cubs still have a lot of work to do if they want to be truly, truly competitive.

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