A reader suggested that during this slow rumor period, with 30+ days until the season starts, I do Team Outlooks once again. Sounds like a good idea to me; a lot has changed with most teams. Let's kick it off with the Cubs.
Jim Hendry's contract obligations:
C - Michael Barrett - $4.5MM + $0.133 of signing bonus = 4.63MM
C - Henry Blanco - $1.8MM
1B - Derrek Lee - $13MM
2B - Mark DeRosa - $4.33MM
SS - Cesar Izturis - $4.15MM
3B - Aramis Ramirez - $8MM + $1MM of signing bonus = $9MM
IF - Daryle Ward - $1MM
IF - Ryan Theriot - $0.38MM
LF - Cliff Floyd - $3MM + incentives/Matt Murton - $0.38MM
CF - Alfonso Soriano - $9MM
RF - Jacque Jones - $4MM
OF - Angel Pagan - $0.38MM
SP - Carlos Zambrano - $12.4MM
SP - Ted Lilly - $5MM
SP - Rich Hill - $0.38MM
SP - Jason Marquis - $4.75MM
SP - Mark Prior - $3.575MM
SP - Wade Miller - $1.5MM + incentives
RP - Ryan Dempster - $5MM
RP - Bob Howry - $4MM
RP - Scott Eyre - $3.5MM
RP - Kerry Wood - $1.75MM + incentives
RP - Will Ohman - $0.9MM
RP - Neal Cotts - $0.825MM
RP - Mike Wuertz - $0.38MM
I know I've got a 13-man pitching staff and 26 total players here, but we can safely assume one of these pitchers will be on the DL at any given time. I have the 2007 payroll around $99MM. Notice how the Cubs backloaded contracts for guys like Ramirez, Soriano, Lilly, and Marquis. They have a clear win-now strategy and could probably add one more impact $10MM player via trade if a large need surfaced. Could be trouble in '09 though.
OBP issues notwithstanding, I think the Cubs' offense is clearly above average. Just looking at league positional averages, only Izturis seems obviously below. DeRosa should be about league average at 2B. They didn't just add Soriano over Juan Pierre - they're replacing crap 1B production with an apparently healthy Lee. Left field could be improved as well.
Defense will be a concern with this club. Izturis and Lee can certainly handle their positions, but the rest are not known for glovework. Soriano is completely untested at a key defensive position, and Jones wouldn't be great either. If Felix Pie can give the Cubs league average CF offense right now, they should play him in center and ship Jones out for whatever. Lilly and Hill would be forever thankful.
The starting rotation should be the key to the Cubs' success. If this group can manage a collective 4.50 ERA, they'll be in the top half of the league. I have the Cubs coming in around 4.15, which is probably on the optimistic side. It's because I have Hill at 3.55 and 120 innings of Prior at 4.00. Then again, I don't expect Marquis/Miller to be much below 5.00 if at all. I don't think the Cubs need to rely on Prior/Miller. Sean Gallagher, Angel Guzman, or Sean Marshall could fill in capably as the #5 if neither rehab project pans out. I like the depth, and it'll be a good staff if Zambrano, Lilly, and Hill are healthy.
The Cubs seem to have a decent bullpen. I don't want to say above average, but I see the potential. Last year's relief signings turned out well and aren't showing scary signs of decline. The underrated Wuertz and Ohman give the team four solid relievers. A healthy Wood or effective Cotts/Dempster would be big lift and could lift the pen to above average. Larry Rothschild and the Cubs' training staff can make the difference.
If the Cubs don't give Dempster too long of a leash, are bold with Pie, and Hill's second half promise carries over, they should be at least a wild card contender all year. Those are my three ifs for the '07 Cubs.
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