Additions: Milton Bradley, Ryan Dempster (re-signed), Kevin Gregg, Aaron Miles, Aaron Heilman, Luis Vizcaino, David Patton, Jeff Stevens, Joey Gathright. Midseason: Rich Harden
Subtractions: Kerry Wood, Mark DeRosa, Jason Marquis, Bob Howry, Chad Gaudin, Mike Wuertz, Felix Pie, Rich Hill, Henry Blanco, Jim Edmonds, Jon Lieber, Ronny Cedeno, Daryle Ward, Casey McGehee. Midseason: Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, Sean Gallagher, Scott Eyre
The Cubs made headlines by increasing their Opening Day payroll more than any other team, by $16.5MM. This was a necessity due to the team's backloaded contracts, though – incumbents Kosuke Fukudome, Ted Lilly, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, and Aramis Ramirez combined for a $17.9MM salary increase. To improve the team, it was still necessary to trim payroll. This resulted in the decisions to subtract Blanco and Marquis (good) as well as Wood and DeRosa (questionable).
The Cubs led the NL last year with 5.31 runs scored per game. The new lineup was designed with more lefty-righty balance in mind. Using CHONE projections and the lineup analysis tool, it projects at 5.29 runs per game. That projection will slip a bit if Bradley misses time. Bradley was a very risky signing, and he didn't take a discount to come to Chicago. He'll be worth it if the Cubs can somehow coax 130 games a year out of him; his history suggests they can't. The Cubs shouldn't be any worse for having Fontenot in the lineup over DeRosa, but the club didn't maximize its '09 return when they sent the veteran to Cleveland.
Last year's rotation was also the best in the league, posting a 3.75 ERA in 955 innings. They've subtracted 166.6 innings of 4.43 ball from Marquis and 54.6 innings of a similar performance from Gallagher. They'll hope getting more than last year's 12 starts from Harden balances out Dempster's likely regression. Signing Dempster at $52MM seemed acceptable on November 18th, but now the commitment looks a bit steep. Tweaking CHONE's innings projections and adding Jeff Samardzija to the mix, the '09 group projects around a 4.17 ERA.
The '08 bullpen posted a middling 4.10 ERA in 495.6 innings. In what can only be seen as a cost-cutting move, the Cubs chose not to offer arbitration to Wood (a Type A free agent) after his strong season. The team saved $5.8MM by replacing Wood with Gregg. Sending Jose Ceda to Florida for a year of Gregg was seen by most as an overpay. GM Jim Hendry overhauled the rest of the bullpen aside from Carlos Marmol and Neal Cotts, bringing in Heilman and Vizcaino in trades. Longtime Cub Angel Guzman was given a spot, as he's out of options. Patton was taken from the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft; he'll try to make the jump from High A ball. The Cubs lost $1.6MM by changing their mind on Gaudin, to whom they tendered a contract in December but cut in April. The Cubs' pen seems worse in the ninth inning but acceptable overall, projecting at a 3.96 ERA.
Defensively the Cubs ranked 9th in the NL according to The Fielding Bible II. They're better in center field, so perhaps a win can be gained on defense.
I project the Cubs at 92 or 93 wins, but they have two of the game's biggest wild cards in Bradley and Harden. The offense should mash again regardless, while the rotation looks good rather than great.
Bottom line: It'd be a major feat for the Cubs to reach the playoffs three years in a row, and this team projects as the division's best. Hendry could've widened the gap with more payroll flexibility, though.