2009 MLB Preview: #4 Chicago Cubs

Click Here to see Previews of all 30 MLB Teams

Offseason Movement: The Cubs were seemingly hosed by the Indians in a trade that sent ultra-utility player Mark DeRosa to Cleveland in exchange for minor league pitching prospects Jeff Stevens, Chris Archer and John Gaub, none of which were viewed as top 10 prospects in the Tribe’s organization. But maybe one of those youngsters will emerge as a quality arm down the road and DeRosa’s contract does expire at the end of the season so at least the Cubs got something for him. Chicago also added volatile outfielder Milton Bradley, reliever Kevin Gregg and pitcher Aaron Heilman, who will move to the bullpen after losing out to Sean Marshall this spring for the Cubs’ fifth spot in the rotation.

Top Prospect: Josh Vitters, 3B
This club is loaded with quality prospects, including reliever Jeff Samardzija, shortstop Ryan Flaherty and outfielder Tyler Colvin. But Vitters appears to be the best of group, with his excellent plate approach, outstanding hand-eye coordination and natural swing. Thus far in Single-A, Vitters is hitting .357 and slugging .529 in 70 at bats. At only 19, he still has a ways to go before he’ll make his big league debut, but Vitters appears to have quite a future ahead of him.

The Big Question: Will the bullpen be the Achilles Heel?
The Cubs allowed Kerry Wood to jettison to Cleveland in the offseason, but signed free agent traded for Kevin Gregg to compete with 26-year old Carlos Marmol for the right to be the club’s closer this season. Manager Lou Piniella is expected to announce who his closer will be soon, but if he’s basing the decision on spring performance, Gregg should earn the job. That said, Marmol clearly has the more electric stuff, but has been erratic and inconsistent when given opportunities. Prized prospect Jeff Samardzija is also expected to see time as a late-inning reliever, but he’s been brutal so far in spring training and might need more seasoning in Triple-A. Long relief is where this club could have issues, as Luis Vizcaino (27 ER in 46 IP last year), Chad Gaudin and Angel Guzman (6.00 ERA in 96 IP) all come with their flaws. But free agent signing Aaron Heilman (acquired via trade with Seattle) should help in that category and hey, at least there’s no chance of Bob Howry making any appearances after he signed with San Francisco in the offseason. The offense and starting pitching is solid, but perhaps the key to the Cubs’ success this year will rest upon the arms in the bullpen.

Outlook: I’ll save Cub fans the aggravation of reading another preview dedicated to curses, Billy goats and failed expectations. I’m sure they’ve already gotten enough of that from every other sports site and blog on the net. The bottom line is that the Cubs are built to win now and have one of the strongest rotations in the NL, led by a three-headed monster in Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden. The lineup is also one of the most balanced in baseball and while losing Mark DeRosa hurt, the signing of Milton Bradley (when healthy and taking meds) added a quality bat to the middle of the order. The bullpen has some question marks, but as long as Kevin Gregg or Carlos Marmol are reliable in the closers role, then the Cubs should win the NL Central and make another postseason appearance. Once they’re there, who knows? This club hasn’t shown the mental fortitude to win in the postseason but that doesn’t mean it can’t do it this year. As long as guys like Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano continue to produce, the Cubbies will once again give themselves the opportunity to win a World Series title.

Projection: 1st NL Central

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Related Posts