Last season: 71-91 (5th in NL Central, 25 GB)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Josh says: Cubs fans needn’t worry: 2012 will not be the year that their club makes the jump from “lovable” losers to another one of those boring, winning, self-satisfied Big City teams that fill the stands with baseball ignoramuses and their pink-hatted girlfriends (though they draw a lot from that crowd already–the Lakeview Real Estate Tycoons are Lee Elia’s New Fifteen Percent).
The bargain-bin Astros will be the only buffer between the Cubs and the basement of the NL Central this season, and when Houston departs for the Junior Circuit next year the Cubs will splat right down the stairs and stay for at least a year.
It’s okay, though, because the Cubbies are rebuilding. If the Goat or the Black Cat or the Bartman have lost their mystical power over the North Siders, with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer established in Wrigley’s cramped front office, the rest of the division should be frightened…in 2015.
Today, Alfonso Soriano’s $136 million Hopscotch Happening (now featuring sub-.300 OBPs!) continues in left through 2014, and maybe they’ll extend the middling Matt Garza, but Garza (or his agent) has a very high self-worth. Starlin Castro turns 22 this week, is under team control through 2017 and has a nice bat, but plays Hanley Ramirez-like defense. David DeJesus will be usefully forgettable, and Marlon Byrd will get paid another $5 million to be an affordable center fielder who is great trade bait (says everyone) but who no GM ever seems to want. Carlos Marmol will continue to impersonate a bourbon-laced Jackson Pollock in the final inning , and Kerry Wood must really like being able to walk to Second City openings from his Old Town pad, because he’s back to give the Cubs 50 decent innings and cause about 5.73 million “He COULD have been CLEMENS” sweats in fans.
Those are the guys that you might have heard about. Oh yeah, and remember when Geovanny Soto was Rookie of the Year? And Ryan Dempster is now a guy who throws 200 innings, instead of a guy who throws 200 good innings. Reed Johnson will fill the Hustlin’ White Guy role.
There is no Sean Marshall, sent to Cincinnati for a maybe-back-end-of-the-rotation guy in Travis Wood, a decent second base prospect in Ronald Torreyes, and Dave Sappelt, one of those adorable fifth outfielder types who is actually the size and physique of you or me. The Pirouetting Kosuke Fukodome is gone. So too Carlos Zambrano, who has taken his crusade against Gatorade to Miami, and Aramis Ramirez made the drive up to Brat&BeerWorld for $36 million. But there’s reason for a Cubs fan to be excited going forward, even those who thought that Jim Hendry was a competent baseball executive. While presumptive starting first baseman Bryan LaHair is your typical Hendry-era prospect (28, picked up on the cheap from another organization, was really great in Iowa last year [see Jake Fox]), Hoyer brought along 22-year-old stud first base prospect Anthony Rizzo from the Padres in exchange for Tyler Cashner, who was merely a reliever. Reportedly, the team has also signed a couple of Cubans: the 19-year-old hitting prodigy Jorge Soler and a 21-year-old lefty called Gerardo Concepcion.
However, those hopes are still far away. The truth remains that in a world where the division’s front offices are all about even–and the remainder of the Central is being run very well right now, every team a threat to turn into the small-market success that was the past decade’s Cardinals–Chicago’s absurd superiority in market size should have the Cubs thinking in dynastic terms.
Yet, this year (and next year, and maybe for three more, or another 104) the Cubs will persist in being the Cubs.
Worth watching: Wrigley has some of the hardest-assed ushers in the game. April, 35 degrees, home team down 12-4, most teams will let you into everything but the cushy, free-drinks seats. Not the Cubs. Fortunately, most of their ushers have been on Social Security since FDR introduced it. The Lady With the Oxygen Tank, God love her and I hope she’s still there, is usually on the first base side and is your best bet for getting into the front rows. Chris Volstad is an interesting reclamation project. If you want to get into the bleacher bums’ spirit and insist on a mixed drink (rather than being a grown-up and packing a flask), bring it in a sealable pop bottle. Even if the door people do see the broken seal and drop it in the can with a disapproving stare, you can pluck it right out, no problem, and still have a way to make Cubs Baseball bearable.
Featured Image Credit: Associated Press