85-77 2007 Pythag W-L:
87-77 2007 Payroll:~99 mil
2008 Payroll:~104 mil
Coming: Kosuke Fukudome, Jon Lieber, Chad Fox, Shingo Takatsu
Going: Cliff Floyd, Steve Trachsel, Jason Kendall, Mark Prior
The Cubs were pretty solid last year, winning the division and more than 85 games for the fourth time this decade - the team only won more than 80 twice in the 90's.
Geovany Soto will take over behind the plate, the first time in a while that a veteran hasn't been the fixed starter on the North Side since the early 90's with Rick Wilkins. The 25 year old hasn't had a ton of major league exposure, but his minor league numbers - despite playing in the hitterific PCL - are impressive. Three straight years with OBP's over .350 was finally met with a power outbreak, raising his slugging from the sub-.400 depths to over .650. Henry Blanco figures to be his back-up, when healthy he's not completely awful in doing so and provides some pop.
Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot, Mark DeRosa, and Derrek Lee fill out the infield. Ronny Cedeno, Mark Fontenot, and Daryle Ward will serve off of the bench. Ramirez and Lee are A's on Jim Hendry's report card; acquiring them both for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez, and Hee Seop Choi. Lee is good for a high OBP, and around 70 extra base hits, Ramirez has came a long way from being a .280/.330/.448 player with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002.
The most interesting question about the infield is what would happen if Brian Roberts were acquired; it would make sense that Ryan Theriot would head to the bench, but could DeRosa handle short? Would Piniella's heart, or the Chicago papers, allow him to bench "The Riot"? My gut tells me no, which is too bad for the Cubs, because Theriot is the weakest of the infield players, and it's no where near being close.
Alfonso Soriano, Felix Pie, and Kosuke Fukudome will protect the ivy. Matt Murton, Ward, and Sam Fuld figure to back them up. Soriano's first season in pinstripes was - to say the least - not awe inspiring. He reverted back to his hacky tendencies and forgot how to draw more than 40 walks, remember 2006 is the only season in his entire nine season career that he's drawn more than that arbitrary number.
Fukudome and Pie are question marks, but intriguing at the same time. Pie struggled in his first major league exposure, but has mastered Iowa. Don't mention Corey Patterson around Cubs fans - either in terms of Pie becoming the next or giving Patterson a minor league deal and possible look-see as a stopgag if Pie were to struggle early on. As for Fukudome who knows what exactly he'll do, but assuming he walks and provides a small bit of pop he's probably a worthwhile addition.
Carlos Zambrano is the ace and he's good for more than 210 innings annually, but he allowed ever so slightly more baserunners and homeruns last year than in previous seasons, which could explain how his ERA has risen each of the past four seasons. There's not too much room for concern, but another year of decline is a trend rather than an anomaly.
Ted Lilly and Rich Hill form a solid middle of the rotation arms, with Hill budding into what the Cubs had hoped for from the former Michigan Wolverine. Lilly was the best he's been in a while, there's a possibility of regression, but he should still be above league average.
Jason Marquis, Jon Lieber, Sean Marshall, and Ryan Dempster will fight for the final rotation spot. Lieber and Marshall seem like favorites, but a Brian Roberts trade would likely eliminate Marshall from contention.
Dempster recording 85 saves the past three years show how valueless a closer and save can be considering Dempster was about as average as you can get.
Carlos Marmol seemingly will take that role, and he should excel, he's electrifying and has the makings of a relief ace. Bob Howry will likely be the top set-up man, although Kerry Wood will make a run at it.
From there it looks like Scott Eyre, Michael Wuertz, Sean Gallagher, Carmen Pignatiello, Neal Cotts, Jose Ascanio, Angel Guzman, Kevin Hart, and Rule 5 pick Tim Lahey will compete for a pen spot along with non-roster invitees Chad Fox and Shingo Takatsu.
Fox is - if nothing else - a nice story. The last time he pitched in the majors was in 2005 for the Cubs, although his last good season was in 2003 when he pitched for the Marlins in a World Series title run - doing so very effectively after being released by the Boston Red Sox. Fox of course underwent his second Tommy John Surgery which at the time appeared to end his career, we'll see if he can catch lightning in a bottle.
They have some question marks that need to be answered, but so does every other team. Nobody else in the National League Central, minus perhaps the Reds and Brewers should challenge the Cubs' second straight division title.