It's that time again (seems to get earlier every year) and me and new team member Conor will be fighting it out for your hearts and minds with regards to how each team in MLB stacks up for the coming year.
First up it's The Cubs who finished last season with an NL worst 66-96 record.
Pete J Says : OK, the Cubs were probably the biggest spenders this off-season and a lot of attention has been lauded onto them, mainly thanks to the arrival of top free agent Alfonso 'contract year' Soriano. Was the investment worth it? Well they were the worst team in the NL so it's hard to say it didn't need to be done and but has the investment made them a serious contender this year?
The line-up certainly has a firm foundation with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the middle (possibly broken up by oft injured left handed bat Cliff Floyd) and Alfonso Soriano going to the top of the order so there is genuine power there but Soriano isn't the sort of guy who grinds out runs and gives an offence a consistent threat.
The outfield D will be poor with three left fielders (well two and Soriano) sharing the positions and I have no confidence in the pitching staff to give them an easy go of things. Beyond Zambrano its a real mystery as to what will happen. Of course they hope Mark Prior will be healthy and if he is he'll be the real difference maker from last years team but Lilly and Marquis are solid to average guys and no one is sure how the club will use Kerry Wood. In theory Wood and Neal Cotts will bridge the gap to Ryan Dempster but Wood has never been a relief pitcher and no one knows when his arm will fall off, Cotts was periodically rubbish last year and you never want your closer to have ten decisions to his name especially if nine are losses.
So in a nutshell, we have a rotation thats one injury away from being very average, a defence with big holes, a pen that could do anything and an offence that has very little depth. Not exactly a good recipe if you are chasing the reigning champs. They'll be improved from last year but they're basically a middle of the road side now rather than bottom of the pile.
Conor C Says : Okay, I like to see teams make real efforts to improve. I think you under estimate what Lilly brings to the fold and also that Marquis as recently as 3 playoffs ago was the Card's number one guy. I think the Cubs got a real steal. He had two absolutely dreadful outings in which he was allowed to give up 12 ER and 13 ER runs respectively and that really tarnished his ERA.
I think you overlook their depth of promising young pitchers who are, if not Major League starters this season, certainly very tradeable for 'now' starters once the season starts. Again with Lilly, once you remove three bad starts which all occured after Toronto were well out of the post season race, his ERA is high threes/low fours and he suddenly doesn't seem such a bad pitcher. Prior is the difference maker. I think he's due a healthy season but we'll see.
The line up is murderers row man, and if they can turn one of their prospects into a lead off guy. Ronny Cedeno has had a huge winter and could be the guy.... might he be moved to the outfield?
Pete J Says : Reasons to underestimate Marquis and Lilly include the fact that Marquis has put up progresively worse numbers year in year out since becoming a starter and Ted Lilly has never pitched 200 innings in a season. Its not even like Wrigley is a particularly good pitchers park and is going to help them. Both are guys who will post 4.00 to 4.50 ERA's on a good year and if they're on a good team that will also show in wins but the other thing to bare in mind is that Marquis was backed up by one of the leagues best defences the last couple of seasons (Lilly merely a good D) and last I checked Aramis Ramirez ain't Scott Rolen.
There is no one in the Cubs farm system ready to make an impact now and very little in terms of a real blue chipper (maybe Felix Pie could play center) but I don't see Angel Guzman stepping into the rotation.
Murderers Row is a phrase that seems to be over-used these days. I personally don't even think the Cubs match up to the Reds or Cards in the central and if the Cubs are Murderers Row then what the bloody hell are the Yankees? I don't see many teams really being THAT worried by Jacque Jones, Mark DeRosa, Cesar Izturis and Michael Barrett AKA the guys behind Ramirez. Its just a top heavy lineup that isn't particularly balanced.
Of course these things come down to what they should and will do and we both seem to agree that Soriano should bat third but we already know he won't. It makes more sense that Cedeno goes to second with DeRosa heading to the outfield and Pie playing centre but that means benching Jones and/or Cliff Floyd.
Nope, still not convinced they'll be in amongst it come September.