The team will look a little different going into 2012. 3B Aramis Ramirez joined the Milwaukee Brewers after eight and a half years with the Cubs. In separate trades, they moved RHP Carlos Zambrano, OF Tyler Colvin and LHP Sean Marshall and brought back RHP Chris Volstad, 3B Ian Stewart and LHP Travis Wood. They also brought in 1B prospect Anthony Rizzo from San Diego in exchange for RHP Andrew Cashner. They also let free agent 1B Carlos Pena (Rays) and OF Kosuke Fukadome (White Sox) move on. Additional newcomers include OF David Dejesus and LHP Paul Maholm.
Offensively, the Cubs gave up a lot letting Ramirez and Pena go. At this point they do not have a clean up batter. Marlon Byrd (.276, 9, 35 in 119 games) and Alfonso Soriano (.244, 26, 88) are the prime candidates to start the season hitting 4 and 5, one way or the other. Brian LaHair and Rizzo are expected to battle for the starting 1B job, with a platoon a distinct possibility. Stewart, after being highly touted by the Rockies for the past couple of years, is coming off a terrible season (.156, 6 RBI in 48 games). The Cubs will give him a chance to play 3B and hopefully turn things around. Starlin Castro (.307, 10, 66 with 207 hits) is their star and will probably bat 3rd this season. Darwin Barney is a gritty 2B who will probably bat leadoff followed by the RF DeJesus. The 1B will bat 6th, followed by Stewart and C Geovanny Soto (.228, 17, 54). Reed Johnson leads the bench with either LaHair or Rizzo, either Adrian Cardenas or Blake Dewitt and probably Jason Jaramillo as the back-up catcher. The last spot will probably come down to OF Tony Campagna and INF Jeff Baker.
The starting pitching is led by RHPs Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. Wood has the ability to be a very good starting pitcher. (He was among my top ten surprise pitchers in one of my earlier posts.) Maholm and Randy Wells are the favorites for the 4th and 5th rotation spots with Volstad and Casey Coleman in the mix. The bullpen is lead by Carlos Marmol, who had a terrible season last year. Jeff Samardzija and Kerry Wood will be part of the pen along with LHP James Russell. They have to make up for the loss of Marshall. 23 year old Rafael Dolis is expected to have a large role in the bullpen this year.
The starting pitching will give fans the biggest hope to be competitive. Garza and Dempster should pitch well, hopefully the team scores enough runs. Byrd and Soriano need to produce and Stewart and either LaHair or Rizzo need to make up for the 54 HR and 173 RBI they lost when Ramirez and Pena left as free agents. A tall order. Marmol as the closer is a scary proposition and if he is as bad as he was last year, it is not going to be good.
Vegas puts them at 74.5, which is not terrible. I think too many things have to go right for the team to win more than that. I think they will win 71, slightly under the mark. At 71-91, that puts them in 5th place in the NL Central. I like what Epstein and Hoyer have done though. They have changed the composition of the team immediately. The Cubs should be on a better track going in to the 2013 season, especially if they are able to find a taker for OF Alfonso Soriano; signed through 2014.