When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer rolled into Chicago last season, everyone knew that the rebuilding process wouldn't be easy for the Cubs. Sure enough, the Cubs are 45-69 on August 14th, and in line for the third overall pick in next summer's draft after picking sixth this past June. Epstein and Hoyer have done a pretty good job at retooling the Cubs for the future, but looking at their team right now…their future rebuilding plan has already started at the major league level.
Looking at the Cubs' payroll situation for next season, there is a whopping one player who isn't under contract or team control: reliever Shawn Camp, who has been solid, albeit unspectacular for the Cubs. Every other player is currently signed through next season, still controlled under arbitration, or even still in their pre-arb years. This is both a good and a bad thig for the Cubs. With only two huge guaranteed contracts on their payroll (Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol), the Cubs could make a play for a big-time free agent this offseason if anyone hits them in the right place. I don't *think* that the Cubs would look to start throwing around money on veterans, but you never know.
Chicago's potential "infield of the future" is all in the majors right now. 22-year old third baseman Josh Vitters got called up earlier this month, and is playing beside 22-year old Starlin Castro (who already has played in 397 career games) at short. 23-year old uber prospect Anthony Rizzo has taken a hold on first place since being called up at the end of June, and second base is manned by the defensive-minded elder stateman of the group, 26-year old Darwin Barney. There's also the presence of 25-year old Wellington Castillo behind the plate, who was thrust into the starting role on a full-time basis after Geovany Soto was dealt to the Rangers last month. The only one of those five who might not be a long-term solution is Barney, who doesn't hit well enough to be confused with Chase Utley, but is fantastic with the glove. Questions have also been raised about Castro and his majority and Vitters and his approach at the plate, but neither will have action taken upon them right now.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, their infield is their biggest strength long-term right now. Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus are manning the corner outfield spots right now, but neither is a long-term answer. Both are on the wrong side of 30, and making millions of dollars. Sure they're both solid options *right now*, but neither is going to be part of a Cubs championship team in the next decade. Center field prospect Brett Jackson got called up along with Vitters earlier this month, and Cubs fans have been high on him for quite awhile.
The starting rotation is also a work in progress. Matt Garza will head up the rotation next year, but is a free agent after 2013. But past the currently injured Garza, Chicago's rotation lacks star potential. Jeff Samardzija has been excellent this year in his first season as a major league starter, but he's already 27. Travis Wood, acquired from the Reds in exchange for Sean Marshall this offseason, has potential, but hasn't converted it into major league success over the last two years. Brooks Raley doesn't scream anything more than "back-end starter to me", and Chris Volstad might actually be nontendered this offseason. Highly touted prospect Trey McNutt has taken a step back for the second straight year,
This is the biggest problem for the Cubs: the pitching. Coming into the year, only three of Chicago's top ten prospects were pitchers. One was the unimpressive McNutt, and one was Rafael Dolis, who has been awful in the majors as a reliever this season. The third is Dillon Maples, a 20-year old who has thrown just 7 2/3 innings in complex ball this season. However, after dealing Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves, the Cubs did receive Arodys Vizcaino, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery but ranked as Atlanta's second-best prospect coming into the year.
While the Cubs have an ample amount of hitting talent, and I didn't even mention top prospects Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler, they are extremely light on young pitchers. And this could be the downfall for Theo and Jed's master plan. While the Cubs offense has been the worst in the National League this year, at least they've begun to mostly do it with young, cheap talent as opposed to old, expensive talent. If the team signed Geovany Soto to a long-term deal, and re-upped with Aramis Ramirez this past offseason….what the hell would that bring to the team aside from a lack of financial flexibility? While the young core of the Cubs hasn't put it all together quite yet, with Jackson and Vitters exceptionally struggling since their recall, they're at least young and have room to improve. There really is nowhere to go from here but up, and Cubs fans should be thankful they're not paying anyone aside from Soriano eight figures a year to struggle.
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