This is the fifth edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first ten teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: the Chicago Cubs.
We knew what to expect from the Cubs in 2013. We knew that they were building for the future, and that their 2013 season was going to be a mess at the major league level. And in September 2013, everything appears to be on schedule.
Cubs fans shouldn't feel hopeless because the vast majority of the players who contributed to their 2013 season aren't expected to be long-term building blocks. Guys like Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, David DeJesus, Scott Hairston, and Alfonso Soriano were going to get traded sometime this year, and all were for varying returns. The club didn't get much value for Soriano or DeJesus, but got pretty good returns for the other three players, all things considered. If you're a Cubs fan that is upset about the club trading one of those player, you're one of the people that really needs to be reading this.
However, Chicago has seen some players that could be part of the long-term solution step up in the majors this season. Behind the plate, Wellington Castillo is looking like, at the very least, a capable backup behind a more established offensive threat. He's combined with veteran Dioner Navarro to give the Cubs a solid duo of backstops. 23-year old Junior Lake has more than held his own in the outfield. On the mound, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood have had seasons that make them appear to be more than rotation filler for the Cubs.
But where the Cubs really thrive is in the minor leagues. Javier Baez smashed 37 homers between high-A and AA this year. Christian Villanueva and Arismendy Alcantara have taken huge steps forward in AA. Pitcher Kyle Hendricks could make a push for the 2014 rotation. CJ Edwards was incredible in six starts after coming over from the Rangers in the Garza trade. Albert Almora was great in an injury-shortened season. Jorge Soler's first full year in the States was shortened by injury, but solid. Second overall pick Kris Bryant was an absolute monster in his first pro season.
The transformation of this organization by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer is nothing short of amazing. The Cubs' young talent isn't quite as close to being major league ready as the Astros' young talent, but those trees are probably going to be bearing fruit at Wrigley in 2014. It looks like Chicago is probably going to struggle again in 2014, but the club still has some talent to sell off to continue to build for the future, though Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are still likely part of the plan after their disappointing 2013 seasons.