N.L. Central Preview: Cubs Start Fresh From The Top

Joe LaTengo | Updated Mar 16, 2012

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When you have a team which thinks it hasn’t won a World Series since 1908 because of a goat, you’ve got a problem. As a result, there’s no better time than now to fix things. How long the fix will take to get the Cubs to respectability is anyone’s guess.

The Action: The changes begin from the top. Theo Epstein left the Red Sox to take on the job of steering the Northsiders. He went to work immediately, hiring Dale Sveum as manager and Jed Hoyer as general manager. Hoyer found a taker for volatile pitcher Carlos Zambrano, getting starter Chris Volstad from the Marlins in return.

Hoyer didn’t stop there, acquiring Padres lefthanded-hitting 1B prospect Anthony Rizzo, Rockies 3B Ian Stewart, and starter Travis Wood. There were many free-agent signings, too, especially on the pitching side: former Pirates starter Paul Maholm, ex-Rockies hurler Rodrigo Lopez, longtime Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine and former Mariner Ryan Rowland-Smith.

As for the batters, Hoyer signed David DeJesus to a two-year, $10 million deal to play right field and bat leadoff, while Reed Johnson was also brought back for the other corner outfield position. Longtime 1B Carlos Pena decided to pack his home-run bat and move to the Rays, and 3B Aramis Ramirez signed with the Brewers.

It’s A Lock: Sveum has instituted a no-nonsense ethic where all the players have to own up to their mistakes. Ideally, that should bring more of a professional attitude to a club which has been known for a slacker mentality.

Matt Garza and Canadian Ryan Dempster head up the Cubs’ rotation once again. In the infield, despite some off-season troubles it appears Starlin Castro will be plying his trade at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Darwin Barney will be expected to continue his development at second base.

There’s an interesting competition in center field, where Marlon Byrd and Brett Jackson are swinging hot bats. Jackson will likely be sent down but if both stay hot, either one could become trade bait.

Hedge Your Bets: The club wants DeJesus to bat leadoff, but he doesn’t steal bases and hit only .240 for Oakland last season; he did hit .318 for the Royals in 2010, so maybe he can find that stroke again.

The starting rotation beyond Garza and Dempster is a bit of a puzzle. Volstad, Maholm, Wood, Lopez, Randy Wells and Jeff Samardzija are all jockeying for a spot. The bullpen is also questionable. Carlos Marmol is under increasing scrutiny for the huge jump his ERA took in 2011 (from 2.55 to 4.01).

Bryan LaHair is getting the first chance at first base, but he’s struggling this spring and some are already expecting Rizzo to take his place at some point. For now, Rizzo will probably be sent to Iowa to be their everyday first baseman. On the other side of the diamond, Ian Stewart will likely not be able to replace the high average or the RBI ability of the departed Ramirez.

The Payoff: The MLB futures betting has the Cubs doing somewhat better than their South Side neighbors the White Sox, but not by much. They’re not likely to win the Central division title or the National League pennant; Epstein, Hoyer and Sveum are going to need a lot of patience with this edition of the Cubs.

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