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2006 Team Preview: Chicago Cubs
by Eric Freeman Jr.
March 27, 2006



2006 Chicago Cubs Preview

2005 Record: 79-83 (4th Place NL Central)

 

2005 Runs Scored: 703

 

2005 Runs Allowed: 714

 

Pythagorean 2005 Record: 80-82

 

Scott lives in Chicago, Keith lives in Chicago, Asher loves Chicago, and my dad was from Chicago. But my AIM screen name is cubbiesfan217, so I get to write this preview. Rest assured, my extreme (and at times fanatic) loyalty to the Cubs will not get in the way of this preview, although I’m starting to buy into Sportscenter’s week-long expose of the possibility of ending 98 years of heartbreak and sadness. (If I was the host of some late night talk show, I would pray that the Cubs held their “ending of the curse” to 2008, thus spawning a plethora of “The Cubs only win every century. Cubs in 2108!!!” jokes. Enough of my milking this article for everything it’s worth.

 

Catcher

 

2005 Starters: Michael Barrett, Henry Blanco

 

Projected 2006 Starters: Michael Barrett, Henry Blanco

 

I’ve always thought of Michael Barrett as nothing but solid. He brings consistency and balance to the all-but-exclusive 2-3-4 Club, and I don’t see why he can’t have another year of “nothing but solid.” As far as Henry “Stop asking me about Kathleen” Blanco, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cubs traded him for prospects.

 

First Base

 

2005 Starter: Derrek Lee

 

Projected 2006 Starter: Lee

 

I’m still venting about the 2005 NL MVP selection of Albert Pujols. Certainly, this doesn’t diminish from my opinion of Pujols; I still believe he’s one of the best in the league, and if he continues his play, he’ll be among the top ten ever. Also, as much as I loathe the Braves, Andruw Jones is the one shining light beaming over the diamond from center. He’s won eight straight Gold Gloves, his first Silver Slugger Award, as well as the NL Hank Aaron Award, and the 2005 Major League Player of the Year. That’s all fine and dandy, but it’s time for a comparison of numbers.

 

 

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS+

Pujols

161

591

129

195

38

2

41

117

.330

.430

.609

167

Jones

160

586

95

154

24

3

51

128

.263

.347

.575

133

Lee

158

594

120

199

50

3

46

107

.335

.418

.662

177

 

So, I guess it’s not enough that Derrek Lee, who flirted with the Triple Crown for most of the season, led the league in batting average, slugging, OPS, adjusted OPS, hits, total bases, doubles, runs created, and extra base hits. Andruw Jones was runner-up because of leading the league in home runs and RBI, the two most overrated statistics in baseball. But the MVP went to Pujols, I guess because baseball writers decided that he shouldn’t suffer any longer after four years of being the MVPOTB (Most Valuable Player Other Than Bonds). Sheer blasphemy. My point is, Lee should be his same self again this year.

 

Second Base

 

2005 Starters: Todd Walker, Jerry Hairston

 

2006 Projected Starters: Walker, Hairston

 

Todd Walker and Jerry Hairston. I just don’t know. Both of them have been fairly average 7-8 hole hitters, but Walker has somewhat of an edge for the position, because in the off-season Hairston has been competing with Matt Murton for left field (more of that later). The Baltimore Sun reported that Todd Walker might be involved in a trade to the Orioles for Luis Matos, which would mean Hairston would start at second, and Matos and Murton would battle for left field. But I like Walker to stay with the Cubs and start at second. I mean, he went to LSU.

 

Third Base

 

2005 Starter: Aramis Ramirez

 

2006 Projected Starter: Ramirez

 

Nothing but solid at third for the past two seasons, Ramirez has shown in Spring Training that he will be force to reckon with this year. In fact, other than Derrek Lee, Ramirez is the only Cub who knows where he will be playing next season: The hot corner in Wrigley.


 
Ramirez brings stability to a "dysfunctional" Cubs team 

 

Shortstop

 

2005 Starters: Neifi Perez, Nomar Garciaparra

 

2006 Projected Starters: Ronny Cedeno, Perez

I’m going to do this one using logistics.

Ronny Cedeno

Neifi Perez

23 years old

33 years old

Above average defender

Above average defender, 6 years ago

One of the most promising prospects in baseball today

Old

Above average offensively

Above average offensively, 6 years ago

Probably starting most of the year

That old guy on the bench

 

Advantage: Cedeno.

 

Outfield

 

2005 Starters: Todd Hollandsworth, Corey Patterson, Jeromy Burnitz, Matt Murton, Jerry Hairston

 

Projected 2006 Starters: Murton, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones, John Mabry

 

Wow. Um, just wow. The Cubs went from a somewhat solid mix of contact, speed, and strikeouts, to unproven, really fast, and whatever witty one-word euphemism for Jacque Jones.

 

A while ago, I started an article titled “Why Corey Patterson is not Juan Pierre”, but it’s a work in progress. All I know about Juan Pierre is that he’s the only player that will always swipe second and third against me whenever I play MVP Baseball 2005. And it seems the Cubs acquired him at the perfect time, after batting .326 with 45 walks, 45 stolen bases, and 45 reasons why he’s superior to Patterson (Reason #29: he will never be one of those “He had the potential to go 30-30” guys that live in the minors with 500 strikeouts.).

 

Matt Murton licked his chops last year after suffering as Todd Hollandsworth’s backup to become one of the most anticipated rookie debuts in history (21st century history). Technically, he’s not a rookie anymore, but let’s pretend. I didn’t know Murton’s name until about 20 minutes ago, but he has 3-4-5 Club potential, a good arm, and defense. What does Hollandsworth yield? An injury-prone disappointment who’s been on 6 different teams in the last 11 seasons.

 

As far as Jacque Jones is concerned, the Cubs might want to re-think this acquisition. Jones has been a relatively dependent outfielder, but his numbers have taken a bit of a dip since his breakout year in 2002. He’s one of the more overrated players in baseball today, but he’s replacing the biggest disappointment in Cub history in Burnitz. After doing well as a member of the Rockies (I could go .283/37/110 in Coors Field), Burnitz showed to the world that he’s just not that good. So Jones is led in to transform the Cub defense, as well as shifting the source of offensive power back to the infield for Lee and Ramirez. But Jones’s numbers should shift back up with a change of scenery. The winds of Chicago could prove beneficial to Jones’s 2006 stat line.

 

Pitching

 

2005 Front Three Starters: Carlos Zambrano, Greg Maddux, Mark Prior

 

2006 Projected Front Three Starters: Zambrano, Prior, Kerry Wood

 

I know, “injuries, injuries, injuries.” Everyone thought that Nomar Garciaparra was the missing piece to the puzzle of 2004. Then he got hurt, and then got hurt again, and Wood got hurt, and Prior got hurt, and The Curse of the Billy Goat lives on. If Zambrano can stay healthy, and Greg Maddux works well in April, and Prior and Wood go back to the lethal one-two domination they were in 2003, then this three will compose the best pitching trio in the majors. But it’s a lot of “What if’s.”

 

Other 2005 Starters: Glendon Rusch, Jerome Williams, Sergio Mitre

 

Other Possible 2006 Starters: Maddux, Williams, Rusch, Rich Hill, Wade Miller

 

“Greg Maddux is a sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer.” I wish we had Maddux in his prime. I mean, Mike Hampton is the only player to win the NL Gold Glove in the last 15 years who isn’t named Maddux. And Maddux will still be dependable enough to win at least 13 times this year, but he’s 40. And I knocked 33 year old Neifi Perez for being old. His performance will either be a signoff to his incredible career, or his membership card into the “Most Impressive Baseball Players Over 40 Club.” He’s always been consistent solely because his outs are mostly of the groundout/flyout variety. With a faster outfield and his same consistent infield, Maddux should be solid.

 

Thank goodness Sergio Mitre’s gone.

 

Thank goodness Prior and Wood should be healthy (sort of) by May, meaning Glendon “Salman” Rusch won’t have to pitch as often.

 

And finally, Jerome Williams is really young. This only means he’ll get better. He has loads of potential on his resume after going 10-7 for San Francisco in 2004. His health, believe it or not, has been a concern, but since working out all of the kinks in his shoulder, he has become (in the off-season) a reliable number five starter. But it’s embarrassing to be looking at him pitch, and only thinking one thing: “It’s Cecil Fielder on the mound.”

 

2005 Top Relievers: Ryan Dempster, Will Ohman, Mike Remlinger, Michael Wuertz, Roberto Novoa

 

2006 Projected Top Relievers: Dempster, Ohman, Bob Howry, Scott Eyre, Jae Kuk Ryu, Scott Williamson

 

 
Now, now, we don't need any more injured Cubs 
I was wrong about Ryan Dempster. But I’m still a little worried about him. Not since 1994-95 did the Cubs start two seasons with the same closer (Randy Myers), and if Dempster gets hurt, it’s practically a Cub tradition to “audition” someone new for the role, then all of a sudden the new closer is awesome, the old closer experiences a setback, the new closer becomes the “permanent” closer, and the old closer gets traded to the crappy NL East team of your choice. So I hope Dempster stays healthy, so the Cubs have someone decent to pitch after surviving the visitors’ onslaught thanks to their shaky bullpen.

 

Final Word

 

The final word is health. So many people are at so much risk for undergoing so many different versions of Tommy John surgery, depending on whatever position they play. But if healthy, the Cubs look really good. I don’t know if Wild Card or Division Winner is in the stars for the “other team in Chicago,” but this season should be interesting for the Cubs this year. Keep your fingers crossed, Wrigleyville.

 

Projected 2006 Record: 87-75, third place in the NL Central





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