2008 Chicago Cubs
Make or Break: A Century Later

BaseballEvolution.com 2008 Spring Preview
by Eric Freeman Jr, BaseballEvolution.com
March 27, 2008

Mere days from now, one of the scariest seasons anticipated to date will commence. To address the giant 800-pound pink elephant in the room for a second – the Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. Ooh, shocking, look at the symmetry. 100 years. You done yet?

Other things happened in 1908. According to legend out of the nation’s capital, the seventh-inning stretch was invented when the Club of 43’s fattest member – one William Howard Taft – stood up to stretch during the seventh inning. While probably apocryphal, the crowd allegedly noticed this behavior and replicated it out of respect for the president. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant, as it has nothing to do with the 2008 Chicago Cubs, anyway. My point is that hedging one’s bet on the Cubs merely because disaster awaits anything less than a World Series ring this year is a silly move, but you might get lucky in doing so, anyway.
Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Kosuke Fukudome OF
Reed Johnson OF
Jon Lieber SP
Departed Pos.
Jacque Jones OF
Cliff Floyd OF
Jason Kendall C
Will Ohman LHP

2007 Starter    Michael Barrett
Projected 2008 Starter   Geovany Soto

Last year, I had the gall to say Michael Barrett was “a dependable bat with a good arm.” After his trade to the San Diego Padres – becoming the backup for Josh Bard following a solid half-season taken by injuries – he left the catcher position open for longtime benchwarmer Henry Blanco, and the job seemed his for the taking.

Enter Geovany Soto.

This stud – as Asher claimed he would be in our fantasy baseball draft – lit up American Military Academy High School in Puerto Rico and stretched that success to an 11th round draft pick by the North Siders in 2001. Soto made it to the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in Iowa by 2005. Last season, in 100 games before being called up, Soto earned his trip to the show with 26 homers, 109 RBI and an OPS of 1.076 in 110 at-bats. If he can show the same production for his first full season after 30 major league games under his belt, he will become another shining exception that proves the rule against drafting high schoolers, and a welcome exception he would be.

First Base
2007 Starter   Derrek Lee
Projected 2008 Starter   Derrek Lee

Surprise Player
Ryan Theriot
Disappointment Candidate
Ryan Dempster
MVP Candidate
Derrek Lee
Comeback Candidate
Alfonso Soriano
Another banner year is expected from Lee, after a season with his second highest batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage since breaking into the majors with the Padres 11 years ago. He hasn’t lost a step in the field, and many are considering him as the pre-emptive favorite for MVP. His batting stats should go up, but all eyes are on his right knee and whether or not it will bother him.

Second Base
2007 Starter   Mark DeRosa
Projected 2008 Starter   Mark DeRosa

In his first full season with the Cubs, DeRosa proved his adequate hitting skills to match his superb defense. DeRosa will be staying put, but the rumor mill is buzzing about a possible trade to the Baltimore Orioles for 50-steal man Brian Roberts. DeRosa’s defense is an asset to the Cubs, but more speed in the lineup could do them good.

Fontenot hasn’t had enough time to shine, so the dream of the middle infield of the Cubs being composed of 100% LSU Tigers will have to wait until DeRosa inevitably stinks it up.

Alfonso Soriano

Third Base
2007 Starter   Aramis Ramirez
Projected 2008 Starter   Aramis Ramirez

No need. After his fifth straight season with 30 doubles, Ramirez is in the middle of his prime, making 2008 a season for the ages. Beware the hot corner, as this season it will be on fire.

2007 Starters   Cesar Izturis, Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Theriot
Projected 2008 Starter   Ryan Theriot

At least one half of my dream doesn’t need work. Ryan “The Riot” Theriot had my blood pumping with every one of his 537 at-bats last season. He was tied for fourth in the NL in AB/K and had 186 total bases. But Theriot – just as every LSU fan knows – is best in the clutch. Look for the first pressure situation, and think to yourself of someone other than Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. The Riot is the way of the future, and there’s no reason why he couldn’t get 120 runs, 180 hits, 30 stolen bases and 80 walks. Wait and see.

2007 Starters Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Matt Murton, Felix Pie, Cliff Floyd
Projected 2008 Starters Alfonso Soriano, Felix Pie, Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson

I’ve made claims of disappointments in the past, most notably the Jeromy Burnitz saga of 2006. As far as disappointments go, paying $5,633,333 for Jacque Jones to hit fewer home runs than any season in his career – with a whopping five – surely must take the cake.

But optimism, thy name is Fukudome. One way or another, every single one of the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Chunichi Dragon’s critics is torn. In 2006, Fukudome hit .351 with a 1.091 OPS, 31 dingers and 104 RBI’s. However, one need only look at Yankee Hideki Matsui’s utter dominance in Japan and subsequent solidity in the states. Fukudome will singlehandedly cause more Cub fans to bite their nails at once, thinking simultaneously, “Who the f@#$ is this guy?”

Cubs Fun Fact
The Cubs won only two of their first 14 one-run games last year, but then won 21 of their final 31
As far as Felix “Broken Nut” Pie (pronounced PEE-yay) goes, he strikes out way too often to be effective. He hit .365 in 55 games last season in Triple-A Iowa, but proceeded to the majors and compiled a .215 average in 87 games there. He shows promise and speed, posting a 0 in ye olde error column in centerfield, but don’t expect much from him offensively.

Alfonso Soriano: 4481 AB, 966 K. 70 RBI last season, his career worst for a full season. Went 40-40 for Washington in 2006. Went 33-19 last season. Still had 173 hits and 42 doubles, and his errors have gone significantly down since his move to left field. I still think the mere presence of Fukudome in the lineup will give Soriano, and the rest of the lineup, some added protection. But keep your fingers crossed.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Rich Hill, Sean Marshall
Projected 2008 Starters Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis, Ryan “Freaking” Dempster, Sean Marshall

Carlos Zambrano. Perennial Cy Young candidate, perennial dominance in July, perennial self-destruction in August. He has led the NL in walks allowed for the last two years, working as the workhorse of the Cub rotation. He, and the bullpen, received considerable help from former Blue Jay Ted Lilly last season, who, along with Jason Marquis, achieved the “at least” 12 wins I correctly predicted last season. Rich Hill has proven to be somewhat dependable, managing a surprisingly high 8.45 K/9 IP. But the surprise of this rotation comes with Ryan “Freaking” Dempster, making his way back to the rotation after a combined 85 saves in the last three seasons. Once again, keep your fingers crossed.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Ryan Dempster, Bob Howry, Michael Wuertz, Carlos Marmol, Scott Eyre, Will Ohman, Kerry Wood
Projected 2008 Relievers Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, Bob Howry, Scott Eyre, Jon Lieber, Kevin Hart, Michael Wuertz

Kerry Wood

Finally, the Cubs are nervous about the presumptive final stand of Kerry Wood. Almost $45 million has been invested in the 30-year-old Texan, and a somewhat shaky 72-57 record is all the North Siders have to show for it. As the Cubs have decided to move Wood to the closer role, it will be interesting to see whether or not we will see the same lights-out Wood that struck out 20 Astros10 years ago, or the shaky Wood of last season who gave up nine runs in 24.3 IP. Only time will tell.

Outlook for the Season

As painful as it is to acquiesce to the desire of seemingly every Cub fan around the globe, the Cubs have a legitimate shot at the World Series this year. The key, like every year, rests in the health of the pitching staff and the two corners Ramirez and Lee. Defense won’t be a problem, and the NL Central is weak enough that there’s no reason why the Cubs can’t repeat as 2008 NL Central Champions. Start your nail biting.

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