by Brad Shulkin (ChicagoSportsWeekly)
God, there is so much to make of the Cubs this season. Will they be contenders in a Central Division that lacks a lot of power, especially with two of the best hitters in baseball, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, leaving their respective teams to get more money? It’s very hard to say at this point in time, but I would’t bet on it. The Cubs are young, but not rebuilding, with guys like Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd filling holes in the outfield until the younger guys can make the move up to the big leagues. Actually, on second thought, they are the holes, especially Soriano and his glove, which I am convinced has a giant hole right in the middle of it. But Cubs fans, don’t worry, he has shown great promise this Spring. Didn’t that happen last year as well?
Let me take some time to point out something that needs to be pointed out. For the first time since I was born, a little over 18 years ago, the line “THIS IS THE YEAR” has yet to be used. Maybe it’s Epstein’s aura in Chicago, or maybe Cubs fans finally realize that any team with Alfonso Soriano just can’t win. Or maybe it’s Carlos Zambrano, whose move to Miami sparked huge expectations for a championship this year. God, I always knew Carlos was special. Being a fan for all my life, I still can’t fully understand the makeup of a Cubs fan, sitting at Wrigley day in and day out, rooting for their team that no matter what, will still continue to lose.
Over the past few years, I have really seen first hand at what the Cubs organization is all about. But when the Ricketts family was forced to bring in the all-star crew of Epstein and Jed Hoyer, I knew that it was bad. It says a lot about an organization when the top headlines for the year surround all-star front office men, and not all-star talent on the field. I absolutely won’t be betting on the Cubs to even make the playoffs, even with the new rule, which sends two wildcard teams to the post season.
Now lets get serious. I really like what the Cubs are doing on the player development side. I have said this for years, but until the Cubs revamp their minor league system and start from scratch, they will never win a World Series. Up until this year, they had one of the worst player development systems in the league, destroying young talent by sending them up to the big leagues to early in their careers. But now under the management of Theo, the system is starting to take shape. Ultimately structure was lacking, and I give the Ricketts family a lot of credit for bringing in the best guy to fix the problem.
In terms of the Cubs ability to compete on the field this year, I would say not a chance. A lot of this year will be dedicated towards experimentation to see which players are at the level to play in the big leagues. Although Theo and Jed have said that they are not in a rebuilding mode numerous times, I still can’t buy it 100 percent. I think that to create a proven winner that will contend for numerous years to come, they need to experiment with the players they have and see which ones are big league ready.
One guy I would watch out for this year is Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs recently just sent him down to the minor leagues, but we all know at some point in the season, he will be back up. The cubs acquired Rizzo in a trade with San Diego, with the goal of making him their first baseman of the future. He has the potential to be a big force in the big leagues, but hasn’t shown it quite yet. Although his big spring did help his cause, hitting .364 including five hits in 10 at-bats against lefties, he has to prove that he can do this on a consistent basis. If Bryan LaHair should struggle in the big leagues, Rizzo will absolutely get the call later in the year.