Central Roundup: Chicago

The bottom half of the National League's Central Division has been sufficiently previewed, which brings us to the Brewers chief competition for a division title. Today the Chicago Cubs, tomorrow the St. Louis Cardinals. I rarely have anything positive to say about the Cubbies and the moves General Manager Jim Hendry makes and it's doubtful that will change today.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubbies have had a fairly quiet offseason, as has been their motif since the spent freely on Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Mark DeRosa a few years ago. They brought in some spare parts and one player they expect to produce but we'll see how that works out for them. Smart money is on not well, they are the Cubs after all.

That's new

The biggest signing the Cubs made would have to be veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd. This signing just screams of Jim Hendry. A 32-year-old coming off a career year in a hitter's park? Sign him to a three year deal. Byrd hit 20 home runs, 43 doubles and drove in 89 runs, all career highs. He won't be a Milton Bradley type flop but it's unlikely he'll repeat those numbers.

The only other signing the Cubs made was corner outfielder Xavier Nady. This is a risk-reward move, it will be interesting to see how he does in spring training considering he had Tommy John surgery after just seven games a season ago. The team hopes that Nady can platoon with Kosuke Fukodome in right field, but it's hard to predict how a hitter will respond to major elbow surgery.

Addition by subtraction... and addition

The best move the Cubs made this offseason was getting rid of Milton Bradley. Bradley was a cancer and everyone knew that move was going to blow up in Chicago's face. In return for Bradley the Cubs got back an awful, awful pitcher, Carlos Silva, who also has two years left on his contract. Silva will likely waste a roster spot for the Cubs and he will also be owed $3 million more over the course of his contract than Bradley would have.

In the end, no Bradley is the best Bradley for the Cubs. But Carlos Silva is not a good player by any margin.

It's a toss-up

The Cubs pitching staff is a complete enigma, but I think 2009 shed some realistic light on a couple of their pitchers. Ryan Dempster the starter has had many different incarnations and 2009 is probably much more indicative of what he is than 2008. Dempster saw his ERA rise from 2.96 to 3.65 last year. He will likely have an ERA just under four and put up very solid peripheral numbers.

Carlos Zambrano is what he is, a mostly good pitcher with terrific stuff who is prone to mental and in-game blow-ups. That's been the book on him his entire career and it's not likely to change anytime soon. Ted Lilly is a good pitcher, but he's not getting any younger. He's 34 and you have to wonder if his numbers will start to show age.

Next up is Randy Wells, who quietly was one of baseball's best rookies in 2009. For a guy that never had an ERA under 4.00 in two-plus seasons at Triple-A, the year he put up last year was very surprising. He's always had good command but it will be interesting to see how he deals with hitters as they adjust to him in his second season.

The fifth spot is one where there has to be massive amounts of concerns. As it stands now, The aforementioned Carlos Silva will be competing with the underachieving Jeff Samardzija and former Pirate Tom Gorzelany. The early leader might be Gorzelany who had the best ERA at 5.55 and best WHIP at 1.31. So it's either the horse shit, cow shit, or dog shit, good luck with that.

A fan's favorite word.

Ah yes, the platoon. That looks to be where the Cubbies are headed at second base in 2010. Mike Fontenot was given a chance to be the everyday starter a year ago but he failed to distinguish himself, hitting just .239 and .212 against lefties.

Sharing time with him at second will be one-time Colorado Rockie Jeff Baker. He hit .305 in 69 games for the Cubs after a trade last year. Baker may not be an all-star, but some combination of he and Fontenot should be an acceptable improvement from last year. That is, unless someone gets hurt and both players have to play an extended amount, in which case the Cubs are screwed because they have zero infield depth.

Moley Moley Moley

I'm not saying Kevin Gregg was a better choice but Carlos Marmol needs to be better than he was in 2009. Yes, a 3.41 ERA is fine and yes, he converted 15 of 19 save opportunities but he allowed way too many baserunners. He had a WHIP of 1.46 and walked 65 batters in 74 innings, closers shouldn't play with fire like that.

Yea, that's worked out.

Eight years and $136 million for Alfonso Soriano is looks just plain stupid. And for the next five years of his deal he'll make $18 million per! That's for a player that his seen his seen the following numbers go down every year since he signed: Home Runs, Runs, Hits, Total Bases, Batting Average, Slugging Percentage and OPS. He's 34-years-old and has five more years on his contract. Way to go Cubs, way to go.

Keep an eye on

Geovany Soto. The 2008 rookie of the year, after testing positive for marijuana in the World Baseball Classic, was terrible last season. He hit .218 and saw his home runs drop from 23 to 11. Just not very good in any way. Whether it's the pot, the work ethic or just a good old-fashioned sophomore slump, keep your eyes on him as spring roles around.

Not Getting any Younger

I wonder if Chicago's locker room smells like Bengay and tears. Take a look: Soriano - 34, Lilly - 34, Dempster - 33 in May, Derrek Lee - 35 in September, Fukudome - 33 in April, Aramis Ramirez - 32 in June, Byrd - 33 in August. Do you hear that? It's the sound of the Cubs window closing.

It's the Cubs

At the end of the day, you can throw out statistics and player moves. Projections are pointless because the Cubs will do what they've done for the last 101 years. They'll blow it. Sure they could push for the division but it's far more likely that they will just choke away a good (on paper) team and they won't win squat. After all, it's the Cubs.