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David Brown

Spring Snapshot: Cubs return with almost the same 75-win team

Big League Stew

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Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next stop is Mesa, where the Cubs figure if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Or, we can't fix it, because we're broke. Something.

CHICAGO CUBS

2010 RECORD: 75-87, fifth place in NL Central

BIGGEST ACQUISITION: RHP Matt Garza(notes) (there you see him, on the right) was solid for the Tampa Bay Rays, and he moves to the weaker-hitting league. Should be a good pickup.

BIGGEST DEPARTURE: LHP Tom Gorzelanny(notes). That's it. That's the list. No sense in changing a 75-win team too much.

FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CUBS

1. Is it possible the Cubs are hamstrung by bad contracts? It's rude to answer a question with another question, but did you know the Cubs will pay Jeff Samardzija(notes) $3.5 million this season? Granted, he's a work in progress — he had an 8.38 ERA in 19.1 innings in 2010 — but GM Jim Hendry obviously thought he'd be ahead of where he is by now at age 25. He had to lure Samardzija away from the NFL draft somehow, but jeez. Overall, the Cubs' financial situation is curious.

2. But they're the Cubs; how can they not have money? Payroll grew from $99 million in 2007 to $144 million in 2010, so the Cubs do spend money. It's just that a lot of it is locked into underperforming players such as Alfonso Soriano(notes) and Carlos Zambrano(notes). There's been talk of a lack of financial flexibility under the new Ricketts family ownership. There was the matter of the team lobbying the state of Illinois to float $300 million in bonds to help pay for Wrigley Field improvements. That went over great, what with Illinois being broke and all.

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3. What's it going to be like not having a celebrity manager? Like predecessors Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, Mike Quade (arms wide) is a baseball lifer. But he wasn't a major league player like Dusty and Lou, and he doesn't seem to have any diva-like qualities. With a bald head and piercing eyes, he looks like Mr. Clean (without the earring). He speaks clearly, confidently and decisively, and not in circles like Piniella or Baker did often. Prediction: The Cubs will have less B.S. in 2011.

4. Can you believe Carlos Zambrano isn't 30 years old yet? Not until June. This will be his 10th season in the majors and it's been a mixed bag. Zambrano's 2010 season could be divided into three parts: 1. He started brutally and was quickly banished to the bullpen. 2. He returned to the rotation, but went off on his team — particularly Derrek Lee(notes) — in a dugout tirade in June. Ordered to seek counseling, Zambrano did. He says he's "cured." 3. When he returned (with Quade as manager) Zambrano pitched well, though he still walked too many.

5. Is Starlin Castro(notes) the next great shortstop in the majors? Yes, but. He had too many errors (27) last year and his total zone was -12 — which isn't good — but it's also not a reliable number because of a small sample size. His defense gets better with experience and confidence. Just 21, he has time to grow up. His offense (.300/.347/.408) was much more encouraging. Definitely watch this guy.

Follow Dave throughout spring training on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and check out the Stew on Facebook for more coverage.

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