But it's a safe bet to assume that many of the front office's eyes will be on new manager Rick Renteria, and how players like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo develop under him. Because if the Cubs tank in 2014 while not showing growth, you can bet Renteria will be one of the first casualties.
You almost have to wonder if Renteria isn't considered a stopgap manager anyway, but if he is to hold onto the job longer than a season, here are a few players who need to show up to play for him:
A lot of people seem to be in a semi-panic over Castro's wretched 2013 campaign. It was pretty bad overall, but this is a player who had two .300-average seasons before the age of 22. Honestly, the man is allowed a down year.
He'll probably never be an elite defender, but if Castro has a sub-par 2014, people are going to have a panic attack. When your team isn't necessarily built to compete, the manager's primary duty is developing the young players. Castro needs to have a bounce back season, whether it counts as "development" or not.
The primary difference between Castro and Rizzo is that Rizzo hasn't shown the top-tier potential he's been advertised to have. Castro, at least, had a couple of encouraging seasons before suffering his first major setback.
Rizzo has shown his bright spots (particularly on defense), but hasn't broken into the category of team cornerstone that he's expected to be. Like Castro, Rizzo had a disappointing season in 2013 and will need to rebound. If he does, it'll make Renteria look awfully competent.
Lake is a more intriguing study than Castro or Rizzo, at least in terms of measuring a manager's influence on a player.
We'll watch Rizzo and Castro and expect them to improve (and probably give management partial blame if they don't), but both of those players already have multiple major league seasons under their belts. Lake, on the other hand, is more raw and only has months under his belt, not years. Watching how Lake develops could be a nice gauge as to where Renteria is getting his message through.
Middle Relief (James Russell, Pedro Strop, Blake Parker, etc.)
The Cubs' starting rotation looks below-average to average on paper. They also look to have an average closer in Jose Veras. The 197 losses over the last two seasons is far, far below average. Renteria and the Cubs will harness many more wins if the bridge between the starters and Veras can be consistently traveled.
The Cubs had 26 blown saves in 2013, but only 5 came from closer Kevin Gregg. More often than not, the problem was actually getting the ball to Gregg. The names in the Cubs' bullpen look safer than they have in recent years, and should they solidify the journey from starter to closer, the Cubs will definitely improve in the win-loss column. And that will make Rick Renteria look even better.
The Cubs have needed a steady presence behind the plate for a long while. Geovany Soto appeared positioned to be that steady presence after his rookie season back in 2008 (.285, 23 HRs, 86 RBIs), but quickly fizzled into disappointing mediocrity thereafter.
Castillo has shown slow, but steady, improvement over his first two full seasons, but has struggled with injuries enough to dampen the excitement about his overall ceiling. His .311 batting average in September last season has increased the expectations around his offensive production and has already shown potential as a defensive catcher.
A steady production from the catcher position would go a long way to adding another solid bat in the Cubs' lineup and would add some consistency for the Cubs' pitchers behind the plate. Castillo could have a significant trickle-down effect. Just ask St. Louis Cardinals fans what a catcher can end up meaning to a team.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. He was heartbroken in 2003, disappointed in 2007, and truly believed in 2008. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow (and suffer with) the Cubs and he is cautiously optimistic about the current rebuilding scheme. He also writes music and short stories.
- Sports & Recreation
- Chicago Cubs
- Anthony Rizzo
- Rick Renteria
- Starlin Castro