The 2012 Major League Baseball regular season has ended, and the Chicago Cubs finished with a dismal record of 61-101 (.377) and 36 games out of first place. In fact, only the Houston Astros had fewer wins. While the Cubs' record looks extremely disappointing on paper, I am not overly disappointed in the Cubs' season. I fully expected the 2012 Cubs to have a losing record, especially after the deadline deals. However, I still did not think they would lose over 100 games.
Young new roster
In comparison, the 2011 Cubs' season was far more disappointing. The 2011 Cubs had a roster that should have contended, but they greatly underachieved, winning only 71 games, just 10 more than the much younger and less-experienced 2012 Cubs. The difference for me is in the rosters. The Cubs ended 2012 with very few of the same players that finished 2011 on the roster. Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena left via free agency during the offseason. Carlos Zambrano, Sean Marshall, and Tyler Colvin found themselves new homes via trades.
During the 2012 season, the Cubs said goodbye to Marlon Byrd (traded) and Kerry Wood (retired). Then, the trade deadline arrived. Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto were traded to the Texas Rangers. Jeff Baker and newcomer Paul Maholm went to the Atlanta Braves. Matt Garza went down for the season to injury. The Cubs were already losing a lot at the July 31 deadline, but the losses of these players made things even tougher on the rest of the remaining roster.
Rebuilding begun in 2012
During the 2011-2012 offseason, the Cubs brought in a new management team. Theo Epstein brought his plans to Wrigley Field. Jed Hoyer took over as general manager (bringing top prospect first baseman Anthony Rizzo with him), and Dale Sveum began his full-time managerial career. Epstein explained his plans up front, and so far, he has followed through. He has jettisoned high-salaried veterans to bring in younger talent at many positions. Some top prospects made their Major League debuts, most notably outfielder Brett Jackson and third baseman Josh Vitters. In addition, Rizzo put aside a rough 2011 debut with the San Diego Padres and put up competitive numbers in the N.L. Rookie of the Year race in just over half a season.
Some bright spots
I named Rizzo as one of the Cubs' top five bright spots. He hit .285 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI in 87 games after his late June call-up. In addition, Jeff Samardzija (9-13, 3.81) emerged as a front-line starter, and Alfonso Soriano silenced many critics at the plate (32 HR, 108 RBI) and in the field (.996 fielding percentage and many great catches). Carlos Marmol improved his control just enough to reclaim the closer's role, and Starlin Castro received a seven-year deal. Finally, Darwin Barney tied the second-base consecutive errorless games (141) and could win the N.L.'s Gold Glove award for second base.
Rizzo, Jackson, and Vitters got their at bats. Jackson (.175) and Vitters (.121) did not hit very well, but they gained experience with seeing Major League pitching. They can take solace in Rizzo, who had a bad 2011 debut but a very solid 2012. Tony Campana is a premier base stealer, but he needs his chances. If the Cubs can get the production from their young players that management projects and add the right experienced veterans, then their future will look much better. I fully expect the Cubs to contend again by 2014 or 2015.
Raymond grew up in Florida and began watching the Cubs on WGN in 1982. He became a fan in 1984 when Ryne Sandberg hit the two famous game-tying home runs off Cardinals closer and former Cub Bruce Sutter. Raymond then solidified his team loyalty when the Cubs won the division later that season and has been a fan ever since. He played baseball through high school and soon after became a varsity coach. Raymond previously produced radio sports talk shows and hosted a weekly MLB radio call-in show. Follow Raymond on Twitter @RayBureau.
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