Well, I was always told not to point out something wrong unless you have an idea of how to fix it. Coming off of a 100-loss season and teetering on the possibility of another, the Cubs clearly need to improve in several areas.
But since I use my fingers to count and need one hand to type, I have come up with the five moves that will make the Cubs contenders in 2014 -- or not.
A True Leadoff Hitter
Before being moving to the Washington Nationals, and then the Tampa Bay Rays, David DeJesus held down the top spot in the order. While not spectacular, DeJesus was consistent, posting a .262 BA and .341 OBP when leading off. One thing he was not, however, was aggressive on the bases as evidenced by only 3 steals. A leadoff hitter doesn't necessarily need to be a speed demon, but given the Cubs' inability to drive in runs with something other than a homer or a ball in a gap, their No. 1 hitter needs to do more heavy lifting on the basepaths.
One name that has routinely come up as a potential target in free agency is Shin-Soo Choo, who has been a catalyst for the Cincinnati Reds. Choo has posted a .287/.423 BA/OBP split with 14 steals, albeit with more plate appearances than DeJesus. But he would certainly be an upgrade.
Another name on fans' wish lists is Jacoby Ellsbury, whose .299/.357 split is made much more impressive by his 50 steals. Also impressive is his reported price tag, which is said to start at 5 years/$75 million. But, at 29 years old, he's two years younger than Choo and is familiar with the Cubs' front office.
A Breakthrough Prospect
Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora -- these names are just a few of the many can't-miss prospects Cubs fans have recited ad nauseam. But that's often closely followed by the sad litany of names like Hee-Seop Choi, Felix Pie, Brooks Kieschnick, and Brant Brown -- all can't-miss guys who did. Miss, that is.
With Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo suffering through season-long slumps and Junior Lake still too green to judge, the Cubs are in need of a young farmhand who will not just get a cup of coffee but open a Starbucks. Truth be told, it'll take more than one. But just ask the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or the L.A. Dodgers what kind of impact one stud prospect can have on a team.
A Face of the Franchise
This could come from either of the previous moves, or could emerge from one of the players currently on the roster. Regardless, the GM should not be the face of the team and that is the case right now for the Cubs and Theo Epstein. Like it or not, he is man most associated with the club. Both Castro and Rizzo are signed to long-term deals, but neither has stepped up, either on the field or in the media as the de-facto team leader. Until Theo Epstein can cede the mantle to one of his players, the Cubs will be in trouble.
Kevin Gregg has been serviceable after stepping into the role vacated by Carlos Marmol's implosion. But his age (35) and declining performance will likely make Gregg expendable as well. He was excellent in the first half of the season, posting 17 saves, a 2.97 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 9.45 Ks/9 innings. Since the All-Star break, though, Gregg has a much more pedestrian line, with 10 saves and a 3.38/1.71/4.34. In Pedro Strop and Blake Parker, the Cubs have younger options (both 28) with more potential.
With his power arm, and the fact that he won't be a free agent until 2018, Strop should enter spring training as the Cubs' closer. In order to succeed, the team will need him to own that role from the start, lest he and the team suffer from the same lack of confidence that plagued Marmol.
OK, this isn't a player or a position, so I'm taking a bit of literary license with it. So whether it comes from the addition of a seasoned vet or simply from young players taking their lumps, the Cubs need experience in spades. A wise man once said that repetition is the best teacher, and, if that's the case, it would appear the Cubs are in need of a tenured professor.
Elite talent is one thing, but beer-league softball fields around the country are littered with guys who can turn a fastball around when it's thrown middle-in. In order to play winning baseball, a player must learn how to use his talent in different situations -- when to shorten his swing or dump the ball in the opposite field, when to take a pitch and when to swing away. He also needs to learn when to run and when discretion is the better part of valor.
"He" in this case refers to too many players on the Cubs' roster for them to win as many ballgames as the fans deserve them, too. So he needs to get better, whether it's through repetition, promotion or a big payday. And when he gets better, so will the Cubs, dramatically and in short order.The author spent his formative years on a farm and in a sleepy Northwest Indiana town in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are named after the team and years of frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And yes, he knows that that is contradictory.
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