COMMENTARY | When you are a team that is knee-deep in rebuilding, unfortunate realities are usually a dime a dozen because, more often than not, your team isn't very good. Although the Cubs have shown some significant strides over the first two months of the 2013 season, they are not yet at a point where they can be considered a strong, contending team -- fourth place in the division coupled with a record well below .500 satisfies that argument in the short term.
Strides are common and expected for a team working their way up from the bottom, but there are growing pains, unforeseen setbacks, and just bad luck that go right along with those strides. Here are a few of those unfortunate realities for the 2013 Chicago Cubs.
Kyuji Fujikawa - Season-Ending SurgeryPrior to the announcement that Fujikawa was heading for Tommy John surgery, I wrote a piece arguing that Fujikawa, despite his inconsistency and injuries, could not be considered a free-agent bust this early in the season. While I believe those points still stand in the long term, the surgery means he absolutely is a bust in the short term.
Losing Fujikawa is unfortunate because the Cubs need all the help they can get in an inconsistent bullpen (though Fujikawa was part of that inconsistency). It is also unfortunate because had Fujikawa had the chance to improve his performance, he could have been a viable trade option around the trade deadline if the Cubs wanted him to be. As it stands, the Cubs will have to wait on his recovery and hope he comes back stronger.
Two Closers Who Are Neither One Closing GamesThe Cubs have two closing pitchers who are being paid a combined $14.4 million in 2013. The previously mentioned Fujikawa is done for the year thanks to Tommy John surgery. Carlos Marmol has been a bullpen nightmare and consequently lost his job about a week into the season.
The Cubs are in enough hot water as it is, but Kevin Gregg's re-emergence could not have come at a better time. While it is unfortunate that such a significant portion of the Cubs' payroll is going to two players who are neither one fulfilling what they were signed to do, the team is fortunate that they stumbled upon a third option at closer.
The National League Central is Extremely GoodEven if the Cubs were not rebuilding they would be in trouble. As of May 30, the top three teams in baseball are the St. Louis Cardinals (35-17), Cincinnati Reds (33-20) and Pittsburgh Pirates (33-20).
The Cardinals and Reds have been consistent forces in the league for the last few years (Cardinals usually are) and the Pirates have been for the last two (counting on late-season collapses to knock them out of contention -- 9-22 in September/October of 2012). These teams are not flukes. They have been properly constructed to be contenders for a while. It is not to say the Cubs can't be good as well, but from the look of it, the National League Central is going to be a difficult division to win for the foreseeable future.
The Cubs Look Semi-Close to Being Competitive but the Trade Deadline is Fast ApproachingThe record doesn't show it, but the Chicago Cubs really have not played an awful two months of baseball. They are fifth in extra-base hits (first in NL), tenth in stolen bases, eighth in ERA and second in opponent's average (.230). I'm not saying they should be 10 games over .500, but they definitely should not be flirting with 10 games under either.
The Cubs, overall, don't look that far off from being respectable contenders. But with Theo Epstein's plan of building for sustained success, a number of these supportive players who are performing well (David DeJesus, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Nate Schierholtz) will be sent packing when the deadline rolls around. Even if the Cubs surprise everyone and are in contention in July, I still wouldn't expect them to be buyers since that would involve shipping off young talent, which they won't do at this juncture.
Frustrating bullpen performances aside, the 2013 Cubs have been a fun team to watch grow. Though Cubs fans won't want to see some of these players get traded, for prolonged success it is unquestionably the right thing to do.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports. He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.
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