Is it “Next Year” yet?
I sure hope so. Getting swept out of the playoffs was pretty rough in 2007. To see it happen again in 2008 was just inexcusable. The Cubs agree. They have taken steps to ensure their ball club can compete in October. Below is the projected starting lineup for the 2009 Cubs. It looks a little different than last year, but also has a lot of familiar faces.
Numbers in parenthesis are my projected stats for 2009.
Catcher – Geovany Soto (.290/25 HR/90 RBI) – Reigning Rookie of the Year will improve on a stellar rookie campaign. He will have protection in this lineup so he should continue to see good pitches. I think another standout year as the best offensive catcher isn’t out of the question for Soto.
First base – Derrek Lee (.300/18 HR/78 RBI) – Entering his 13 MLB season DLee has some mileage on him. I would say that as a hitter he’s on the downside of his career. His 2008 stats .291/20/91 were about the same as his 2007 stats .317/22/82. I think that he’ll stay close to those numbers but there will be a slight decline.
Second base – Mike Fontenot (.295/12 HR/60 RBI) – Fontenot’s playing time was limited by the presence of Mark DeRosa. Fontenot only played in 82 games, starting only 49 of those. So this looks like it will be his job to lose. The Cubs brought in Aaron Miles to be a utility infielder. He would fill in if Fontenot falters. Fontenot is a bottom of the lineup guy, but he’s shown that he can get the extra base hit. Of his 74 hits last year, 32 of them went for extra bases. Last year he had an OBP of .395 and SLG of .514 putting him in the top 20 in the National League for both of those stats. Pretty impressive for a 5’8″, 170lb second baseman.
Shortstop – Ryan Theriot (.302/30 SB) – In 2008 Ryan Theriot learned how to take a walk. His walk rate jumped from 49 in 2007 to 73 in 2008. This helped boost his OBP from a shabby .326 to a solid .387. He also improved his batting average from .266 to .307. The Riot looks like he’s learning to be a Major League hitter. He’ll never knock your socks off with his offense, but if he can get on base, he is able to steal a few bases (averaging 25 over the last two years).
Third base – Aramis Ramirez (.305/32 HR/115 RBI) – Aramis has shown that when he presses, he’s a lot less effective. When DLee was hurt he had to step into a role as a leader. He pressed and his play suffered. Thankfully for the Cubs, there are more guys around him to help pick up the slack if someone should go down. With heavy hitters like Soriano, Bradley and to a lesser degree Derrek Lee, he doesn’t have to provide all of the pop for the Cubs. When he’s not pressing, he can straight crush it. There were MVP whispers last year. I think they’ll continue this year.
Rightfield – Milton Bradley (.315/20 HR/80 RBI) – It was a questionable move bringing in Bradley. First off, the guy can hit. Can he effectively patrol rightfield at Wrigley? I don’t know. He’s only played more than 100 games in the outfield once in his 9 year career. And then there’s his maturity level. Here is where I hope having a manager like Lou really helps. Maybe he can work with Bradley and give him some guidance. We know Lou has experience with some pretty tough customers.
Centerfield – Kosuke Fukudome/Reed Johnson (.270/12 HR/60 RBI combined) – Kosuke Fukudome fell off the face of the planet the second half of 2008. Let’s call it his transition to MLB. I think he’ll make a strong return in 2008 in a new OF position due to the aquisition of Milton Bradley. Reed Johnson is suitable to platoon in centerfield with Fukudome. This will be an interesting place to watch. If both Fukudome and Johnson slip, Joey Gathright, another offseason signing, is ready to play every day.
Leftfield – Alfonso Soriano (.285/32 HR/90 RBI/15 SB) – The 33 year old Soriano is bound to start showing his age. It might not be in his power stats, but in the field, and on the basepaths the Cubs will see a decline. He’s still a dominant force in the Cubs lineup (whether he hits leadoff or lower in the lineup). Health is a major concern as well. He has had extended periods on the DL in recent years. If he can stay healthy most of the season I expect a monster year from him.
Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and one of any number of #5 starters. There will be pretty tough competition for the fifth spot in the rotation between Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, Garrett Olson and maybe even Rich Hill if he can ever find his command. If the top 4 can maintain their form the Cubs starting rotation will be one of the best in baseball. Dempster and Lilly had career years last year, so I expect that there will be a drop off from them. Carlos Zambrano had offseason laser eye surgery and he has continued to mature so I think he’ll have a solid year. I always worry about Big Z’s innings but hopefully Lou will be worrying about that too. They have a good (potentially great) rotation, but it’s not super deep. They have some servicable arms to come in if there’s an injury but no one that’s beating down the door to make a name for himself.
Bullpen – Carlos Marmol, Kevin Gregg, Luis Vizcaino, Jeff Samardzija and a whole host of others make this a real strength for the Cubs. They lost a very important piece of their team and bullpen in Kerry Wood. He will be missed on the field and in the clubhouse, but the guys manning the pen will hold up just fine.