2006 Finish: 66-96, last place in the NL Central, 17.5 games back
Manager: Lou Pinella, first year with the Cubs
Comings: OF Alfonso Soriano, LHP Ted Lilly, RHP Jason Marquis, 2B Mark DeRosa, LHP Neal Cotts
Goings: CF Juan Pierre, 1B John Mabry
Offense: Alfonso Soriano was the premier free agent hitter this past offseason. He was a 40/40 man last year and should continue to put up big numbers at wrigley. My concerns are can he adapt to center in some of the larger ballparks and in what year of the contract will the cubs regret giving soriano this many years. derek lee missed most of last year with a wrist injury. Wrist injuries for hitters can be scary, but he has shown no ill effects this spring as Lee is knocking the cover off the ball. LF Matt Murton was very steady in his first year as a regular. He hit .297/.365/.444. 3B Aramis Ramirez got a nice raise from the Cubs during the offseason. Last year he hit 38 HRs and had 119 RBIs. RF Jacque Jones was the subject of much trade speculation this winter. He played pretty well in right, hitting 27 HRs and driving in 85 runs. C Michael Barrett is one of the best players most people have never heard of. Barrett hit .307 with 16 HRs and 53 RBIs. A side note on Barrett; several years ago when he was with the Expos, the late Jack Buck was interviewing him on KMOX. I was totally impressed with how respectful he was of Mr. Buck and just how gracious he was with his time. I think Barrett would have preferred to interview Jack Buck more than him being interviewed. Mark DeRosa was brought in from Texas to play second base. He put up career numbers last year and was paid handsomely for it. SS Cesar Izturis will provide the Cubs with very good defense but has not put up very good offensive numbers since his career year in 04. Cliff Floyd was brought over from the Mets to provide outfield depth and pop off the bench.
Rotation: The Cubs went out and spent big bucks and seem to still have lots of questions in the rotation. Carlos Zambrano’s ability leaves little to question. A true number 1, he is good for 15-20 wins. The big question with Zambrano is how will his contract negotiations or lack there of, affect his play on the field. Ted Lilly was paid big bucks to come in and slide into the number 2 spot. Lilly is a fly ball pitcher and when the wind is blowing out, Wrigley is not to kind to fly ball pitchers. Jason Marquis was practically ran out of St. Louis and the Cubs gave him $21 million over 3 years. They’ll be regretting this contract by the end of may. Rich Hill has great stuff but his stuff has not translated to big league success. He was much improved down the stretch going 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA and should reach double digits in wins. The fifth spot has come down to a competition between the oft injured Prior and Wade Miller who has been limited due to shoulder problems.
Bullpen: If he can stay healthy, and with him this is a great big if, RHP Kerry Wood could be lights out coming out of the bullpen. He could take over as the closer sooner than later. RHP Ryan Dempster is the closer and I do not see him as a closer on a playoff team. He saved 24 games but posted an ERA of 4.80. RHP Bobby Howry is a good setup man, appearing in 84 games and posting a 3.17 ERA. The Cubs are loaded with left-handed relievers. LHP Scott Eyre was good after coming over from the Giants but lefties hit .273 against him. LHP Will Ohman was excellent against lefties, they hit only .158 against him in 101 at bats. LHP Neil Cotts was brought over from the White Sox. He really struggled, posting an ERA of over 5 in 70 games. RHP Michael Wuertz was very good, appearing in 41 games and posting an ERA of 2.66.
Felix Pie-CF-Numbers weren’t as good in 06 but he was a 21 year old at Triple A. Had an outside shot to win the centerfield job with the Cubs this spring and move Soriano to right. Strikes out to much and doesn’t walk enough, witnessed by his 126/46 K to BB ratio. Has the potential to be an above average defender, put his defense still needs a lot of work. Would benefit from another complete season in the minors.
Jeff Samardzija-RHP-Drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 First Year Player Draft. Samardzija was a record setting receiver at Notre Dame and a possible first round pick in the NFL draft. The Cubs gave him big money and a no trade clause to keep him from playing football. He is still green on the baseball field but has a big time arm. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and can touch 97. His secondary pitches are raw and inconsistent. He will probably start the year in Low A.
Analysis: The Cubs went out and spent a whole lot of money this offseason to hopefully put themselves in the playoffs. I feel they will be improved, but I don’t think they have the pitching to make much noise. I like they are not counting on Prior and Wood. Soriano is a special talent, but the contract was too long. I don’t like Marquis or Lilly in this ballpark. The Cubs will be better but I don’t think they are improved enough to win the division.