(BaseballStL) -- The glow of the 1908 World Series championship has finally worn off as the Chicago Cubs enter the 106th year of rebuilding.
It will be hard for even the most diehard Cubs fan to get excited about this year’s team which will finish last for the third straight year and try desperately to avoid losing 100 games (103 losses would give them 300 over three years.)
Key losses: Alfonso Soriano, Matt Garza, Dale Sveuem
When you lose 96 games, it is hard to imagine that anyone could have been a key loss. David DeJesus is gone, as is Soriano and Garza who left during last season. Manager Dale Svuem, who actually had them near .500 before Epstein unloaded anyone who could play at the major level.
Key Gains: Rick Renteria, Justin Ruggiano, Jose Veras, Wesley Wright
Renteria inherits a handful of prospects, a few question marks and a guaranteed last place finish. The club adds outfielder Ruggiano and makes improvements to the bullpen in Veras and Wright that may make them better than it would appear. Ruggiano has the potential to make a difference, if he can get healthy.
Biggest Note: Better gloves, worse bats
Junior Lake is a fleet outfielder with potential but a questionable bat. Second baseman Darwin Barney’s glove has kept him in the lineup but not much longer if he hits .208 again. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo better produce or the Cubs’ season could be over by Memorial Day.
All of the euphoria which followed the hiring of Theo Epstein three years ago has faded because of an apparent lack of progress and some very puzzling moves over the past two seasons. He did manage to unload a couple of high cost players (Garza and Soriano) to clear some salary space, but then gave Edwin Jackson a ridiculous contract (4 years, $52 million) for a back of the rotation guy, gave a rapidly declining Starlin Castro $60 million for seven years and made Antony Rizzo a mega millionaire with a $41 million, seven-year deal long before he was even eligible for arbitration.
All three responded with pitiful years.
Castro continued his alarming descent into mediocrity, batting just .245 after hitting over .300 in his rookie year.
Long contracts can help young players relax and Rizzo relaxed so much he nearly fell into a coma, hitting just .233 although he did bang 23 taters. Still, for someone in whom the Cubs placed so much faith, that was a stinker.
Jackson performed exactly as he has for so many major league teams – very well once in awhile to give you hope and terrible the rest of the time. He finished the year 8-18 with an ERA of 5 and if past performance is an indication, he is unlikely to improve markedly.
They also have no legitimate third baseman and appear quite weak in the outfield.
The only bright spot is a pitching rotation that features Travis Wood, a legitimate big league starter and Jeff Samardzija (for now).
Cub fans have some reason to hope because the minor league system has a handful of prospects who may one day contribute in some fashion. But minor leaguers are just prospects until they prove they can do it every day over 162 games, year in and year out. So when they cheer wildly because one of the prospects has hit a home run off of a pitcher you’ve never heard of, allow them their moment of joy.