The Chicago Cubs’ 2009 season was, in essence, a two-headed monster, depending on how you look at it.
The ugly side is pretty obvious when we think of the three ring circus Milton Bradley afforded the team; the laundry list of injuries that consistently reared its head; some issues involving jay walking; something about a certain someone’s peculiar confession of smoking some grass; and a fat underachieving catcher who hit a sophomore slump.
The not-so-ugly side is shown in a competent pitching staff that features bats being broken in half, strange wind up practices, a guy who eerily resembles Bill Murray, and a smoking rookie who took '09 by storm.
In addition to the pitching, when the Cubs were healthy they actually could hit the ball. Through it all they still remained very competitive in the division, finishing second and four back from the wild card.
So now, along comes a sun-shiny new year filled with promise, hope, and a world of opportunity. But as William Pollard once said:
About as fitting as you're gonna get when examining the Cubs.
Despite a little bit of tinkering in the lineup (Theriot or Fukudome in the leadoff spot), the Cubs have a slightly new look to them that they feel gives them a better chance of getting back to the post season, with possibly a run at the title.
Marlon Byrd replaces Milton Bradley, and is penciled in at the number five spot, which Lou Piniella feels is the most important spot in the roster. This will afford Soriano to go back to his natural role as the number six hitter.
But it doesn’t stop there.
New hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has worked with both Byrd and Soriano before, and the hopes of possibly turning Soriano’s career around could let a lot of pressure off of Derrick Lee; doing so would be huge in terms of balance.
The pitching is just as solid as last year, for the most part.
Biz Z wants permanent residence in Chicago and is due for another great year, Dempster will look to prove his disappointing ’09 numbers were more of a byproduct of poor team play, and Randy Wells enters 2010 with a ton of promise.
The pen has improved as well.
Carlos Marmol is now the club’s closer—and to think this guy was once a catcher—while newcomer Jeff Grabow will bolster the club’s set up man situation along with Sean Marshall and fellow newcomer Carlos Silva.
Geovany Soto decided to “eat fresh” and drop 40 pounds, Aramis Ramirez is 100% healthy, Jeff Baker is the team’s new toy at second base, and there is still room for the addition to the OF and bullpen.
A definite upward trend toward success in 2010, but how much of that success will translate into Fantasy?
The Fantasy Breakdown:
At first wincing glance, the Cubs offer very little in their tender of available Fantasy options, but don’t be so quick to write off some of the guys out there; they just might surprise.
The majority of the Cubs’ players will wind up being found in the murky depths of ADP and later round drafting, with the exception of Derrick Lee and Aramis Ramirez.
Derrick Lee is currently projected as a fifth or sixth rounder and could wind up being a steal if he benefits from the addition of Byrd and the possible improvement to Soriano’s swing.
Lee enjoyed a nice line last year that looked like this:
.306 AVG, .972 OPS, 35 Homeruns, 111 RBIs, 91 R, 36 DBL, and 163 H with only 109 strikeouts, which is about 1.8 SO/AB.
Lee would probably be ranked a bit higher if he was able to hit lefties better, but at the same rate, Lee is perhaps one of the more underrated first basemen.
Aramis Ramirez, however, is still viewed as a pretty good pickup at third base hovering around being a fourth or fifth rounder.
Since 2004, Ramirez’s OPS has been over .900 every year except one (2008), he's good for at least 25 homeruns every year, and is a lifetime .280+ hitter.
Ramirez was on track for his fourth straight year of 100+ RBI until an injury sidelined him; in total it would have been seven.
For the remaining balance, it’s not as if the Cubs are limping to the barn with their residual options in regard to Fantasy relevance, but again, there is a ton of risk in a lot of these guys.
Soto and Soriano are amongst the biggest risks in the sense that their worth relies on both of them putting up better numbers than in ’09.
Fukudome, Theriot, and Fontenot offer very little to Fantasy owners period, and could wind up being waiver dwellers until something changes. Which again, could happen.
The fifth spot in the rotation is wide open at the moment, Ted Lilly won’t be available for at least a month, and the Cubs' depth isn’t exactly electrifying, although there are rumors of bringing in either Jonny Gomes or Xavier Nady. But until something happens, it’s a moot point.
The Fantasy Sleepers:
There are two players that show a lot of intrigue as potential sleepers; players that aren’t Cubbies yet, but more than likely will be shortly.
Kiko Calero has been reported as being in current negotiations with the Cubs, and his performance last year gives Cubs’ fans, and prospective fantasy owners, something to raise an eyebrow over.
Calero ended ’09 with a 1.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and had a 60/30 K/BB ratio with a 2-2 record.
The knock on Calero is that he's a risk because of a torn rotator cuff he suffered back in 2008, and the fact that he is 35; the same stigma that is scaring other suitors away. But it is very hard to ignore a guy who has a 10.4 K/9.
The likelihood of Baker starting over platoon man Mike Fontenot is pretty good, and with good reason.
Fontenot has always been held in high regard for his defense, but never really shown with a bat. For Baker, however, the Cubs won’t sacrifice defense with Baker, but they will generate more offense. Which means if you find yourself in the market for a late rounder at second, you might want to consider him.
If you compare the number between the two there is a bit of deception:
If you prorate Baker to 377 AB, Baker winds up with seven homeruns, 41 RBIs, 110 hits, and 30 DBLs making his offense a bit more attractive for both the team and fantasy owners in the market for a cheap addition at 2B.
In the end, the Cubs have a great shot at coming into 2010 and quickly turning a lot of heads really fast, while striving to return to the top.
But in regard to fantasy, the Cubs are one of those teams that will either produce a crop of competent fantasy players, or a cluster of disappointments.
My guess is the former.