Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Same (Stuff), Different Year

The official reporting day for pitchers and catchers has arrived and with it the yearly return of unfounded optimism.

If you are from the school of thought that places high value on intangibles and team chemistry contributing heavily to the success of a team, then you are probably pretty optimistic today.  Milton Bradley will soon be discovering how racist the Pacific Northwest is, Aaron Miles will be screwing up everything he touches in Cincinnati, Aaron Heilman is somewhere else I have forgotten and don't care enough about to look up, and Kevin Gregg will be giving up crushing homeruns that travel deep into the night lit by the Aurora Borealis.

Meanwhile, Ted Lilly has come to camp to talk about how motivated this team is by the failure of last year. I guess the two previous wildly successful seasons had apparently made the Cubs too cocky and their "Cubbie swagger" got the best of them, but not this year, by golly.  This year following a giant letdown to the fan base will be different than all the other years following a giant letdown to the fan base.  That's their story and they are sticking to it.

Of course, those who like to look at statistics to determine player value are not so enthused about the upcoming season.  Rich Harden will be replaced in the rotation from a group consisting of Sean Marshall, Tom Gorzellany, Carlos Silva, and Jeff Samardzija.  As if that is not worrisome enough, we'll need another one of these guys to fill in for Ted while he recovers from his bum shoulder.  The estimations from the Cubs seem to indicate he will be out most of April while Phil Rogers is talking about June.

Geovany Soto is thinner, so that should help, but there are no guarantees he doesn't continue down the Rick Wilkins Memorial Highway of declines.  Theriot will be at shortstop, which might be livable if the second baseman was a better fielder than the Fontenot/Baker combo that will be there this year.  Then there is our current out-of-place corner outfielder playing in centerfield, Marlon Byrd.  The Cubs' defense up the middle is not going to appear on Baseball Tonight's top plays very often this year.

All the different projections systems that I've seen have the Cubs at least finishing behind the Cardinals with a win percentage around .500.  Of course, the projections had the Cubs running away with the Central last year, so who the hell knows?

The main takeaway is that I don't think anyone has any idea what to expect this year.  I don't expect that every Cub that had an off year last year will continue to suck, nor do I think that they will all magically rebound.  On the flipside, I figure there has to be some regression on guys like Angel Guzman, Randy Wells, Jeff Baker, and/or Derrek Lee.  I'd be shocked if they all maintained their levels of production into this year.

But today is supposed to be about optimism.  Maybe the ownership situation finally being resolved will have a positive effect.  Maybe playing for a tangible boss like Tom Ricketts will be easier for the players to rally around than playing for a big faceless corporation.  The Ricketts have already made efforts to improve the facilities for the players, so maybe the players will take it up a notch in appreciation of their new boss.

Maybe Rudy Jaramillo will fix everything that was wrong with the Cubs' offense last year.  Maybe Alfonso Soriano can still actually be an impact player instead of just being paid like one.  Maybe they really are that pissed about not making the playoffs last year.

We can only hope.


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