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Chicago Cubs: 5 Unexpected Facts about the Club Through 29 Games

The first year of the Epstein/Hoyer/Sveum era has been… well, odd. In spring training, guys such as Joe Mather and Steve Clevenger, who were considered to be ticketed for AAA Iowa, forced their way onto the ball club.

During the regular season, Matt Garza threw away a shutout—literally. Darwin Barney was the first Cub of the year to hit a home run.

For those of you who love statistical anomalies and oddities in baseball such as myself, then this is the list for you.

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Tampa Bay Rays: Nine Bold Predictions for 2012

With the recent news that Carlos Pena has rejoined the Rays on a one-year deal after spending a year with the Chicago Cubs, the team’s dynamic has seemingly changed for the better.

A clear upgrade over Casey Kotchman, Pena’s solid defense, amazing clubhouse personality and blend of power and on-base percentage will be welcomed back.

He quickly became a fan favorite in Chicago, though the new regime is sold on Bryan LaHair for the short term and top prospect Anthony Rizzo for the long haul.

Coming off one of the greatest final-day dramatics in MLB history, the Rays could well have an even more exciting 2012.

Without further ado, here are nine bold predictions for 2012.

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Cubs Convention Day 1: Kerry Wood Re-Signed, Cubs Not out on Fielder?

Day 1 of the Cubs Convention had no shortage of events. Players from Hall of Famer Andre Dawson to Jose Cardenal to Todd Walker all were introduced with various levels of reaction.

New President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein received a rousing ovation from the crowd in his first fan-oriented appearance since taking over in October. His reaction was only topped by the news that Kerry Wood had been re-signed. Wood then emerged from behind a blue curtain to welcome the rowdy fans.

Wood’s new deal will pay him $3 million in 2012, with a team option for 2013, also at $3 million. No buyout was reported as part of his new contract. While it’s a significant raise from his 2011 salary of $1.5 million, Wood again left potential higher money on the table to stick with the Cubs.’s Jim Salsbury wrote that Wood was seeking $4 million a year.

Much like last year, when he turned down offers from the Red Sox and White Sox that would have paid him a $5 million salary, Wood took the lesser money to stay a Cub.

Wood was pushed out the door after the  2008 season, when the Cubs acquired Kevin Gregg from the Marlins for Jose Ceda. Ceda had previously been acquired from the Padres for Todd Walker.

At the time, then-GM Jim Hendry said, “Kerry is certainly deserving of a three- or four-year contract.” Speculation and rumors at the time were that Wood was willing to accept a one-year deal to stay a Cub. With the failure of Kevin Gregg at closer, one has to wonder if that would have been the right move.

Coming back into the fold for 2011, Wood was promised a post-playing career position with the Cubs, according to ESPNChicago’s Bruce Levine. The job, rumored to be as a broadcaster, would seemingly stay intact with Wood’s new contract agreement.

Also of note on Friday were two reports from ESPN.

The first, from Jayson Stark, stated that the Cubs may still be in the bidding for Prince Fielder. Even with the acquisition of top first base prospect Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs still have a lot of room in the 2012 budget, and Scott Boras could agree on a deal with the Cubs for Fielder on the Cubs’ terms.

With Rizzo waiting in the wings, the deal would presumably be for no more than three years with a very high annual salary. While this may go against what Boras wants for Fielder, it may wind up leading to Prince making more money by the end of his career. Signing a short-term contract in Chicago could put him in place for a 10-year deal in a couple of years, when more teams will have openings at first base and cash to spend.

The second report, from Levine stated that Alfonso Soriano has reiterated his willingness to waive his no-trade clause. The catch is that Soriano will only waive this to join a contender, so any chance of flipping him to Baltimore for Brian Roberts has been crushed.

The Yankees are one possibility for Soriano. His old team could send the Cubs a mid-level prospect for Soriano, assuming the Cubs eat the vast majority of his contract. Soriano would slide in at DH, with his contract expiring just in time for the Bronx Bombers to shift Alex Rodriguez into that slot.

Another possibility for Soriano is the Texas Rangers. Assuming they come to terms with Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish, it’d seem highly unlikely that the Rangers sign Fielder, according to Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi on Twitter. With that in mind, the Rangers seem to potentially be in the market for another big bat to add to their high-powered offense. Soriano could take over at DH and see his numbers rise in the hitters paradise that is The Ballpark At Arlington.

My personal dark horse pick for where Soriano will land is the Tampa Bay Rays. As I wrote back in December, Soriano could provide cost-controlled power and speed for the offensively starved Rays. While Soriano wouldn’t net the return of someone like Alex Cobb from the Rays’ system, he could bring in a solid starting prospect, which is what the Epstein and Hoyer regime seems to be all about.

In a final, smaller move, the Cubs have reportedly signed utility man Alfredo Amezaga to a minor league contract, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports via Twitter. Presumably Amezaga will get an invitation to Major League camp, but will provide depth and insurance at Triple-A Iowa.

All in all, a very interesting first day of the Cubs Convention. More is sure to come over the next two days of the convention, and the month and a half until spring training.

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Chicago Cubs: How Jeff Samardzija Made Andrew Cashner Expendable

Just one day after finalizing the terms of their trade with the Miami Marlins that sent Carlos Zambrano and cash for Chris Volstad, the Cubs pulled off another major trade.

They sent young right-hander Andrew Cashner and minor-league outfielder Kyung-Min Na to the San Diego Padres for top first-base prospect Anthony Rizzo and minor-league starter Zach Cates.

On the surface, the trade seems fairly balanced. In Rizzo, the Cubs get the top-ranked first-base prospect in baseball. In Cashner, the Padres get a major-league-ready starter who can slot either into their rotation or as a late-inning reliever.

Add in players who had moderate success at the same level, and are within a year of each other, and it seems to be a rather balanced trade: each side getting a position player, and a pitcher.

However, there’s much more than this to these trades.

Cashner is already 25 and has only logged two MLB seasons after being drafted in the first round in 2008. The former TCU closer struggled as a reliever in 2010, but was named the fifth starter in 2011, a role which he filled once.

While his lone start was strong, he went down with an injury to his throwing shoulder, was out for five months and came back as a reliever.

During that extended DL trip, the Cubs saw two things happen.

First, the rotation seemingly fell apart, as guys like Doug Davis and Rodrigo Lopez were asked to fill the void.

Second, Jeff Samardzija, who was out of options and seemingly on his last legs in Chicago, finally put everything together and had a great campaign.

Initially a long/middle reliever, Samardzija finished the season throwing in high-leverage, late-inning spots—and succeeding. Samardzija finished the 2011 season at 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 75 games, logging 88 innings.

Samardzija has never hidden his desire to start, though his numbers as a starter were awful when he was given his handful of chances in 2009 and 2010. However, his ERA those seasons was 7.53 and 8.38, respectively, so he was pretty bad whenever he stepped on the mound.

The former top-flight Notre Dame wide receiver seemingly put everything together last season.

Whether it was a combination of maturity, seasoning (he didn’t start pitching until college, and even then it was more an offseason hobby while football was out) or now-former pitching coach Mark Riggins, Samardzija finally established himself as a true MLB pitcher.

The ability to make Cashner expendable is mirrored on San Diego’s side, as Rizzo became a trade chip when the Reds got Yonder Alonso and others for Mat Latos.

While the Reds did try Alonso at third base and the outfield, it was obvious he was a major-league-ready first baseman, and would be entrenched there for years to come.

Zach Cates, the 22-year-old starter acquired by the Cubs, went 4-10 with a 4.73 ERA, logging 118 innings over 25 starts in 2011 at A-ball. Cates, a third-round draft pick of the Padres in 2010, signed well over slot for $765,00, while the MLB recommended slot bonus for the third round was $380,700 that year.

His stock did take a dip with his poor showing in 2011, but the potential is all still there. The pitcher-turned-catcher-turned-pitcher still has a quality fastball and will look to hone in his control—53 walks over 118 innings doesn’t bode well.

Going to the Padres is South Korean outfielder Kyung-Min Na. The 20-year-old Na has played all three outfield positions in the Cubs minor-league system.

Despite having issues hitting for average, his career on-base percentage sits nearly 100 points higher than his batting average (.244 batting average, .335 on-base percentage), which bodes well. Both Na and Cates may or may not ever see their new organization’s 40-man roster.

GM Jed Hoyer has now acquired Rizzo twice, and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has now done deals involving Rizzo twice.

The team likes his combination of skills: hitting for contact, hitting for power, getting on base and solid defense. There’s an obvious familiarity. Hoyer said to’s Carrie Muskat that Rizzo will “most likely” start the year as the everyday first baseman for the AAA Iowa Cubs, and that Bryan LaHair will still be the Cubs’ starting first baseman.

Furthermore, this once and for all will kill the rumors of Prince Fielder to the Cubs. The front office is happy with LaHair at first until Rizzo can step up. There would be no point in signing Fielder now.

While this deal likely would have been thought about long and hard had Samardzija not had his breakout 2011 campaign, his success surely made it easier to deal Cashner.

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Chicago Cubs: Why 2013 Free-Agent Class Lowers Chances for Prince Fielder

The 2011-12 offseason’s free-agent list made roars over the top-end talent sure to make headlines when they signed.

Two of the best first basemen in the game, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, were both on the market at the same time.

Jose Reyes and Aramis Ramirez also presented huge upgrade potential in the infield, and both switched teams while staying in the same division.

Carlos Beltran and Grady Sizemore were easily the top outfielders, both signing short-term deals to play in the Midwest.

On the pitching side of things, there were a handful of mighty closers to be had. Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson and Heath Bell were all seeking suitors.

Bell landed in Miami, and Papelbon took huge money to go to the Phillies. Madson is still seeking a home.

The starting pitching upgrades were all good-but-not-great options. C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle were the aces of their staffs, but both more in a bona fide sense rather than for their true domination on the mound.

Yu Darvish continues to create a great stir, but there’s never really been a true ace to come out of Japan, though Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideo Nomo did both prove there is quality talent to be had from the Nippon teams.

However, after all the flash of the elite talent, the talent pool thinned quickly. If you couldn’t fit the $25 million-a-year commitment for either Pujols or Fielder into the budget, it was on to a long list of plan-B players.

Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee, Casey Kotchman and Lyle Overbay became mediocre consolation prizes. In the infield, Alex Gonzalez, Rafael Furcal, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jamey Carroll became the next-best options once Reyes went to Miami.

If you couldn’t snag Buehrle, Wilson or win the Darvish-posting-fee war, the options became thin as well. What talent was there mostly was snatched up quickly.

Now, teams looking for a free-agent rotation upgrade are down to only a few imperfect options.

Edwin Jackson most likely stands out from the rest due to his age and performance, but Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Saunders, Paul Maholm, Jeff Francis and Aaron Harang also represent mid-rotation arms to be had. Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma is also a possibility after his posting after the 2010 season went less than perfect.

What’s left is very sparse.

Sure, Prince is still on the board, but agent Scott Boras’ demands may be keeping Fielder from signing. The Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Phillies are all set at first base, and though the Cubs have the budget room to sign Fielder, they currently have an albatross of a contract Theo, Jed and co. are surely trying to trade away in Alfonso Soriano.

Jackson remains on the market and probably makes more sense for the Cubs than Fielder. Madson won’t be a Cub, as he simply doesn’t fit in any way, shape or form with what the Cubs are trying to do.

Many people, both the media and fans, want so badly for Fielder to sign with the Cubs. It seems to make sense, but it just seems so unlikely.

Portly left-handed sluggers have had a tendency to either get in much better shape in their late 20s (as Ryan Howard did) or start to suffer a huge decline in stats (as Mo Vaughn did). While Fielder has shed some weight by going vegan, the point remains that, eventually, his weight will catch up with him.

Sure, signing Fielder seems sexy, but if he starts to decline due to weight issues, will it still be a great deal? When Fielder’s got four more years left on his contract and can’t even hit his weight, Cub fans would be calling for Epstein and Hoyer’s heads—most likely, a lot of the same fans who can’t seem to stress enough why they are right about Fielder needing to come to the Cubs.

Few wish to give late-bloomer Bryan LaHair even the slightest of chances to be the first baseman for 2012. Many point to the failure of the seemingly-similar Micah Hoffpauir. Heck, they both have jersey No. 6! However, upon further review, LaHair and Hoffpauir are two separate cases.

Hoffpauir burst onto the MLB scene—and into Cub fans’ hearts—when he hit .342 in his call-up during the 2008 campaign. His call-up was following an obscene year in AAA, in which Hoff hit .362 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs in only 71 games for Iowa.

However, the wheels fell off for Hoff in 2009, as in more extensive duty as a backup first baseman, corner outfielder and top pinch hitter, he only mustered a .239 average. However, the power remained, and his .198 isolated power would make any sabermetrics-minded person drool.

Hoff’s struggles got even worse in 2010, as he was no longer able to hit his weight in the majors—a .173 average for the 215 lb. Hoffpauir. The Cubs sent Hoff down to Iowa, where he seemed to have fixed his issues, but just wasn’t looking to have much of a future with the Cubs.

Hoff went to the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2011 and only hit .222 as their first baseman. Where he goes now is anyone’s guess, though the magic of his 2008 season will surely continue to pay him handsomely as teams around the globe will all hope he can get back to those levels.

These struggles are the reason Cubs fans will not let LaHair prove himself as MLB-worthy and are clamoring for Fielder to send bombs over the fences as a Cub for the next decade.

However, if one looks further at Hoffpauir vs. LaHair, they’ll see why the Cubs’ new brain trust is validated in trusting LaHair. Keep in mind, these are the men that took David Ortiz from the scrap heap and saw him become one of the best designated hitters in baseball.

Hoffpauir’s 2008 was an anomaly. His batting average on balls in play was far too high for someone with the speed (or lack thereof) that Hoff has. Hoffpauir had a only a season-and-a-half of AAA under his belt coming into 2008. LaHair, on the other hand, had four-and-a-half years of AAA coming into 2011.

Hoffpauir had good-but-not-great success at his other minor league stops before 2008. In 2007, Hoff posted a solid, yet not spectacular, slash line of .319/.365/.552. For a 27-year-old first baseman and corner outfielder, it was nothing great.

He then jumped to .362/.393/.752 in 2008. Of concern to anyone is the fact that his batting average jump doesn’t quite correspond with the on-base-percentage jump. Hoffpauir simply had a lucky season in 2008.

LaHair, on the other hand, has shown steady improvement over the last four seasons in AAA, with his numbers slowly rising. The only major jump in his numbers was his home run total, jumping from 12 in 2008 to 26 in 2009. However, he’s proven the ability to keep performing at this high a level, hitting 25 homers in 2010 and 38 in 2011.

Yes, it’s impossible to expect LaHair to perform in the major leagues the way he did in AAA in 2011. However, he’s entering his prime and should be able to give the Cubs solid production until one of their prospect first basemen (most likely Dan Vogelbach or Trevor Gretzky) is ready to take over full-time. LaHair should put up solid numbers for a team with low expectations.

What does all this have to do with Fielder? Simple. It’s all about economics, which has taken a front-and-center stage with the new era of front office personnel. Fielder simply does not provide the same upgrade that one of the elite free agents this time next year could.

Fielder will almost assuredly have a better season than LaHair (who may platoon with Jeff Baker), but will the increase in production really be worth over $250 million?

We now turn to the elite talent who may be available after the 2012 season. Of course, any of these players could ink an extension. (And if they already have, I apologize. Please let me know in the comments so I can amend this.)

The Cubs’ No. 1 need is quality starting pitching. Zambrano and Dempster both come off the books after 2012, and I can’t see either coming back in significant roles. If Dempster wants to take a deep pay cut, I’m sure he’d be welcomed back as a mid-rotation guy. Big Z is most likely done in Chicago.

And who knows if Matt Garza will be wearing a Cubs jersey in 2012?

The potential to add a front line starter via free agency next winter is huge.

Matt Cain, Zack Grienke, Shaun Marcum and Cole Hamels all will be outright free agents if they don’t sign extensions.

Fausto Carmona, Gavin Floyd, Scott Feldman, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and James Shields, most of whom will likely see said options exercised by their teams, all have options for 2013.

Former NL Cy Young and Triple Crown winner Jake Peavy will almost assuredly be a free agent, as he’s struggled with the White Sox and can’t possibly be viewed to be worth his $22 million team option.

Any of those guys easily slot into the top of the Cubs’ rotation, and with the revamped draft-pick compensation system, it may not cost the Cubs picks to sign.

All the pitchers listed above provide certain quality elements the Cubs would like.

Cain is an ace stuck behind Tim Lincecum, though his numbers should garner him at least $18 million a year.

Grienke and Marcum are both No.2/3 starters, and stealing a part of a division rival’s rotation—especially considering how Milwaukee gutted their farm system to acquire them—would be a huge strategic blow.

Hamels would weaken the Phillies and give the Cubs a top-rotation lefty—something they haven’t had in what seems like forever.

With all due respect to Ted Lilly, he’s a high-end, mid-rotation starter. When the Cubs had Rich Harden, Lilly was delegated to the No.3 starter spot, which is about where he belongs on a true contender.

With the added cash coming off the books in Zambrano and Dempster, the Cubs can afford a huge splash. Perhaps they can grab two top-tier arms to put with whatever starters they have. Even still, they could afford to look into an upgrade in the lineup and in the field.

At catcher, Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero and Russell Martin could all provide an upgrade behind the plate and make Geovany Soto expendable via trade.

In the infield, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Kelly Johnson and Brandon Phillips will all be looking for new homes and contracts.

In the outfield, Josh Hamilton, Andre Either, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino and Carlos Quentin will all be relatively young and looking for new homes.

The abundance of talent at the positions the Cubs could see as a need will drive down their prices. Keep in mind, there was talk that Pujols could be a $30 million-a-year player back in spring training. However, the free agency of Prince Fielder dragged his price down. The same will happen with the impact players available after the upcoming season.

Finally, we come back to the economics of team-building. The benefit of signing an ace pitcher over Fielder is quite clear. Pitching wins championships, and the Cubs’ lack pitching.

Pitching-rich teams such as the Nationals might see Fielder as a solid signing, and in their case, he may be. In the Cubs’ case, they need top flight pitching—pitching which will become available in about 10-and-a-half months.

While the Cubs obviously want to be competitive in 2012, it’d be a foolish move to make one big splash now at the cost of a larger, more necessary addition for 2013.

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MLB Offseason: Why Alfonso Soriano Makes Sense for Tampa Bay Rays

When Theo Epstein left the Boston Red Sox to become the president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, he was given the permission by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to eat any salary on a bad contract from the previous regime to improve the team in the long term and eventually end the longest championship drought in North American professional sports.

To this point, however, the only trades made by the Cubs have been minor moves, the only players coming over with major league experience being third baseman Ian Stewart, starting pitcher Travis Wood and outfielder Dave Sappelt. None of those three players had much success at the major league level, but all were dealt for expendable pieces, and all filled a need.

The general feeling in Chicago is that it’s just a matter of time before a major move comes to fruition. Sure, Travis Wood cost the Cubs one of their best relievers in Sean Marshall, but he was simply a relief pitcher with one year left on his contract on a team most likely headed to a sub-.500 finish.

Right now, the Cubs are currently (over)paying Alfonso Soriano to be their everyday left fielder, despite the fact that his skill set is that of a prototypical American League designated hitter. While he can play a serviceable outfield with a strong arm, injuries are beginning to take their toll on an aging Soriano, who desperately needs a move to the American League.

Enter the Tampa Bay Rays. The perennially small-budget team brimming with prospects could be a match for Soriano, given the Cubs ability to eat most of Soriano’s remaining $54 million over the next three seasons. While this contract obviously cannot fit into Tampa Bay’s shoestring budget, if the Cubs were to eat a vast majority of Soriano’s contract, he could be a valuable player.

Assuming Chicago agrees to eat at least $40 million of Soriano’s contract, he could fit into Tampa Bay’s budget, and the more they eat the better. If Team Theo were willing to eat $45 to $48 million, Soriano would become a very intriguing player for Tampa Bay.

The Rays, seemingly always seeking offense, should gladly welcome Soriano as their everyday DH at $2 to $3 million a year. At that price, Soriano could even cost a somewhat high ceiling, albeit replaceable, prospect. Rays GM Andrew Friedman has done a top-notch job of acquiring starting pitching in abundance. While Soriano, regardless of the amount of contract eaten, would not cost a top arm like Alex Cobb, he could be a fair exchange for someone like a Wilking Rodriguez, who is stuffed far to deep into Tampa Bay’s system to be anything more than trade bait.

Soriano has proven the ability to have success in the East, as he started off with the Yankees, and also saw time with Tampa Bay. Once considered one of the best talents in the game – he was the centerpiece of the A-Rod trade—Soriano’s stock has fallen off significantly the last few years. Still, he has plenty of power and speed and has hit in every slot in the lineup, offering many combinations for the managerial mastermind that is Joe Maddon.

The Cubs already have in-house alternates in left field in Sappelt and speedster Tony Campana, who had a stand-up inside-the-park home run in 2011. They’ve also been in talks with outfielder Coco Crisp.

In Soriano, the Rays receive a power-speed threat who, without the wear and tear of left field, could be a player to hit 30 home runs and steal 15 bases. The Cubs need to move him, and the Rays always need cheap offense.

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MLB Free Agency: Edwin Jackson Can Mean More to Chicago Cubs Than Prince Fielder

Right now, the Chicago Cubs are a wreck of a team.

Yes, they have some nice pieces in Starlin Castro and Matt Garza; but they also have a lot of veterans who simply won’t stick around long enough to help the team when the time is right for contention. Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster come off the books after this year (a combined $32 million commitment for 2012), and their starts every fifth day will need to be replaced.

As of right now, it appears the Cubs’ rotation will consist of some combination of Garza, Zambrano, Dempster, Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner, Travis Wood (my analysis of the trade can be read here) and maybe a surprise like Jeff Samardzija, Rodrigo Lopez, Jay Jackson or Robert Whitenack. However, Zambrano and Dempster likely won’t be wearing a Cubs uniform in 2013, and Randy Wells probably shouldn’t be either. I’d even be impressed if any of them, let alone all three, are still on the Cubs roster come August 1st, 2012.

That said, it leaves the Cubs with Cashner, Garza and Wood as the starters who will be around in 2013. Of course, the Cubs won’t mind if Zambrano pitches so well his option vests, as a top-four finish in the Cy Young voting would be welcomed and probably mean the Cubs were in the playoff race until at least September. Odds are, though, that won’t happen. So the Cubs will be needing another arm.

In 2011, Doug Davis, Ramon Ortiz, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez and James Russell combined for 49 starts for the Cubs. As starters, the group went 10-29 and logged only 245 innings, an exact average of five innings per start. Over those 245 innings, that stalwart group of starters had a 5.91 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 11.46 H/9, 3.82 BB/9—all simply awful rate stats.

Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood also combined for 49 starts in 2011. Jackson and Wood threw a combined 299.2 IP, going 17-15, with a combined ERA of 4.23, a WHIP of 1.46, 10.21 H/9, 3.0 BB/9, which is better than it seems looking at the stats on face value.

Pitcher Starts W L IP H BB K R ER
Davis 9 1 7 45 2/3 59 26 36 38 33
Ortiz 2 0 2 10 14 4 9 9 8
Coleman 17 3 9 83 100 45 74 59 57
Lopez 16 6 6 88 107 24 48 52 44
Russell 5 0 5 18 1/3 32 5 10 21 19
Totals 49 10 29 245 312 104 177 179 161
Wood 18 5 6 101 117 38 69 57 57
Jackson 31 12 9 198 2/3 223 62 148 92 84
Totals 49 17 15 299 2/3 340 100 217 149 141

First of all, Jackson is pretty much a lock to throw nearly 200 innings a year, and his 198.2 innings pitched would have put him second on the 2011 Cubs, squeezed between Ryan Dempster (202.1) and Matt Garza (198). Despite seeming to have been around forever, Jackson only turned 28 this year, and has continued to show improvement. Odds are he’d improve even more so if he were to spend more than half a season with any one pitching coach.

Second, Jackson has youth on his side. As opposed to the other free agent options, Edwin Jackson is the youngest starter on the market with proved value. Sure, Hiroki Kuroda is still a quality arm, but he’s not going to get any younger. Joe Saunders is a solid mid- to back-of-the-rotation arm, but how many of those lefties do you really need—or want—on your staff?

Third, Jackson has been to two World Series: in 2008 with Tampa Bay, and this year with the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals. Sure, he got rocked by the Brewers in the NLCS, but his other postseason pitching is solid. Nothing to write home about, but also nothing to be ashamed of.

Finally, Jackson would be a poaching from a divisional rival. Right now, the Cardinals are trying to convince themselves that Carlos Beltran will be able to replace Albert Pujols in their lineup. Sure, they’ll be getting Adam Wainwright back and won’t need Jackson, their No. 2 starter; but he’d still be a steal from the Cardinals. There seems to be something about the Central division that makes Jackson put up his best numbers (Detroit, the White Sox, and St. Louis).

Conversely, Prince Fielder is a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. Sure, Fielder can hit great, but so can every other team’s first baseman. The Cubs can’t afford another Soriano situation, with a bad, fat contract hanging over their heads. With guys like Rebel Ridling, Dan Vogelbach and Trevor Gretzky coming through the system, the Cubs can easily afford to pass on Prince. Vogelbach in particular has drawn many comparisons to Fielder.

If the Cubs do decide to grab a free agent first baseman, they could always bring back Derrek Lee or Carlos Pena, both of whom provide quality defense, a solid bat and good clubhouse leadership. Of course, they could also look to alternatives like Casey Kotchman, or even try converting someone to first base like Johnny Damon.

While Scott Boras supposedly wants a John Danks-type deal for Jackson, he won’t muster that. But maybe three years and $35 million could be a realistic offer to get Jackson to add some more youth to Chicago’s rotation. Many thought Jackson would be signed very quickly during the free agent season, assuming he’d be overpaid as the ace that he isn’t. However, signing Jackson for a few years to bolster the top half of Chicago’s rotation could be a wise first major move by Jed Hoyer.

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Full Rebuild: The 2011 Chicago Cubs

A good number of predictions have the Cubs going out into free agency and trying to buy their way into a title, as they did after the abysmal 2006. There are a lot of similarities: managerial vacancy, terrible record, and obvious holes to be filled.

However, one obvious thing is different from now and then: prospects. Lots and lots of prospects. The Cubs can reasonably fill all the holes they have now with up-and-coming players, rather than spending themselves into a budget nightmare (see: Soriano, Alfonso).

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Chicago Cubs Best Statistical Lineup

Recently, Lou Pinella said he had to start the players who were swinging the bats the best. So he promptly started Xavier Nady’s glistening .222 batting average (though he has been getting better lately).

However, just looking at overall season performance, here’s the best possible offensive lineup for the Cubs.

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Down on the Farm: AAA Iowa Cubs Hitters

As the Cubs struggle, there have been some bright young players bringing serious support to the Cubs roster. Starlin Castro, James Russell, Tyler Colvin and now Andrew Cashner have shown the recent trend in the Cubs organization.

I will break down the Cubs minor league teams by hitters and pitchers, based on who I feel, based on 2010 performance, could help the team, be it by their arrival in Chicago or as trade components. Starting it off in no particular order are my personal top five position players for the 2010 AAA Iowa Cubs.

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