By Susie Dippel
Wrigley Field celebrates its centennial year in 2014. As Chicago Cubs ownership looks to make renovations to the historic field, they are also looking to rebuild the team.
I recently saw the Cubs play the New York Yankees. It was late in the game and the Cubs were starting to get on base. As the pro-Yankees crowd began to get relentlessly vocal, I looked at the Cubs lineup and thought, “Who is coming up to bat who could really do some damage?” Unfortunately, my subsequent thought was “Um, nobody!”. In April, you tend to think the team just needs a bit more time to jell. But I don’t get that vibe with this Cub team. In fact, it seems that most players are wondering how long they will be with the team.
The Cubs have many holes to fill before Wrigley Field sees the post-season again. In the last two years, the team lost close to 200 games. Most baseball analysts expect the team to surpass the 66 wins they had in 2013, but not by much.
New manager, Rick Renteria, has plenty of opportunities to develop the youngsters in the lineup. Everyday play will improve catcher Welington Castillo’s skills. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo need to improve their offensive numbers. Rizzo, in particular, needs some protection in the lineup. The Cubs are also looking for Mike Olt to display the power he showed as a Texas Rangers prospect.
Public speculation has starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija tagged as trade bait for minor prospects. His improved fastball and breaking ball will bring out suitors. Edwin Jackson’s performance has not justified his contract and it looks like the Cubs will look to move him as well. Theo Epstein recently signed Joel Piniero to a minor league contract. Piniero has a chance of making the team if a starting pitcher is traded.
After the season’s first 10 games, veteran Jose Veras has temporarily been removed as the team’s closer. A potential candidate, Pedro Strop, made 37 appearances with a 2.83 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 35 innings of work in the second half of 2013.1 But for now, the job of closer is up for grabs.
As the year progresses, the Cubs front office is expected to make mid-season moves to get more prospects and continue the rebuilding effort. The team’s minor league farm system is considered one of the best, and it’s stocked with young talent. SS Javier Baez, 3B Kris Bryant and CF Albert Almora are all expected to break into the major leagues in 2014.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that in 2014 Wrigley Field will provide the star power. Its rich baseball history and the devotion of Cubs fans is certainly a good reason to go to a ball game. Be prepared to sing along to Harry Caray’s well-loved 7th inning rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. And remember to “Root, root, root for the home team”.
Susie Dippel is a contributor for Designated For Assignment. Follow her on Twitter (@soozenyc).