General - Theo Epstein would like to take the Cubs to the same place he took the Red Sox, a World Series championship. That would build his legacy. He has certainly collected a group of solid position player prospects who are slowly filtering their way up to the major league club. Pitching was a little shallow on the 40 man roster so he signed free agent Jon Lester. They may still be a year away from contending but they are certainly close. They did have to experience one of those awkward situations by firing manager Rick Renteria after promising him another year as manager, because Joe Maddon became available after exercising his option of leaving the Rays after Andrew Friedman departed for the Dodgers. Life can get very complicated sometimes. The only thing Cub fans are hoping for is avoiding a sixth straight last place finish.
2015 Additions - Dexter Fowler is a nice addition to patrol centerfield. The two teams he has played for, the Rockies and Astros have had a history of second division finishes. They supplemented the outfield with the free agent signing of Chris Denorfia, who was used as a fourth outfielder by the Padres to hit left handed pitching. They signed free agent pitchers Jon Lester and Jason Hammel to augment a pitching staff short on quality depth. They have revamped their efforts behind the plate by trading for Miguel Montero and signing David Ross as a free agent. Ross is a typical backup who plays solid defense.
Catcher - Miguel Montero was acquired from the Diamondbacks to give the Cubs a solid offensive player behind the dish. The last couple years he has failed to hit over .200 against lefthanded pitching so David Ross was signed as a free agent to possibly back him up. The Cubs still have Wellington Castillo who caught for them last year. He hit .301 against lefthanders so if he is not traded it could become a natural platoon. Both Castillo and Montero slugged 13 homeruns, but Montero is more willing to take a walk. Ross is the better defensive player but is short on offense.
First Base - Anthony Rizzo has arrived as a quality player after being traded by Epstein to the Padres and then acquired back when he took over the Cubs. His bat has finally found consistency while he slugged 32 homeruns and had an OPS of .913 last year. The Cubs may use Mike Olt to back him up at first. Olt can also play third. He shows some power as evidenced by his 12 homeruns, but he also hit only .160 striking out 100 times in 225 at bats for a .248 OBA.
Second Base - Javier Baez is another player who struggled to make contact, hitting just .169 with 95 whiffs in 213 at bats. His OBA was a dreadful .227, but he did hit 9 homeruns. The Cubs will not tolerate those numbers to start the season. Arismendy Alcantara played this position before Baez was brought up. He moved to centerfield, but with the acquisition of Fowler he may turn into a super sub. He hit only .205 with a .254 OBA, dreadful numbers that will not earn a starting spot in the lineup despite the 10 homeruns. The Cubs traded for Tommy LaStella who may ultimately take over the position if Baez and Alcantara show they need a little more time in AAA. LaStella came from the Braves and is about as vanilla as you can get for a second baseman, with a .250 average and little power. At least his OBA flies over .300 (.328).
Third Base - The trade of Luis Valbuena leaves a hole at third that the Cubs have said will not be taken by Kris Bryant at the start of the season. It is hard to fathom they would start the season with Mike Olt at the position, though he did put up some good AAA numbers with the Rangers, but that was a few years ago. Junior Lake could move from left field to third base but he stumbled a bit last year (.211) and there are concerns about his defense at the position. Chris Coghlan, another player they have out in left field also played here with the Marlins. The former rookie of the year resurrected his career with a .283 average and a .804 OPS. If both Alcantara and Baez have good springs they could move one of them to third, or fit Alcantara in left and move Coghlan to third.
Shortstop - Despite the wealth of shortstops the Cubs have at this position Starlin Castro will not move from here. He does seem to have some issues with hanging around places or people where bullets fly and allegations of rape exist so you have to wonder about his lifestyle. Javier Baez was a shortstop in the minor leagues so he can play here when Castro needs a rest.
Left Field - They have a platoon here of the righthand hitting Junior Lake and Chris Coghlan. The problem with this platoon is Chris still hit higher against lefthanders than Lake so Chris could see most of the time here. One of these players could also move to third base. Chris Denorfia could see the time here against lefthanders if Junior Lake continues to struggle, or one of these two players are moved to third base. Alcantara played a lot of center last year and if the Cubs want to get his bat in the lineup they could give him some time in left field. Super defensive player Matt Szczur has a bat more suited for center field. He has very little power but could be used as a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement.
Center field - Dexter Fowler was acquired to give the Cubs a true centerfielder. Despite the speed he shows in playing defense it doesn’t translate to stolen bases. He was a magnet for reaching first base with a .375 OBA. Ryan Sweeney and Alcantara are other options here strictly in a backup capacity. Sweeney is geared more towards being a fourth outfielder, though he may lose that position to Szczur.
Right Field - Jorge Soler is one of the few prized position prospects that had success with the Cubs last year, hitting .292 with a .903 OPS in limited at bats. In AA his slugging average was over .800, in AAA over .600 and in the majors .573. He will be given every opportunity to start. Chris Denorfia can play all three outfield positions, but is best used at a corner. In 2013 he slugged 10 homeruns, but last year he lost his power, only sending one over the wall.
Starting Pitcher - Jon Lester will be the ace. Last year he split his time between Oakland and the Red Sox. Despite his 16-11 record he could not lead either of these teams far into the playoffs. He did throw 220 innings with 220 whiffs, which is what you want to see from your ace. Jason Hammel started with the Cubs and pitched well (2.98) was traded to Oakland and did not pitch so well (4.26). He has had a checkered history of success. The Cubs hopes he likes Wrigley. Jake Arrieta was the ace of the staff last year (2.53). The Orioles have seen a modicum of success from him in the past but then he would lose it. The Cubs hope he has permanently found it. Those are the three veteran locks. Kyle Hendricks will be a lock based on what he accomplished in his 13 starts in his rookie season. Except for the strikeouts his major league numbers were better than his AAA so the jury is still out on whether he can sustain his success. The fifth spot will be decided in spring training. Travis Wood got the most starts last year but achieved little success (5.03). Felix Doubront could not win a starting spot with the Red Sox but had some success late in the year with the Cubs. If Tsuyoshi Wada pitches like he did in Japan and can replicate the 3.25 ERA he had in his 13 starts last year with the Cubs the job is his. He will never wow you with his velocity but his command is second to none. Former number one pick of the Tigers Jacob Turner was acquired late in the year from the Marlins and struggled with both teams. He may need another year in AAA if he has options left. Edwin Jackson is another option, but he is a long shot. The only reason the Cubs keep him is because of his multi year albatross of a contract.
Closer - Hector Rondon saved 29 games last year for the Cubs. In 2013 his ERA was 4.77 with nary a save. Don’t know if his stuff is sustainable for the closer role. If he struggles the Cubs can turn to Jason Motte, who had a season and a half of success closing for the Cardinals before he lost his mojo.
Other relievers - Pedro Strop returns to his setup role. Righthanders hit only .168 against him and he struck out 10.48 hitters per nine innings. Neil Ramirez had similar numbers appearing in fewer games. Zac Rosscup will be used against lefties (.200) and Jackson will share the long man responsibilities with Justin Grimm. Spring training will establish the other roles.
2015 rookies - The big rookie is Kris Bryant. At best the Cubs will wait until mid year before promoting him. Last year he hit 43 homeruns between AA and AAA. He won’t hit 40 homeruns in the minor leagues this year because if he continues on the same pace some of his homeruns will leave major league parks. Jorge Soler is still a rookie and he is poised to have a Yasiel Puig type of year, hitting over 20 plus homeruns with an average close to .300. He was an offensive machine in AA and AAA and did not slow down when promoted to the major leagues. The Cubs have a lot of depth in the starting rotation but their most talented pitcher in the minor leagues, C.J. Edwards could earn a promotion. He may start his major league career in the bullpen because of durability concerns. Last year injuries limited him to 12 starts. Pierce Johnson is a 2012 number one pick and is next on the depth chart for prospect starting pitchers. Matt Szczur could replace Sweeney as the Cubs fourth outfielder, but he won’t have a big rookie impact.
2015 Finish - It is a tough division not to finish in last place for a sixth straight season. The one team they have hope of surpassing is the Milwaukee Brewers. They will need to climb over .500 to finish ahead of the Reds, Cardinals and Pirates. They need another year of experience from some of their super prospects before they can accomplish that.