The Central Concern: Will The Cubs Really Be That Good?

Hey you. Yeah, you, the casual Cubs fan on the North Shore who doesn’t actually bother to follow the Cubs unless they’re within five outs of the World Series (WHOOPS!). I’m talking to you.

I know you’re still recovering from your ill-fated fling with the Sex Cannon, but it’s time to move on. Lucky for you, pitchers and catchers reported to Mesa this week.* And Cubs GM Jim Hendry had himself quite an offseason.

kerry_wood_studio_cubs.jpg
*Except this one. Dumbass.

He smartly opted not to resign Dusty Baker as manager (he funneled too much of the budget into toothpicks and apparently doesn’t like his team to have baserunners), instead hiring Sweet Lou Piniella, a former Yankee with a winning managerial record and a great reputation. Solid move, and I can’t wait for potential fireworks between him and Tony.

Then Hendry had himself a bit of a spree, jacking the Trib Company’s credit card to the tune of $300,000,000. Yeah. Three hundred million. Seven (7) zeroes. Shopping list: Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa, and Cliff Floyd. (Oh, and don’t forget to grab some Jason Marquis.) Never mind that in six years they’ll be paying a washed-up 38-year-old some odd $18 million: this is clearly Hendry’s make-or-break run at a title. And it seems most of the media and fans have fallen for the ruse, as the Cubs have been annointed the clear favorites to win the pathetic NL Central in 2007. The Pirates are bottom-dwellers, the Reds come up short, Houston has shown decline, and the Brewers are still a dark horse. Gotta be the Cubs. Wait, there are six teams in the division? Who’s the other – oh, right.

Last year the Cardinals won the National League Central with an admittedly embarassing 83 games. There’s a good reason for this: everyone on the 25-man roster was injured by the end of September. Not really, but it seemed like it. Now the Cardinals have seemingly stood pat as the entire rotation filed for free agency. Cards GM Walt Jocketty resigned the whole bench, found a real everyday second-baseman, and grabbed the best cheap pitching he could find, essentially planning to field the same team as last season. Jocketty has never been one to grab big free-agents in the winter, instead perfecting the crafty, how-the-fuck-did-he-do-that mid-August trades that have procurred such formidable thumpers as Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, Will Clark, Scott Rolen, and Larry Walker. But now he was expected to defend the title. Couldn’t he have done something?! He saw what the Cubs were spending. Stupid, awful, mean Jocketty. He must hate the fans in St. Louis.

So let’s unbunch our collective panties and ask – how will the I-55 rivalry shape up this year? Obviously a lot of random, crazy shit can happen in a 162-game season. But we can make a reasonable guess. To the PECOTA cave!

Part One: The Hitters
2007 VORP, WARP and EQA projections in parentheses

Catcher: Yadier Molina (2.2, 3.3, .233) vs Michael Barrett (26.4, 3.7, .278)
No question Barrett is the superior established hitter. Still astounding that Yadi’s glove/arm make WARP that close though.
Advantage: Cubs

First Base: Albert Pujols (81.4, 9.2, .349) vs Derrek Lee (23.4, 4.1, .295)
This used to be a much closer match, but Lee is in decline (2005 was a peak, not a new plateau. Pujols, meanwhile, continues to improve a little each year. He looks like the new (better) Hank Aaron for whom consistency is king, but if he peaks, how scary will it look?
Advantage Cardinals

Second Base: Adam Kennedy (15.3, 3.5, .259) vs Mark DeRosa (13.3, 2.7, .265)
Both olderish guys moving from AL West to NL Central, so I wouldn’t be surprised if these estimates are a tad conservative. Kennedy’s line-drive swing is suited to the larger Busch Stadium.
Advantage: Draw

Third Base: Scott Rolen (40.9, 6.4, .298) vs Aramis Ramirez (46.0, 5.5, .299)
It’s a statistical dead heat. A-Ram has more power in hitter-friendly Wrigley; Scotty is one of the best fielders ever.
Advantage: Draw

Shortstop: David Eckstein (14.5, 3.8, .247)vs Ronny Cedeno (9.1, 3.5, .237)
The Spark Plug is hardly an ideal lead-off man, but Cedeno probably shouldn’t bat in any of the other eight spots.
Advantage: Cardinals

Right Field: Juan Encarnacion (11.3, 2.6, .262) vs Jacque Jones (12.3. 2.8, .270)
Tony favors experience and may do so at his team’s peril this year. Coming off wrist surgery, Juan may get shown up and hopefully benched in favor of the surprising John Rodriguez.
Advantage: Cubs

Center Field: Jim Edmonds (22.3, 3.9, .289) vs Alfonso Soriano (43.9, 6.1, .296)
The most interesting match-up so far. Soriano is the jewel centerpiece of the Cubs offseason, rewarded for a career year in which he joined the 40-40 club (one of those 40’s is ALOT more important). Despite being wildy overrated, and playing out of position again, he may singlehandedly push the club into contention (and will be paid more than Pujols). Jimmy Baseball, on the other hand, is in the twilight of his career, and while there’s no better place for that than St. Louis, he will be seeing less and less playing time. But he’ll still be good for some pop, defense, and clubhouse presence (for you traditionalists out there).
Advantage: Cubs

Left Field: Chris Duncan (22.5, 3.4, .290) vs Cliff Floyd (15.8, 2.9, .282)
It remains to be seen whether Duncan’s tear last August can be consistently recreated over a full season. Hope he did some outfield work, but I have a feeling he’ll be a productive Cardinal for years to come. Floyd, less so – his Achilles problems in Queens were a blessing in disguise as they benched him in favor of postseason near-hero Endy Chavez.
Advantage: Cardinals

Cardinals Totals: 210.4, 36.1 .278
Cubs Totals: 190.2, 31.3, .278

Looks like the Cardinals have a slight statistical edge for now. Can the Cubs make up for it by having more than one starting pitcher? Find out tomorrow!

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One Response to The Central Concern: Will The Cubs Really Be That Good?

  1. sappelhans says:

    Cedeno isn’t batting in any of the 8 spots. Izturis is starting, not Cedeno. Anyways, I’m trying to start a baseball message board for this season and would love for you to contribute. Check it out at http://www.activeboard.com/forum.spark?forumID=106169 . It’s really easy to make an account, and we’ve already got some good topics started.

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