Did the Chicago Cubs Have a Successful Season?

The Cubs are poised to improve.

In the second year of the Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer era, the Chicago Cubs went 66-96 posting their third straight 90+ loss season. 

It was their fourth straight losing season and fourth consecutive fifth place finish, although before 2013 the NL Central was home to six teams, with the Astros holding last place in 2011 and 2012.

Two years into the official rebuilding process, the Cubs are still clearly a work in progress. While the team on the field may not have had much to show for it in terms of wins, the transition towards the next winning club continues. Young players are taking over for old players and some of them have shown signs of real progress.

After reshaping and then rebuilding the Boston Red Sox, the former Fenway brain trust took the Cubs another step in the right direction this year.

Bullpen

When Cubs signed veteran reliever Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year $9.5 million deal last winter, the Japanese righty was poised to take over closing duties and replace the struggling Carlos Marmol. Unfortunately, Fujikawa’s season was cut short by Tommy John surgery after just 12 appearances. 

2013 could very well be the last bad year the Cubs see for a decade as the fruits of the rebuilding process begin to ripen.

With a 14:2 strikeout-to-walk rate and seven earned runs (although six runs were allowed in just two appearances) over twelve innings, he started off his MLB career well. Sadly, due to elbow surgery, he will not return to the team until sometime in the middle of 2014.

After a solid run in 2007 and 2008, walks began to derail Carlos Marmol’s career (6.7 BB/9 against 12.9 K/9) and the reliever posted a 32:21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27.2 innings before finishing the season with the Dodgers. While his ERA improved after the trade, his underlying numbers were almost the same.

With the injury to Fujikawa and continued ineffectiveness of Marmol, veteran Kevin Gregg got the bulk of save opportunities and picked up 33 saves for the Cubs while being good enough to keep getting chances.

Pedro Strop had a good season with a 42:11 strikeout-to-walk rate in 35 innings with a 2.83 ERA. Strop closed out seven games and picked up a save after coming over from the Baltimore Orioles in the Scott Feldman deal. Still just 28, he could be a useful part of the bullpen for a couple years.

Rotation

Jeff Samardzija has turned into a very solid starting pitcher after a rocky introduction to the majors as (mostly) a reliever from 2008-2010. With 214 strikeouts, 78 walks, and a 4.34 ERA, Samardzija wasn’t an ace. 

Not being eligible for free agency until 2016, the righty could be at the crossroads of an extension or a trade, depending on how close the Cubs see themselves to competing for a playoff spot over the next three seasons.

Letting go of manager Dale Sveum sets the stage for the Cubs to pick the manager who will oversee the rest of the rebuilding process and hopefully navigate the team into the postseason before the end of his first contract.

Edwin Jackson was brought in to solidify the Cubs’ rotation during the rebuild and the next playoff push. In the first year of a 4-year, $52 million dollar deal, Jackson put up essentially a career average year: 4.98 ERA (career 4.47), 6.9 K/9 (career 6.9), 3.0 BB/9 (career 3.5), and a 1.46 WHIP (career 1.44). 

The veteran, still just 30 years old, although on his eighth team, did have the misfortune of losing a league-leading 18 games, but he allowed more than four runs in just seven of his thirty-one starts, which is usually enough to avoid that sort of “honor.”

Matt Garza and Scott Feldman were traded to the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, respectively. Feldman, the lesser of the two, was putting up a nice season in the National League and returned a few useful parts, like the earlier mentioned Pedro Strop. 

Garza’s return to the field after battling injuries at the start of 2013 and for a large chunk of 2012 allowed his return to be more in line with what the previous Cubs regime gave up to acquire him in the first place.

With a package centered around third basemen Mike Olt, the Cubs may have acquired their third baseman of the future. While Olt’s star has fallen somewhat over the past few seasons due to a tough 2012 call up with the Rangers and a dismal AAA campaign in 2013, the 25-year old did put up a .288/.398/.579 in AA Frisco during 2012.

Travis Wood, acquired in 2011 for Sean Marshall, completed his first 200 inning season in 2013. With a 3.11 ERA and making his first All-Star Game, Wood had the sneakiest season of any Chicago player. Despite striking out just 6.5 batters per nine innings in an era where more batters are striking out than ever, Wood may have found a home in the rotation.

Offense

Starlin Castro played 161 games and had 666 at bats, which lead the league for the third straight year. Yet, at 23, Castro fell off a cliff. The Cubs’ shortstop lost over 100 points of OPS compared to 2012 while hitting .245/.284/.347. After leading the NL in hits during the 2011 season with 207, Castro finished 2013 with just 163, although that still lead the Cubs.

Castro’s partner in crime was first baseman Anthony Rizzo. In his second season in Chicago Rizzo hit just .233/.323/.419. Aside from a solid May (.295/.325/.482), the 24-year old struggled. The Cubs aren’t worried though: the team signed him to a 7-year $41 million dollar deal during the season.

2013 saw the end of the Alfonso Soriano era in Chicago when the outfielder was reunited with his former team, the New York Yankees. Soriano hit 181 home runs for the Cubs and struck out 829 times in parts of seven seasons.

Welington Castillo hit .274/.349/.397 in 113 games this season and probably showed enough to hold down the catcher’s job for the next few seasons.

Conclusion

There are a number of ways to rebuild: slash and burn like the Astros, draft well and find bargains like the Rays, and target a few key free agents while seeking out long-term solutions from the farm system like the Red Sox, to name a few.

As a big market club, the Cubs are taking a hybrid approach approach. Edwin Jackson was brought in as a free agent, a young star, Rizzo, was acquired via trade and then signed before really proving himself, and the Cubs, with a protected draft pick, could add more free agent talent this winter.

Had the team not traded two starting pitchers, their best pure power hitter, and a useful outfielder in David Dejesus, they could have won a few more games but not have come close to competing for the division.

Letting go of manager Dale Sveum sets the stage for the Cubs to pick the manager who will oversee the rest of the rebuilding process and hopefully navigate the team into the postseason before the end of his first contract.

With their young stars each another year older and more experience and the financial wherewithal to support them with quality veteran talent, 2013 could very well be the last bad year the Cubs see for a decade as the fruits of the rebuilding process begin to ripen.

See related posts:

Did the Seattle Mariners Have a Successful Season?

Did the Arizona Diamondbacks Have a Successful Season?

Did the Los Angeles Angels Have a Successful Season?

Did the Philadelphia Phillies Have a Successful Season?

Did the Washington Nationals Have a Successful Season?

Did the Kansas City Royals Have a Successful Season?

Did the Baltimore Orioles Have a Successful Season?

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