The Chicago Cubs have obviously been as frustrating a team as there is in Major League Baseball over the past 100+ years, and there are no guarantees that the 2014 season is going to be any better. They made some small additions, but no one to excite the fanbase, as they wait for their top prospects to break into the big leagues. Keeping in mind those additions that they made, don't sleep on this team showing improvement in the upcoming year.
Depth Chart (as of 3/9):
C: Welington Castillo
1B: Anthony Rizzo
2B: Darwin Barney
SS: Starlin Castro
3B: Luis Valbuena
LF: Junior Lake
CF: Justin Ruggiano
RF: Nate Schierholtz
SP: Jeff Samardzija
SP: Travis Wood
SP: Edwin Jackson
SP: Jake Arrieta
SP: Jason Hammel
CL: Jose Veras
The Cubs will welcome a handful of new faces to the North Side, many of which will help this club be at least marginally better than they were in 2013. In the field, Emilio Bonifacio is an intriguing name. He was brought in on a minor league deal, but all indications are that he should be able to carve out a place on this club. His versatility and offensive upside make him an attractive quantity. Not only could he grab a spot, he could push Darwin Barney for time at second base. Justin Ruggiano adds a right-handed bat to an outfield that was quite lefty heavy. George Kottaras will replace Dioner Navarro as Welington Castillo's backup.
On the pitching staff, Jason Hammel represents the lone outside addition to the starting staff, as he should be able to grab the fifth spot in the starting five. Wesley Wright adds some depth as a lefty coming out of the 'pen, while Jose Veras is slated to be the club's closer in 2014, in addition to mentoring some of the younger folks on the team.
In reality, the Cubs really didn't lose anything this offseason. Kevin Gregg departed, not a surprise. Dioner Navarro bolted for a spot where he could get more playing time. Brian Bogusevic was sent to Miami in the Ruggiano trade. Matt Guerrier left too. Nothing major.
On a team like the Cubs, there is some room for young guys to make an impact. At this point, the most intriguing of the bunch could be Mike Olt. After having his 2013 season derailed by injury problems, Olt was almost a throw-in in the Matt Garza trade. He's making some noise at camp this spring and could be a solid source of power for the Cubs if he can grab the third base gig. As far as the pitching staff is concerned, Arodys Vizcaino is making waves of his own in camp. His high-90s fastball is garnering plenty of attention and he could be looking at a spot in the bullpen at some point this season.
As for the Cubs' top prospects, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, we'll likely see at least one of the two at some point this year. Both possess huge offensive upside, it's just a matter of finding a position for each of them, along with giving them some more seasoning in the minors. Baez could crack the big league level by May or June. If we're going to see Bryant at all, it may not be til September.
The Cubs could be looking at a couple of available spots on the infield. Darwin Barney is an elite defender, but is completely useless at the plate. Bonifacio could push him for playing time there. Not only that, if Olt can seize the third base job, Luis Valbuena could also take some playing time at second base away from Barney, given the larger bat he brings to the mix. Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney could fight for playing time in center. Ruggiano is penciled in as the starter now, but Sweeney showed a lot of good things with the Cubs before getting hurt last year.
Jake Arrieta just barely got back onto the mound and is fighting to be ready for Opening Day. His health is going to be a point of concern moving forward. The Cubs may not call up Arodys Vizcaino right away, but we're going to see him at some point this season. Given the fact that he's coming off of two years having not pitched because of Tommy John surgery, there's definitely a question swirling around his health as well.
Dare we say that a best case scenario puts the Cubs in the playoffs? Not quite. The Cubs didn't do much to garner positive attention to their Major League club, but they did address areas of need. Their bullpen should be much better, and they got deeper in the field, where they should also be better defensively. Best case probably puts this team somewhere around .500, with Javy Baez making an impact at some point during the year.
Worst case for this club would be another 100-loss season, which isn't entirely out of the question. The Cubs addressed needs, but didn't make any sort of impact additions. They could continue to struggle putting up runs, with Starlin Castro continuing the downward spiral that he started last year. Javy Baez could come to the big leagues and disappoint. Jeff Samardzija could get hurt or struggle and cost the Cubs a shot at getting a good package in return for him. There are a lot of ways that things could go wrong for the Cubs. They've been proving it for a century.
It isn't entirely impossible that the Cubs could be a .500 team this season. They won't be, though. They're simply not strong enough yet. This is a team that could win somewhere around 75 games, though. The improved in the areas they needed to, they have a fresh new face leading the clubhouse in Rick Renteria, and they have some excitement ready to boil over in regard to some of these top prospects. At very least, they'll continue to build intrigue over this ever-improving farm system.