Last Monday, Cubbies Crib began a series that pitted the 2011 Chicago Cubs against the 2012 Chicago Cubs. The first area that was analyzed was the starting rotation. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have prioritized the pitching staff this off-season. That has led to the 2012 Cubs’ rotation, on paper, looking like an improvement over the 2011 Cubs’ rotation.
Today we will look at the position players. Though there will be some restrictions. Considering the Cubs’ front office is not done making moves it is likely that the bottom-half of the team’s 25 man roster may still be under construction. But what is known is who the starting eight position players will be. So this post will take a look at the starting position players and see if there is an improvement from the 2011 team.
Catcher: Geovany Soto
2011 stats: .228/.310/.411/.721, 17 home runs, 54 RBIs
2012 Projection: .252/.345/.450/.795, 19 home runs, 67 RBIs
- If the Chicago Cubs are ever going to trade Geovany Soto, 2012 figures to be the year that they would do so. Soto signed a one year, $4.3 million contract in January thus avoiding arbitration. But, the initial reaction from the terms of Soto’s contract was that it makes Soto a logical trade candidate. With Steve Clevenger and Wellington Castillo both appearing to be on the cusp of being major league ready, it would seem that trading Soto would fit right into Epstein’s and Hoyer’s plan of rebuilding. Having said that, Soto also needs to prove this season that he can be a middle of the order run producer. Granted the catching position is not known as a offensive position, Soto will be leaned on this season to be one of the main producers in the Cubs lineup.
Carlos Pena’s 2012 Projection: .223/.356/.458/.814, 27 home runs, 79 RBIs
Bryan LaHair’s 2012 Projection: .273/.335/.474/.809, 13 home runs, 43 RBIs
- Carlos Pena returned to the team that gained him the most notoriety with and that was the Tampa Bay Rays. Meaning Bryan LaHair will be the Cubs’ starting first baseman when opening day rolls around. There is a lot of intrigue to LaHair. The career minor leaguer has raked in his first two seasons with the Iowa Cubs, hitting 38 home runs and driving in 109 last season with the I-Cubs. But the question has always been will that power translate to the major league level. Epstein is a believer in LaHair and feels that the veteran should be able to produce offensively in the major leagues. I, for one, am not that confident in LaHair’s ability. Nonetheless, it seems likely that LaHair will not finish the season as the Cubs’ starting first baseman. That task will likely be given to Anthony Rizzo, whose the Cubs’ first baseman of the future. It is possible that LaHair’s and Rizzo’s numbers combined are better than Pena’s, but still, I would have to give the nod to the Rays’ first baseman.
Second Base: Darwin Barney
2011 Stats: .276/.313/.353/.666 in 571 plate appearances
2012 Projection: .275/.317/.356/.673 in 321 plate appearances
- Darwin Barney may not be great at any one part, but he is jack of all trades. But the question is whether or not Barney can be considered as the Cubs’ long-term solution at the second base position. That is something that I question. Barney is a well-rounded baseball player, but his best value to a team may be as a reserve player rather than a starter. Interesting enough, Bill James projects significantly less plate appearances for Barney in 2012. James might be operating under the assumption that Barney will platoon at the second base position with Blake DeWitt. Nonetheless, with Barney at second to start the season, the Cubs are no worse nor are they better at the second base position when they started the 2011 season.
Aramis Ramirez’s 2012 Projection: .285/.350/.500/.850, 26 home runs, 94 RBIs
Ian Stewart’s 2012 Projection: .247/.328/.444/.772, 10 home runs, 35 RBIs
- The Chicago Cubs will see Aramis Ramirez this season. The team will see Ramirez when the third baseman takes the field with the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field and at Miller Park. Ramirez figures to be the main run producer in the Brewers’ lineup this season as Prince Fielder likely is going to Washington or Texas, and Ryan Braun will be likely be suspended for the first 50 games of the season. Ian Stewart figures to be a main piece to the Cubs’ offense this season. Which is why I get the feeling that Bill James’ projected Stewart before he was traded to the Cubs. While Stewart is a better fielder than Ramirez, there is no question that the Cubs will miss Ramirez’s production this off-season. That is why, for 2012 at least, the Cubs’ third base position will be a downgrade from the 2011 downgrade position.
Shortstop: Starlin Castro
2011 Stats: .307/.341/.432/.773, 1o home runs, 66 RBIs
2012 Projection: .312/.354/.441/.795, 8 home runs, 66 RBIs
- Starlin Castro is going to continue grow during the 2012 season. That alone makes him better in the 2012 season than he was during the 2011 season. The only thing that will slow Castro in 2012 will be metal handcuffs and an orange jump-suit. In all seriousness, I would expect Castro to improve both offensively and defensively in 2012. Unlike Bill James, I have a suspicion that Castro will have a greater power display in 2012. The Chicago Bulls have Derrick Rose, the Chicago Blackhawks have Jonathon Toews, and the Cubs have Castro.
Left Field: Alfonso Soriano
2011 Stats: .244/.289/.469/.759, 26 home runs, 88 RBIs
2012 Projection:.252/.308/.469/.777, 22 home runs, 63 RBIs
- Unlike Castro, another year of Soriano means the left field position will only be worse for the Cubs in 2012. My dream of Soriano not being with the team on opening day remains a possibility in my estimation. But there is no hiding the fact that Soriano’s bat is only getting slower, his knees are only growing worse, and defense is no longer in his vocabulary.
Center Field: Marlon Byrd
2011 Stats: .276/.324/.395/.719, 9 home runs, 35 RBIs
2012 Projection: .275/.329/.412/.741, 13 home runs, 66 RBIs
- If there is any one player’s whose future with the Cubs may be the most in doubt it would be Marlon Byrd. That is no fault of Byrd’s. Byrd is a great teammate, and honestly, may be my favorite player on the Cubs. The issue is that top prospect Brett Jackson is bound to be major league ready at some point this season. The Cubs could move Soriano thus creating an opening for Jackson. But with Soriano’s contract being essentially unmovable, Byrd would seem to be the odd man out once Jackson is ready.
Tyler Colvin’s 2012 Projection: .233/.279/.413/.692, 7 home runs, 24 RBIs
David DeJesus’ 2012 Projection: .271/.349/.399/.748, 8 home runs, 46 RBIs
- David DeJesus is going to be better than Tyler Colvin, that I have no doubt about. Meaning the Cubs’ right field position is already improved from the 2011 season. DeJesus figures to bat towards the top of the Cubs’ lineup and will be a nice sight to see after years of the Cubs’ lacking true top of the order hitters.
Overall, I think the Cubs are much better baseball team than they were in 2011. However, the starting eight position players in 2011 hold the edge over the starting eight for the Cubs in 2012.
Topics: Alfonso Soriano, Anthony Rizzo, Aramis Ramirez, Brett Jackson, Bryan LaHair, Carlos Pena, Chicago Cubs, Darwin Barney, David Dejesus, Geovany Soto, Ian Stewart, Jed Hoyer, Marlon Byrd, Starlin Castro, Theo Epstein, Tyler Colvin