Coming off a 97-win season, the Cubs looked like one of the early favorites in the NL last year. Instead, they won only 83 games, finishing a disappointing 7 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.
Milton Bradley talked his way out of the lineup and eventually out of town. The rotation flopped at every turn, with Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano succumbing to injuries and Ryan Dempster falling short of his breakout 2008. About the only starting pitcher who pulled his weight was Ted Lilly, who set career highs with a 3.10 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.
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And that's the beginning of the bad news for the Cubs in 2010. Lilly, the team's most consistent hurler over the last three years, had his shoulder cleaned out in the offseason and will miss at least the first month, potentially needing even longer to regain his form. The Cubs didn't take any measures to deflect the loss, even allowing Harden to leave via free agency, and will have to rely on one of Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva, Sean Marshall and Jeff Samardzija to step up in Lilly's absence. They do have some reason for optimism with Dempster's strong finish and Zambrano's resurgent strikeout rate, but if you want stability in Fantasy, you won't find it here.
The Cubs took a similar hands-off approach with their starting lineup, their only change coming in center field with the singing of Marlon Byrd. He doesn't have the same potential as Bradley, but at least he won't ruffle any feathers. Overall, the team's run production figures to improve. Derrek Lee probably won't put up the same numbers, but Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto couldn't possibly get any worse. If Aramis Ramirez stays healthy, the Cubs will have a deep middle of the order.
But again, they're counting on all their wrongs to right themselves, which doesn't open the door for much new blood in Fantasy -- bounce-back candidates maybe, but nothing game-changing.
Breakout: Geovany Soto, C
Soto looked like he broke out when he won Rookie of the Year in 2008, but since he regressed so completely last year, apparently not. His performance disappointed nobody more than himself, though, which is why he committed to losing a whopping 40 pounds in the offseason. He says he has the energy of a 12-year-old now, which should only help his stamina and explosiveness. He improved his selectivity last year, so if he can bounce back with the same power he had when he hit 23 homers as a rookie, he should have his best season yet. If you don't get Joe Mauer or Victor Martinez on Draft Day, you might as well wait until the late rounds -- a little earlier in two-catcher leagues -- and go with Soto. He has the upside to finish third behind that elite duo.
Bust: Alfonso Soriano, OF
Soriano took a huge step back last year -- the third straight in which he missed more than 25 games due to injury. He hit a career-low .241 with a career-low .726 OPS at an age when hitters typically begin to decline. Yet Fantasy owners still want him. How does Soriano get a free pass and Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz don't when Soriano was arguably the shadiest of all of them in his prime? His terrible plate discipline always puts him at risk for a low batting average, and at age 34, he's no longer a threat to steal 20 bases. He might still have the potential to hit 30 homers, but considering his poor contact rate and propensity for injury, it's a long shot. Drafting him as more than a fourth outfielder in a mixed league is a gamble.
Sleeper: Xavier Nady, OF
Nady underwent Tommy John surgery in July, preventing him from landing a big contract or a predominant role this offseason even though he set career highs with a .305 batting average, 25 homers and 97 RBI when last healthy in 2008. But hitters typically bounce back quickly from the procedure -- Shin-Soo Choo and Kelly Johnson both played their best ball immediately afterward -- which means the Cubs stand to get a big return for their investment. Nady will have to settle for a platoon role with Kosuke Fukudome to begin the year, but he figures to take over when Fukudome suffers his usual midseason slump, assuming Alfonso Soriano doesn't hurt himself first. When that day comes, he'll matter again in mixed leagues. He should probably go undrafted in shallower formats just because he offers no immediate help, but he'll surely outperform his draft position in NL-only leagues.
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Ryan Theriot||SS||1||Carlos Zambrano||RH|
|2||Kosuke Fukudome||RF||2||Ryan Dempster||RH|
|3||Derrek Lee||1B||3||Ted Lilly||LH|
|4||Aramis Ramirez||3B||4||Randy Wells||RH|
|5||Alfonso Soriano||LF||5||Tom Gorzelanny||LH|
|6||Marlon Byrd||CF||Alt||Carlos Silva||RH|
|7||Geovany Soto||C||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Mike Fontenot||2B||CL||Carlos Marmol||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Esmailin Caridad||RH|
|R||Xavier Nady||OF||RP||John Grabow||LH|
|R||Jeff Baker||INF||RP||Sean Marshall||LH|
|R||Micah Hoffpauir||1B/OF||RP||Jeff Samardzija||RH|
|Not much power yet, but a natural hitter with All-Star potential. Could arrive by season's end.|
|2||Brett Jackson||21||OF||Class A||Double-A|
|First-round power hitter on fast track to majors. Enough of an athlete to play center field.|
|3||Josh Vitters||20||3B||Class A||Class A|
|Third overall pick in 2007 potentially a .300-hitting, 30-homer third baseman in the majors.|
|Occasionally hits upper 90s with his fastball. Could become an ace if he remains a starter.|
|Throws almost as hard as Cashner, but a year closer. Could get call if veterans don't pan out.|
|Best of the rest: Ryan Flaherty, 2B; Tyler Colvin, OF; Hak-Ju Lee, SS; Christopher Carpenter, SP; Welington Castillo, C; D.J. Lemahieu, 2B; Mitch Atkins, RP; Steve Clevenger, C; Junior Lake, SS; Jovan Rosa, SS; Marcos Mateo, RP; Alessandro Maestri, RP; Logan Watkins, 2B; Jeff Stevens, RP; Ty Wright, OF; Darwin Barney, SS; and Anthony Thomas, 2B.|
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