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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Chicago Cubs

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After a second straight fifth-place finish in the NL Central, the Cubs are looking for a new identity. Lovable losers doesn't cut it anymore. These days, championships are in vogue.

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To that end, the Cubs made arguably the biggest splash of the offseason, luring Theo Epstein away from Boston. Joined by longtime sidekick Jed Hoyer, most recently with San Diego, the architect of the Red Sox's two most recent World Championship teams is sure to bring change to the North Side.

Unfortunately, change takes time, especially at the pace Epstein and Hoyer have set so far. Instead of completely overhauling the roster, the two began preparing a blank slate by ridding themselves of two massive contracts (Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena) and one massive head case (Carlos Zambrano). The players they did add are either reclamation projects, such as Ian Stewart and Travis Wood, or undervalued efficiency types, such as David DeJesus and Paul Maholm.

Consider them the Chicago versions of David Ortiz and Kevin Millar.

That's an absolute best-case scenario, of course, but you get the idea. In their rebuilding state, the Cubs can afford to give high-upside players the opportunity to break out and would prefer to do that rather than stick with the status quo. After all, even a presumed Quadruple-A player like Bryan LaHair has a chance to be something more. If the Cubs hit on one or two of them, as the Red Sox did with Ortiz, they'll be that much closer to contention by the time prospects like Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson arrive.

In the meantime, they'll continue to beef up their farm system whenever possible, plugging holes as necessary while waiting for Alfonso Soriano's, Ryan Dempster's and Marlon Byrd's contracts to expire. It's a methodical way to build a contender, no doubt, but it's also a breeding ground for Fantasy sleepers.

Because only shortstop Starlin Castro and ace Matt Garza have any real job security, the door is open for the unknown to emerge and the unheralded to thrive.

Bounce-back player ... Ryan Dempster, SP

How could a 34-year-old who produced an ERA near 5.00 last year be any sort of candidate for a bounce-back season? That's what most Fantasy owners will say when they stumble across Dempster on Draft Day. But before you fall into the same trap, take a second look at the numbers. Maybe that 4.80 ERA isn't the most accurate reflection of Dempster's abilities. Something went wrong for him last April -- something to the tune of a 9.58 ERA -- but he soon figured out whatever it was, posting a 3.94 mark the rest of the way. Meanwhile, his strikeout, walk and home run rates were almost identical to the ones he put up in 2010, when he went 15-12. Dempster didn't lose his stuff last year. He simply got buried early and stayed buried pitching for a bottom-of-the-division club. The latter remains an issue, but if he can avoid the former, his heavy workload and near strikeout-per-inning potential should make him a late-round bargain.

Bust ... Carlos Marmol, RP

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When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over this offseason, one of the first issues they had to address was what to do with Marmol. They established pretty early that, yes, the right-hander would again be the Cubs' first choice for saves entering 2012, but the media's need to ask shows just how short the leash has gotten. If blown saves were Marmol's only problem, it'd be one thing, but the bottom line is he's not the efficient out-getter that Epstein and Hoyer would like their closer to be. His walk rate is as bad as it gets, and as a result, he's always pitching out of jams. Sure, his high strikeout rate helps compensate for it, but if he produces anything short of a best-in-the-league-type hit rate, his WHIP is in the danger zone. Even if Marmol gets off to a hot start, chances are the Cubs will deal him while his value is high. Whether or not he's the closer for his new team is anyone's guess.

Sleeper ... Bryan LaHair, OF

It sounds like a joke, a player as lowly as LaHair getting handed the starting first base job prior to spring training, but if Theo Epstein is willing to endorse it, gosh darn it, so am I. Epstein's Red Sox teams may have ultimately resorted to the Yankees' model of big-name, big-money stars up and down the lineup, but they only got to that point because of his willingness early in his tenure to give long looks to under-the-radar players like this one. Usually, when a player in his late 20s puts up eye-popping numbers at Triple-A like a .331 batting average, 38 homers and 1.070 OPS, he's dismissed right away as a Quadruple-A player, but apparently the Cubs' front office thinks LaHair is different -- and not just because of his impressive 59 at-bat stint in the majors last year. The experiment could still be a failure of Kila Ka'aihue proportions, which is why you shouldn't bother with LaHair in mixed leagues, but late in NL-only formats, why not?

2012 Chicago Cubs Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 David DeJesus RF 1 Matt Garza RH
2 Starlin Castro SS 2 Ryan Dempster RH
3 Marlon Byrd CF 3 Paul Maholm LH
4 Bryan LaHair 1B 4 Randy Wells RH
5 Alfonso Soriano LF 5 Travis Wood LH
6 Ian Stewart 3B Alt Chris Volstad RH
7 Geovany Soto C
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Darwin Barney 2B CL Carlos Marmol RH
Top bench options SU Kerry Wood RH
R Reed Johnson OF RP Jeff Samardzija RH
R Tony Campana OF RP James Russell LH
R Welington Castillo C RP Marcos Mateo RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Anthony Rizzo 22 1B Majors Triple-A
The Cubs will be more patient with Rizzo after the Padres rushed him last year, but he could get the call if LaHair falters. His outlook is much brighter at Wrigley than it was at PETCO.
2 Brett Jackson 23 OF Triple-A Triple-A
Like Rizzo, Jackson is destined to break through as a major-league regular at some point this season. He has five-category potential if his strikeout rate doesn't come back to bite him.
3 Javier Baez 19 SS Class A Class A
Baez has a higher ceiling than both Rizzo and Jackson, but at age 19, he's a ways away. If he's able to remain at shortstop, his power potential will make him the envy of every dynasty league owner.
4 Welington Castillo 24 C Majors Majors
Castillo will begin the year as the backup to Soto, but if the power he showed in the minors is legit, he could earn more and more at-bats over time. He's a definite sleeper for NL-only leagues.
5 Josh Vitters 22 3B Double-A Triple-A
The former third overall pick hasn't made any progress in the minors but isn't yet a lost cause at age 22. He'll need to take a step forward this year to remain a worthwhile keeper.
Best of the rest: Trey McNutt, SP; Matt Szczur, OF; Junior Lake, SS; Chris Carpenter, RP; Rafael Dolis, RP; Dave Sappelt, OF; Lendy Castillo, RP; Scott Maine, RP; Steve Clevenger, C; John Gaub, RP; Dae-Eun Rhee, SP; Ronald Torreyes, 3B; Jeff Beliveau, RP; and Jay Jackson, SP.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
A's 3B Brett Lawrie busts out with four hits, four RBI on Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(2:01 am ET) Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie had himself quite a night at the plate against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Lawrie went 4 for 5 with a home run, two doubles, four RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base.

In the fifth inning, Lawrie brought his team to with a run when he ripped an RBI double to make the score 3-2. In the seventh, he chipped in a two-run single to give the A's a 4-3 lead. And he capped off his night by launching a solo home run, his ninth of the year, in the ninth inning. It was too little too late however, as the Dodgers held on for the 10-7 win.

This was the first four-hit game and third four-RBI game of Lawrie's career. The strong showing at the dish gives Lawrie a .268 batting average over his last 10 games.


Dodgers RF Yasiel Puig hits seventh home run in win Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:54 am ET) Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig had a nice night at the plate in Wednesday's 10-7 win over the A's. Puig went 2 for 4 with a home run, three RBI and a run scored. Puig's two-run home run, his seventh of the year, gave the Dodgers a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning.

He also had an RBI single in the Dodgers' five-run eighth inning, as the team rallied from behind to claim the victory.

Puig has three home runs over his last eight games, but he has just one other hit in 24 at-bats over that stretch. 


Rangers SP Colby Lewis quiets Yankees' bats in 5-2 win
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:48 am ET) Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis earned his 11th win of the season in the 5-2 win over the Yankees on Wednesday. Lewis allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings. He struck out five and did not issue a walk, throwing 71 of his 102 pitches for strikes.

Lewis (11-4, 4.42 ERA) gave up a solo home run to Carlos Beltran in the second inning before allowing another run to score in the seventh. Otherwise, Lewis was on top of his game against a tough lineup. 

Since Lewis had a 10-run explosion on July 5, he has allowed a total of nine runs over 28 innings in his last four starts.


A's SP Jesse Chavez goes five innings in no-decision Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:44 am ET) Athletics right-hander Jesse Chavez pitched fairly well on Wednesday, allowing three runs on five hits over five innings against the Dodgers. Chavez walked two and struck out five, but was left with a no-decision in the 10-7 loss.

The big blow against Chavez came on a two-run home run by Yasiel Puig in the fourth inning, which gave the Dodgers a 3-1 lead at the time. Chavez left the game trailing 3-2. And although the A's rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh, the Dodgers countered with five of their own in the bottom half.

The month of July was not very kind to Chavez, who finishes the month 1-3 with a 5.34 ERA over five starts.


Dodgers SP Mike Bolsinger goes five innings in impromptu start
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:41 am ET) Thrown into the start at the last minute, Dodgers right-hander Mike Bolsinger pitched reasonably well against the A's. Bolsinger allowed two runs on eight hits over five innings. He walked three and struck out three, needing 90 pitches (57 strikes) to get through the fifth. 

Bolsinger would not factor in the decision however, as the Dodgers won the game 10-7 in the late innings. Bolsinger left the game leading 3-2, but the bullpen allowed four runs to score in the seventh. The Dodgers would counter with five in their half of the inning, en route to the victory.

Bolsinger finishes the month of July with a 1-1 record and a 3.00 ERA in five starts.


Report: Dodgers, Marlins, Braves working on three-team deal
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:52 am ET) The Braves, Dodgers and Marlins are in the working stages of a three-team, nine-player deal. According to reports, the Braves are expected to send top prospect Jose Peraza , left-hander Alex Wood and relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan to the Dodgers.

In return, the Braves would receive prospect Hector Olivera , lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez and minor-league pitcher Zach Bird from the Dodgers, and a 2016 draft pick from the Marlins.

The Marlins are also sending right-hander Mat Latos and first baseman Michael Morse to the Dodgers in exchange for three minor-league pitchers--right-handers Jeff Brigham, Victor Araujo and Kevin Guzman.

None of the three teams have officially announced the deal as of yet. 


Pirates acquire veteran SP Joe Blanton from Royals
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(12:42 am ET) The Pirates made a minor move early Thursday, grabbing veteran starter Joe Blanton from the Royals in exchange for cash considerations, per the teams involved.

Blandon had been designated for assignment by the Royals on Monday, shortly after they acquired starter Johhny Cueto. Blanton was 2-2 with two saves and a 3.89 ERA in 15 games with the Royals this season. 


Red Sox 1B Mike Napoli homers, doubles in loss on Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:35 am ET) First baseman Mike Napoli was the lone bright spot for the Red Sox in the 9-2 loss to the White Sox on Wednesday. Napoli went 2 for 3 with a double, two RBI and a solo home run. 

Napoli's seventh-inning home run, his 12th of the year, gave the Red Sox their second run of the game of Jose Quintana. 

After going through some rough times, Napoli is starting to show some signs of life at the plate. Over his last 10 games, Napoli is batting .364 (12 for 33) with two home runs and seven RBI. 


White Sox CF Adam Eaton stays hot at the plate on Wednesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:28 am ET) White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton homered for the second time in his last six games, as he helped the White Sox beat the Red Sox 9-2 on Wednesday.

Eaton led off the game with his ninth home run of the season. He also singled twice, drove in two runs and scored a pair, finishing the game 3 for 6.

Eaton is batting .366 with two home runs and six RBI over his last 10 games.


Report: Mets' concerns over Carlos Gomez's medicals nixes trade
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:22 am ET) The Mets have reportedly backed out of a deal that would have sent Carlos Gomez to the New York from the Brewers. 

Sources tell FoxSports.com that the Mets had concerns over Gomez's medical records, and decided not to follow through on the proposed deal, which would have sent Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler to Milwaukee. 

Gomez spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a hip injury, but he has played all but one game since June 23. However, it seems the Mets' staff did not like what they saw in the medical report. 

There had been thought that the Brewers saw something in Wheeler's medical charts, as he had Tommy John surgery in March. But reports are saying it's Gomez's injury history that has nixed the deal. 


 
 
 
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