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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
Infield shifts have become an issue for players like Reds' Bruce
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is not going to use infield shifts as an excuse for his low batting average, but he admits it does play a factor, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"That's definitely taken some hits away from me," Bruce said. "I don't use it as an excuse. But the bottom line is it takes hits away. You smoke a ball up the middle and you think it's a hit. But the shortstop is playing right behind second base.

"It's definitely cut down on average. You look at a player like Mark Teixiera. He was a .300, .280 hitter. You put the shift on him. He's a guy who drives the ball, pull hitter. He uses the other side of the field some. But guys like that are hitting in the .250s."

Bruce added that beating the shift is difficult. 

"Everyone's like, 'Hit a ground ball to shortstop or hit one down the line.' Like you can do whatever you want." he said. "A lot of times, pitchers pitch to the shift. And shifts are getting more sophisticated. In New York, (shortstop Derek) Jeter was playing third, in on the grass. So you can't bunt. Ideally, you want to get a hit. It's hard to do."

Reds hitting coach Don Long said eventually hitters will be taught in the minors to beat the shift.

"Not everybody's going to be the perfect hitter and be able to do everything," he said. "But I think you're going to find guys who want to have the ability to hit to both sides of the field."


Royals invite C J.C. Boscan to spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) The Royals signed catcher J.C. Boscan to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, according to multiple reports. Boscan, 35, spent 2014 with the Dodgers' organization, batting .259 with a homer and seven RBI in 52 games for Double-A Chattanooga.

Adrian Gonzalez confident in 'deeper lineup' for Dodgers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had an MLB-best 116 RBI in 2014, mostly batting in front of the likes of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. While both players are no longer part of the Dodgers' batting order, Gonzalez is not worried about lineup protection, per the Los Angeles Times.

"I think we're deeper, so I don't think we're going to be so dependent on the middle of the order," Gonzalez said Monday. "People say that we lost power, but I think we just put the power in different areas of the lineup."

Some of the key acquisitions this offseason for the Dodgers have been shortstop Jimmy Rollins, catcher Yasmani Grandal and second baseman Howie Kendrick. Gonzalez is confident in the new additions to the lineup.

"They're going to battle every at-bat," Gonzalez said. "They're going to be prepared. I'm not saying that we didn't before, but I think the guys that we got are guys that are going to be tougher to game plan for. From that end, it will be a deeper lineup."


Orioles' Matt Wieters has goal of being ready by opening day
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who is throwing from 150 feet in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, said he is preparing to be ready by opening day.

"The rehab's going well and going how it's supposed to from all the talk I've gotten with Dr. (James) Andrews and my physical therapist down here and Richie (Bancells)," Wieters said, per MASNsports.com. "Everything's kind of moved along and we're preparing for me to be ready for opening day. We still have a good couple of months before we're there, so it's still going to be a lot of work to put into it, but that's what I'm preparing for. We're trying to get all the steps checked off before we get there.

"We'll see when I'm actually going to be able to get behind the plate and catch in games during spring training, but it's just a matter of making sure the arm has been tested enough to where when we do get into games with adrenaline and a little bit of pressure that we're ready to go."

Wieters added making sure his shoulder is also in good shape is part of the rehab process coming off elbow surgery.

"(Monday) we went out to 150 just to test it out a little bit," he said, "and everything has kind of checked out and we've had nothing really major to set back the progression."


Indians want Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Indians want outfielder Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways, according to the Plain Dealer

Prior to joining the team, Bourn had compiled five straight seasons with at least 40 steals. Since joining the team, he's stolen 33 bases in two seasons. Injuries have played a role in his decline. Bourn admitted he had some trouble adjusting to the American League in his first season with Cleveland. He tore his hamstring on the final day of the season, and had offseason surgery, but the issue still plagued him in 2014. 

Manager Terry Francona agreed, saying "When he gets on base, he has to disrupt the game." Francona added, "he wants to do it really bad, he just wasn't in position to do it the last couple of years. Hopefully, those injuries are limited and he can use his legs because he's a huge part of what we do."

Bourn, 32, hit .257/.314/.360 over 444 at-bats last year.


Rockies, Adam Ottavino avoid arbitration
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rockies have avoided arbitration with pitcher Adam Ottavino, according to MLB.com.

Ottavino agreed to a one-year deal with the club. Ottavino will make $1.3 million next season, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The 29-year-old posted a 3.60 ERA over 65 innings last year.


Astros looking at pitcher Kevin Correia
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Astros are looking to add pitcher Kevin Correia, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Houston is said to be seeking a backend starter, and Correia fits the bill. The 34-year-old posted a 5.44 ERA over 154 innings with the Twins and Dodgers last year. 


Angels hopeful Garrett Richards will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Angels are hopeful that pitcher Garrett Richards will be ready by opening day, according to the Orange County Register

If Richards isn't ready for the start of the season, the team expects him to be back shortly after that. Richards had knee surgery in August, but he's been able to make progress. General manager Jerry DiPoto said he was "optimistic" about Richards' status. Richards has been able to increase his running on a treadmill, and hasn't experienced any issues with his throwing program, according to DiPoto. Richards is currently throwing from 125 to 150 feet about five times per week.

Richards posted a 2.61 ERA over 168 2/3 innings last year.


Orioles' Matt Wieters throwing from 150 feet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has begun throwing from 150 feet, according to MASN.

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery last season, and is working his way back from the surgery. He was cleared to start throwing from 150 feet on Monday. Wieters had previously been throwing from 120 feet. He said he's preparing as if he'll be ready for opening day.

Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats last year.


Orioles bring in Parmelee, De La Rosa on minor-league deals
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Orioles have signed outfielder Chris Parmelee and pitcher Dane De La Rosa on minor-league deals, according to MLB.com.

The 26-year-old Parmelee spent his first four seasons in Minnesota before becoming a free-agent during the offseason. Parmelee hit .256/.307/.384 over 250 at-bats last year.

De La Rosa, 31, pitched just 2 1/3 innings with the Angels last season. He had knee surgery in September.


 
 
 
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