As an initial partnership with Chat Sports, World Series Dreaming is going to look at the five Cubs players that we believe will be most interesting to watch as the 2013 season gets underway. This team, while not expected to seriously contend, is still deeper and more talented than the 2012 version that lost 101 games. There have been multiple additions to the starting rotation, the outfield, the bullpen, and various non-roster invitees who will try their hand this spring to live up to the role once occupied by Cubs legend Tony Campana and Super Joe Mather. While the relief corps and the bench guys are very important to the success (oh lawd do we hope!) of the 2013 Cubs, we will focus mostly on the players who should have the most impact.
Garza last pitched on July 21 of last season against the rival Cardinals when he felt discomfort in his arm. This was annoying for about a billion reasons, chief among them the fact that 1. he wasn’t going to be able to pitch anymore, which meant more Casey Coleman, Chris Volstad, and Crappy McCrap and 2. he could not be traded to a contender as one of the most coveted non-waiver deadline commodities. While incredibly disappointing, the Cubs did have one more year of control of Garza, who avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $10.25MM contract in his last year of eligibility before hitting free agency.
In the meantime, Garza has been very diligent in rehabilitating his elbow injury, and seems on track to pitch in Cactus League play. There are a number of different ways the Cubs can go with Matt Garza at this point. They can attempt to trade him right before Opening Day, when he’s shown he’s healthy through a few Cactus League starts, to guarantee the other team that they will have him for the full season and thus allow them the option of extending the qualifying offer at the end of the season should the new team decide not to offer an extension. This obviously means Garza would no longer be an interesting player to watch, but this does reduce the Cubs’ risk in terms of another ill-timed injury cropping up.
Alternatively, the Cubs can keep Garza and hope he goes back to being the pitcher he was before the July injury. If he pitches well, as a guy with decent control and strong strikeout ability, he would be a very juicy trade commodity at the deadline. The Cubs could also decide to keep him through the entire season and give him the qualifying offer to snag a compensation pick in next year’s draft, but as a not-quite-elite pitcher, Garza may suffer from Kyle Lohse syndrome as teams are reticent to give up their picks for middling free agents. Finally, depending on how the market pans out, the Cubs could elect to offer Garza an extension, which would start during his age 30 season in 2014 and theoretically lock him up through his prime years. The options are there. If Good Garza shows up and pitches, he can make the decision very difficult for the Cubs while simultaneously entertaining Cubs fans.
The mighty bearded one had a breakthrough season in 2012 against multiple odds as Samardzija finished with strong peripherals and an ERA under 4 while plowing through 174.2 innings. I’m still trying to figure out where that came from, but the Cubs front office seemed confident that it was no fluke and offered an extension over the offseason. Samardzija, being from Notre Dame and smart by default (ND is a good school dontchakno), decided not to pursue the extension for now. Instead, he will let his production do the talking for him. If Jeff Samardzija repeats or improves upon his 2012 campaign, I imagine that the Cubs will have to pay much more than what they offered this offseason. The success of Samardzija (and Garza) at the top of the order will determine how well the Cubs are likely to do this season, as well as force a bit more money out of Papa Ricketts’ pocketbook. With a still-young arm, high velocity and a devastating splitter, chances are that Samardzija is going to get paid.
The Cubs’ brand new toy came into Wrigley swinging upon his call-up in June, struggled a bit, adjusted, and finished with a strong rookie line of .285/.342/.463 while playing excellent defense at the corner. The problem was that in a limited sample, he couldn’t hit lefties for crap. Keep in mind that this is an extremely small sample, though, and with no logical candidate to back up first base (Luis Valbuena? Lulz. Scott Hairston? Maybe.), Anthony Rizzo will most likely play at least 150 games so he will face many more lefties as he continues to grow. He should learn more about how to adjust to LHP and will hopefully start punishing them as well. Rizzo has the power and the skillset to make this work, and if he can figure out lefty pitching, he will be able to solidify the young Cubs core even more.
The unusually despised Stewart finally got his wrist issue fixed. In limited playing time before his injury forced his season to end, Stewart was actually not that much worse than Luis Valbuena. Stewart has always flashed tons of power, whether at Coors Field or otherwise. He was non-tendered by the Cubs this season but did receive a new contract as an incentive to do his best to earn his spot as the starting third baseman, which was the goal when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer traded former Cubs legend Tyler Colvin for him last offseason. If he hits like early-career Ian Stewart, prior to the wrist issues, he could bolster what looks to be a still-terrible offense. Ian Stewart also has another year of arbitration eligibility for 2014 as a Super Two player, so the Cubs and their fans should be anxious to see what that repaired wrist can do. At least the guy can play defense.
Always Castro. As the face of the franchise, and the owner of a new hefty extension that will make him a Cub for the better part of this decade, Castro will need to improve upon last season, which was statistically his worst major league season since his debut. Interestingly, Castro was still one of the best shortstops in the majors on the offensive side, has improved defensively (and hopefully that continues), and is still only going to be 23 when the season starts. If he continues to work on the defense and his ADD issues, and the bat continues to show power progression, then we can have ourselves a fun team to watch even if the record sucks.