The Human Element

As the players are enjoying their last few days before Spring Training starts, the mainstream media preseason predictions are rolling in. Like always the predictions vary from publication to publication but the reoccurring theme is the Cubs will be better in ’07….that’s good to hear considering after last season there is truly only one way to go.

Regardless of which publication one may choose to put their faith in, the one factor no one can predict is the unexpected…. the human element.

Take last season for example, when Derrek Lee went down not only did his injury end the Cubs season, just as it got started, but via the domino effect, Lee’s injury impacted the league as a whole. Lee’s absence allowed the Cubs to plummet into the abyss and in turn made them a seemingly easy target for every team in the league….with the exception of the Cardinals. So while predictions are great to discuss this time of year, they are not the end all be all and should never be etched in stone.

So onto the predictions….

The annual talk of the Cubs’ curse has taken a backseat, for the most part, so far this season. This year every single outlet seems to be focused on the record amount of money the Cubs spent since they last took the field on what seems like an eternity ago. While this topic has been discussed at nausea, the word for the foreseeable future of the Cubs is….MONEY!!! Alfonso Soriano recently said:

“I think the money isn’t that important to me. I’m not looking for the money. I’m looking to be happy and I think this is a good place for me to play and be happy.”

Other than the “m” word, the concern over the health of the Cubs as an organization was a reoccurring theme. Whether it is the health of Mark Prior or Kerry Wood or Wade Miller or Derrek Lee, the concern is there. Several players looked ready for Spring Training during the convention, so the goal must be for this organization to leave Las Vegas at the end of March with a healthy team, sans injuries….a feat they have not accomplished since 2003….ironically enough the last time they played meaningful games in October.

The Sporting News

The Sporting News ranked the Cubs 8th in their National League power rankings and 17th overall. They think the Cubs will lead the league in solo home runs and will not live up to all of the expectations from their off-season spending spree. The Sporting News predicted the Cubs will finish 3rd in the National League Central behind the Cardinals and Astros. Here is how they see the central shaping up:

  1. Cardinals
  2. Astros
  3. Cubs
  4. Brewers
  5. Reds
  6. Pirates

The Sporting News prediction (written by Carrie Muskat) mentions the possibility of Cesar Izturis (and his sub .300 OPB) hitting in the either the 2-hole or 8th in the lineup depending on what Piniella does with Mark DeRosa. While the infield defense of Lee, Ramirez and Izturis could be the pitching staff’s best friend; Izturis in the 2-hole could prove to be hazardous to the Cubs season.

2007 Cubs Projected Lineup according to the Sporting News:

  1. Alfonso Soriano – RF
  2. Cesar Izturis – SS
  3. Derrek Lee – 1B
  4. Aramis Ramirez – 3B
  5. Jacque Jones – CF
  6. Michael Barrett – C
  7. Matt Murton – LF
  8. Mark DeRosa – 2B

2007 Cubs Projected Starting Rotation according to the Sporting News:

  1. Carlos Zambrano
  2. Ted Lilly
  3. Rich Hill
  4. Jason Marquis
  5. Mark Prior

The questions about Ryan Dempster being the closer for 2007 were discussed. Dempster blew 9 saves for the Cubs last season and seemingly lost all of his confidence, not to mention his ability to throw strikes. Dempster’s 1.51 WHIP has to be concerning for Piniella and Rothschild (Mariano Rivera 0.96 WHIP, Billy Wagner 1.11 WHIP, Jason Isringhausen 1.46 WHIP, Brad Lidge 1.40 WHIP) and the Sporting News stated he is an important piece to the Cubs success in 2007.

Roberto Novoa could figure into the equation out of the pen, late in games according to the Sporting News. Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre will be the setup me again with both waiting in the wings incase Dempster struggles early in the season.

Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Theriot, Scott Moore, Angel Pagan and Felix Pie will contend for the last spots on the 25-man roster out of Spring Training.

Hot Prospects: Felix Pie, Eric Patterson and Donald Veal

2007 Major League Yearbook and Fantasy Guide

While this mainstream publication is geared for the Fantasy Baseball player, they do provide projections for each team. The Yearbook predicted the Cubs will finish 3rd in the NL Central behind the Astros and Cardinals with an 80-82 record….here is their finishing order:

  1. Astros
  2. Cardinals
  3. Cubs
  4. Brewers
  5. Reds
  6. Pirates

Interesting stat – The number 2 spot in the Cubs’ lineup in 2006 totaled a .319 OBP.

They feel the top of the Cubs lineup of Soriano, DeRosa, Lee and Ramirez could tally 140 home runs. They think the Cubs could make a playoff run but it all depends on the overall health of the team and if Mark Prior and Jason Marquis can “turn back the clock”. The Yearbook feels the Cubs will put up a lot of runs but because of the weak pitching staff so will their opposition. They think Rich Hill will have a huge year and will become an elite-starting pitcher; on the same note they think Ronny Cedeno will not get many at bats because of DeRosa, Ryan Theriot and Cesar Izturis.

According to the Yearbook, Derrek Lee will be the 2007 NL Comeback Player of the Year

Lindy’s Baseball Preview

Lindy’s Baseball Preview apparently liked all of the off-season moves the Cubs made and all of the questions surrounding the other teams in the central. Lindy’s picked the Cubs to win the Central Division, the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the National League and lose to the New York Yankees in the World Series. Lindy’s picked Lou Piniella to be the NL Manager of the Year and Carlos Zambrano to win the Cy Young Award. Here is Lindy’s finishing order for the central in 2007:

  1. Cubs
  2. Cardinals
  3. Astros
  4. Brewers
  5. Reds
  6. Pirates

Lindy’s goes a little deeper than some of the other mainstream publications in the fact they give basic projections for the starting rotation and position players.

The 2007 Cubs Projected Starting Rotation and Predictions according to Lindy’s:

  1. Carlos Zambrano (18-9, 3.16, 222 2/3 IP)
  2. Ted Lilly (10-10, 4.33, 177 2/3 IP)
  3. Mark Prior (12-8, 3.52, 180 IP)
  4. Rich Hill (12-9, 3.94, 171 1/3)
  5. Jason Marquis (no predictions made)

The 2007 Cubs Projected Starting Lineup and Predictions according to Lindy’s:

  1. Alfonso Soriano – CF (.286/41/102)
  2. Cesar Izturis – SS (.267/3/34)
  3. Derrek Lee – 1B (.303/33/98)
  4. Aramis Ramirez – 3B (.290/40/116)
  5. Jacque Jones – RF (.273/23/76)
  6. Michael Barrett – C (.274/14/67)
  7. Matt Murton – LF (.289/17/69)
  8. Mark DeRosa – 2B (.283/11/68)

Ronny Cedeno – (.253/5/35) – off of the bench

Lindy’s feels Felix Pie and Scott Moore are the Cubs’ top prospects and Ronny Cedeno will back up Izturis and DeRosa in the infield. They do not mention Ryan Theriot, Wade Miller or Angel Pagan and give very little insight on what the Cubs’ bench could look like. Lindy’s also questions whether or not Felix Pie is ready to play at the major league level and mentions his lack of plate discipline as one of his major flaws.

From Lindy’s Scout’s Snapshot:

“They made the most noise over the winter, signing Soriano, DeRosa; adding Lilly to the rotation. They’re going to score more runs than last year, though they’re heavily right-handed. Pitching is going to tell the story. Can Prior stay healthy enough to start 31 or 32 games? Can Lilly win 15 again? Can Wood close out games? Can Dempster? If they can’t get enough positive answers, then they’ll come up short again. And Hendry will be gone.”

Athlon Sports posted their Cubs’ preview on earlier in the week and they reiterated everything that has been said by every other publication out there. Athlon did not post their predictions for the division winners in 2007 but the CCO will add their thoughts soon.

In the Hot Stove section on, they have a projected position breakdown that includes Soriano in center, Cliff Floyd in left and Cedeno at short. All of the publications mentioned were written before the Cubs signed Cliff Floyd but if Piniella uses Floyd the way he should be used at this point in his career, those predictions are valid. Matt Murton should be given the chance to continue what he started last season with Cliff Floyd being used as an insurance policy and a dependable left-handed stick off of the bench.

Another report on mentioned the most potent lineups (on paper) heading into the season. The Mets are believed to have the best lineup in the majors followed by the Cubs….yes the Cubs.

Get loose, the marathon starts on Wednesday.

Are any of the above predictions correct? Well, that is why they play the game….

Quote of the Day

"Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure." - Joe Maddon