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Projections and Predictions

By Garrett Monaghan

Since my last post the Cubs went out and added a couple more bench players, signing outfielder Xavier Nady to a one-year deal, and infielder Chad Tracy to a minor league contract. While I'm normally not a big fan of Jim Hendry's free agent signings, this isn't a bad pair of deals.

Nady, 32, isn't a bad option as a right-handed bat off the bench; particularly given that his contract maxes out at around $5.5 million assuming he meets all his incentives. He's coming off his second career Tommy John surgery, but passed a physical this week so it's safe to assume he's fairly healthy. Nady had a career year in 2008, hitting .305/.357/.510 with the Pirates and Yankees; but don't expect him to come anywhere close to those numbers again with the Cubs given that he's coming off an injury year and won't be a regular starter. Nady hits for a fair bit of power, but doesn't walk much and is a poor defender everywhere except left field where he's average at best (which makes him outstanding compared to Alfonso Soriano.) Nady will be a perfectly adequate back up at the outfield corners and at first base, but he won't push for a starting job unless somebody gets hurt. His career .308/.383/.471 line against lefties should make him the first right-handed bat off the bench late in games.

Tracy, 29, is potentially a really interesting pickup. He had a couple very good seasons with Arizona back in 2005-2006, but has suffered through three consecutive uninspiring seasons since. A left-handed hitter who can play either infield corner reasonably well, Tracy's biggest problem is that he can't hit left-handed pitching to save his life. His lifetime .297/.358/.482 line against righties, on the other hand, could make him a really interesting backup and pinch hitter. Having a combination of Tracy and Jeff Baker available gives the Cubs a lot of insurance if/when Aramis Ramirez goes down for any length of time. Considering he didn't cost much, Tracy's potentially a great grab for the Cubs.

Neither of these guys should play huge roles for the Cubs this year, but they could be useful pieces of the puzzle and valuable contributors off the bench. Tracy's going to need to have a good Spring Training to make a crowded bench, but don't be too surprised if he makes it.

Baseball Prospectus came out late last week with their pre-season standings predictions, and I was startled (Ok, stunned) to see that they projected the Cubs to finish 77-85; in third place, four games behind the Reds.

Uh, really?

Admittedly, I don't think the Cubs have really improved much this off-season; but they haven't gotten that much worse, and the Reds haven't gotten that much better. The Reds will remain essentially the same team offensively, with the addition of Orlando Cabrera (no big gain) and the return of a healthy Jay Bruce. Bruce could help quite a bit, but he'll have to hit for better than a .220 average. If Aramis Ramirez stays healthy and Geovanny Soto finishes trading 40 pounds of fat for 40+ points in batting average, the Cubs should be a lot closer to their 2008 offensive form.

The Reds had a surprisingly good bullpen last year and should benefit greatly from the return of a healthy Edinson Volquez. That said, Aaron Harang, Micah Owings, and Homer Bailey got shelled worse than a German trench on the Somme last year; and I wouldn't expect any big returns from free agent signee Aroldis Chapman.

Why not?

One word: Dusty.

Baker worked his black magic on Volquez last year, and it's probably only a matter of time until his manages to screw up Jonny Cueto and Chapman this year. The Cubs may have lost Rich Harden and replaced him with a mobile batting practice machine in the prodigious form of Carlos Silva, but at least we don't have to worry about Baker destroying our younger pitchers anymore.

With Harden gone, the Cubs are going to need a much better season from Carlos Zambrano this year, and it appears they might get it. Zambrano showed up to the Cubs Convention in great shape, and his admission late last year that he's been lazy might be the first signs of some badly needed maturity on Big Z's part. I'm expecting good things out of Zambrano this year (not great things, good things) and it's not outside the realm of possibility that we'll see another decent arm or two help out from the minors.

Do the Reds have a lot of young talent? Absolutely. Do the Cubs have as much young talent? Probably not just yet. Can the Reds theoretically surprise us and sneak past the Cubs? Sure.

Do the Reds have a manager completely capable of destroying a pitching staff faster than the Black Plague? Yup.

So am I that worried about Cincinnati? Nope.

1 comment:

  1. On paper the Cubs still have as much talent as anyone in their division. Health is always a big wild card. With Lilly coming off of surgery and Harden gone the Cubs will need somebody to step up and throw a bunch of quality innings especially early in the year. If that happens and they can avoid major injuries to their productive players they should be in good shape.