In Year 2, Cubs rebuilding plan moves forward
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The 2013 Cubs should be better than last year's version, especially with Anthony Rizzo on the North Side for a full campaign.
The Cubs embark on their 138th National League season today, amid tempered optimism coming off a 101-loss transition year.
Theo Epstein's "parallel fronts" view of the organization still very much applies.
The immediate concern of the 2013 season is at the forefront, but we cannot discount the big-picture landscape, which is focused on acquiring as much impact talent as possible, particularly on the pitching side of things.
So, in many ways, I anticipate this season much like last year, although we know a lot more now than we did then.
We know a group led by Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija have been identified as the core moving forward.
We found out the front office has acted exactly how Theo said it would when he took over the club — it would make cold, hard baseball decisions for the long-term betterment of the club, even putting it at a short-term disadvantage if it's obvious it is no longer in a playoff race.
We also can plainly see what the organization has (lots of high-ceiling position players at the lower levels) and lacks (top-end pitching prospects) and how those things will guide the front office moving forward.
This Cubs team should be better than last year's version. I don't see the offense being worse than its 28th ranking in runs scored, especially with Rizzo here for a full campaign.
Defensively, the Cubs made nice strides, and I expect them to continue to catch the ball with one of baseball's most detailed shifting systems and several above-average defenders.
The pitching part of the equation is the most interesting because of the changes in the rotation.
There has been a pretty big overhaul when you go back a calendar year. Only one guy repeats in the season-opening rotation — Samardzija. Ryan Dempster, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm are gone and Matt Garza is on the DL.
How Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva and Travis Wood stack up remains to be seen, but at least there are track records there that give you reason for encouragement.
And once Garza returns (and if you get anything out of Scott Baker this season), you see a pretty talented group. I expect the bullpen to be improved with the addition of Kyuji Fujikawa in a setup role.
One thing for sure, Dale Sveum and his coaches and the Cubs' advance scouting department will get everything they can out of this roster. The foundation surrounding this club is as solid and impressive as any I've been around.
Theo has spent the last year-and-a-half overhauling, adding to and tweaking a baseball staff that features some of the brightest, hardest-working people in the game today.
The exhaustive amount of research done on player acquisitions, pro/amateur scouting, game-strategy decisions, pitching/hitting mechanics and pretty much anything and everything you could ever ponder is pretty incredible.
In that regard, right now, it's all about the process. The simple theory is, if you are as thorough as humanly possible in all the above areas, you give the organization as a whole and the players as individuals the best possible chance to have sustained success.
I am certain just about every team in baseball has worried that, at some point, a big payroll club would start running its baseball department with a small-market-like efficiency, and it looks like we have found that very model right under our nose.
I believe it's a killer combination.
Think the Tampa Bay Rays with loads of money to eventually spend when they're ready to pounce.
Sounds exciting, doesn't it?
• Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter @LenKasper and check out his [URL]blog entries;http://wgntv.com/news/stories/len-and-jds-cubs-baseball-blog/[URL] with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com. To post comments or questions for Len, click on the comment link with his column at dailyherald.com.[/URL]
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