Theo Epstein will forever be known as the man who broke The Curse of the Bambino, but if he can ever cast aside The Curse of the Billy Goat in Chicago, his place in baseball history will be cemented.
Even Epstein wouldn’t pretend that 2013 is the year that a World Series title comes to Wrigley Field, but there is a definite rebuilding project underway, with many interesting players at the core of the Chicago Cubs. More than anyone, these five players are ones you will want to watch to monitor the Cubs’ progress towards slaying the Billy Goat, and the memory of Steve Bartman:
Starlin Castro, SS: Castro combines good speed, growing power, and a good batting average to be the face of the Cubs. But he has raised the ire of Cubs manager Dale Sveum who threatened his playing time after Castro lost track of the outs in one inning in June. And Castro was subject of some trade whispers after that point. The Sveum/Castro relationship bears watching. Castro is an unmistakable talent, for sure, but if he doesn’t keep his head in the game, he could soon be the face of a different franchise.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B: As the losses mounted last spring, Cubs fans clamored for Rizzo to be called up, and the club complied in late June. Rizzo responded in the bigs, hitting .285, with 15 HR and 48 RBI in 337 ABs. He even swiped three bags for good measure. Excitement and hopes for a 30/100 season are mounting for Rizzo, upon whose shoulders the Cubs rebuilding will be placed.
Jeff Samardzija, SP: The former Notre Dame wideout successfully moved to the starting rotation last season, registering a 3.81 ERA , a 1.22 WHIP and striking out a batter per inning. Even though he pitched almost as many innings as his last four seasons combined, Samardzija pitched his best ball in the second half, and September was his strongest month. His control was greatly improved. He could be an ace, especially if his arm holds up from the huge increase in workload last season.
Scott Hairston/Nate Schierholtz, RF: This likely platoon combined for 26 home runs last year, Hairston hit 20 with the Mets and Schierholtz added six in 241 at-bats for the Giants. Hairston was extremely effective against left-handed pitching and Schierholtz has shown flashes of power. Neither player – or the platoon itself – is particularly exciting to the fan base, but if they can produce 30 HR from Wrigley’s right field, the Cubs can surprise many around baseball this year.
Kyuji Fujikawa – The Cubs spent almost $10 million on a two-year contract for Japan’s version of Mariano Rivera, who sports not only a closer-worthy 1.77 career ERA and over 200 career saves, but orange spiky hair and a closer’s sense of humor. He knows of the Cubs curse and reportedly does a mean impression of Moises Alou on the Bartman play. Carlos Marmol was almost traded in the off-season and has run into legal troubles over the winter. To say nothing of his rampant wildness and tenuous grip on the closer’s job. Fujiwaka should provide solid set-up work at the very least and could step in for a number of saves for part, or most, of the season after all is said and done.
The Cubs short-term future is in the hands of these players. Meanwhile, Theo will watch from above Wrigley Field to decide if these five (six really) will slay the Billy Goat after all or if he needs to consult an architect for further rebuilding plans.