Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Baseball

Odd Man Rush: Future of Cubs lineup beginning to take shape

If there is one thing that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer know how to do, it is stock future talent.

That just happens to be something the Chicago Cubs need right now and the two front office personalities will certainly get a chance to put their stamp on the club before this year's trade deadline.

The Cubs hired Epstein as their president of baseball operations in October in the hopes that he can duplicate in Chicago the feat he pulled off in Boston. Epstein, of course, helped put together a Red Sox roster that won the franchise's first World Series title in 86 years in 2004 and added a second world title three years later.

Long-suffering fans in Chicago have been pulling for a team that hasn't won a World Series since 1908, but the hope is that Epstein and Hoyer, the club's current general manager, can change all that.

With Boston, Epstein ran a club that drafted the likes of Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz to form a talented and balanced core. Papelbon went on to save 219 games in seven seasons with the Red Sox and recorded the final out of the 2004 World Series, while Pedroia picked up an MVP award in 2008 one season after capturing the American League Rookie of the Year honor.

Hoyer worked with Epstein in Boston from 2002-09 before spending two seasons with the San Diego Padres. Tasked with rebuilding their talent pool, Hoyer saw ESPN.com rank San Diego as having the top farm system in baseball two months after he joined the Cubs.

The duo have already begun to shape the Cubs' offense, trading for first baseman Anthony Rizzo in January to rekindle their love affair with the powerful prospect. Rizzo was originally drafted by the Red Sox under Epstein's watch in 2007 and then traded to Hoyer's Padres in 2010 as part of a collection Boston sent to San Diego for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

The Cubs are hoping the 22-year-old Rizzo, ranked the top first-base prospect and 29th overall by MLB.com, will anchor the lineup for years to come as a power bat with a solid glove.

Chicago then made a bigger splash this past week with the report of an agreement with Cuban prospect Jorge Soler on a nine-year, $30 million deal. The 20-year-old corner outfielder is thought to be a future five-tool star and seems to slot in nicely in Chicago's future.

Soler likely won't be ready to help the Cubs out this season, but his services won't be needed, either. Chicago entered play on Thursday 20 games under .500 and 13 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central, so rushing Soler makes little sense.

Rizzo, though, will likely see time in the majors this year.

How good does a future lineup of Soler, Rizzo and budding 22-year-old star Starlin Castro sound?

That trio won't stand alone, either. Brett Jackson is considered the third-best outfield product in baseball thanks to his mix of power and speed, and his ability to play all three outfield spots offers excellent versatility. Chicago's hot corner also is expected to be manned by either current minor league shortstop Javier Baez (the ninth overall pick of the 2001 draft) or 2007 first-round pick Josh Vitters in the coming future.

You can never have enough talented bats in the system and Epstein elected to grab high school outfielder Albert Almora, a possible Castro clone, with the sixth overall pick of the most recent draft.

Chicago's front office now needs to turn its attention to the mound, where the Cubs are much thinner in talent. While the club may have a solid starter in 27-year-old Jeff Samardzija to build around, the likes of minor leaguers Trey McNutt and Dillon Maples aren't likely a season or two away from helping out.

Interestingly, it is a pair of current starters who should help Epstein land some future arms. Pending free agents Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza could both be dealt before this season's trade deadline and should net solid returns. Dempster is the exact type of veteran a contender will be looking to add for the stretch run and his solid campaign (2-3, 2.31 ERA) has only padded his value.

Garza, meanwhile, will be the more high-priced chip due to his age (28), arbitration eligibility and career sub-4.00 ERA.

Should Epstein want to accelerate the process, the Cubs only have five players under contract for next season, according to baseballprospectus.com, though the likes of Castro, Samardzija and Ian Stewart are all set for arbitration.

Chicago's favorable payroll situation and future offense should make it an attractive option for some of the top free agent arms expected to hit the market this offseason, including current Milwaukee Brewers Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum as well as the Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels and the Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields.

The Cubs are likely headed to a fourth straight season without playoff baseball and their championship drought has been well documented. However, with Epstein and Hoyer on control, the situation figures to be on the upswing in Chicago.