Last week I reeled off 10 potential problems for the White Sox. This week it's the Cubs turn. Looking at the lineup alone, there is no way this team does not win the World Series. Looking at the fact that they play in the NL Central, if they don't make the playoffs, not only should Hendry and Piniella be fired, but the entire team should be sold off for draft picks so they look like a $160 million Marlins team after a World Series win. As great as I see this team being this year however, there are a few flaws.
10. Can Harden hold up?
Harden was simply lights-out once he came over in exchange for the crap heap that is Matt Murton and Eric Patterson. He went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA in Cubbie blue. But he has been a guy associated with injuries since he has entered the baseball fray. He is by far the game's best #4 pitcher and could be an ace on maybe a 1/3 of MLB's teams; if he stays healthy.
9. Can Fontenot handle a full season?
Mike Fontenot has been an excellent rotational infielder for the Cubs since coming up in early Summer of 2007. But now he is without DeRosa (who I will talk about later) and is the head honcho at second. He ultimately becomes a rookie again never having played this many games in a season (119 in 2008, 86 in 2007). He and Theriot have a well-publicized friendship that will definitely help, especially when turnin'-two.
8. Is the loss of DeRosa going to hurt them come August?
I know the deal was made in attempt to obtain Jake Peavy (which didn't make sense either), but there is no way giving away Mark DeRosa is not not going to hurt the Cubs. He played in 149 games at six different positions last year. He picked up for Fukudome in right, replaced Soriano when he got injured, and played 95 games at second. He hit .285 with 21 homers, 103 runs and 87 driven in. Those numbers made him more than a role player last season.
7. Will Ryan Dempster repeat?
Dempster hit a time last summer where he was simply unhittable. He was rewarded with a four-year-$52 million deal. But he will be 33 in May and will he find a way to post an ERA of 2.96? I would assume not.
6. Soriano really going to lead off again?
To me, this is the most pointless question we hear on a daily basis. I would assume that unless Fukudome gets his act together, or Fontenot becomes a .330-hitter, the Fonz is going to stay at leadoff. It's not like they're in this deep search for another power hitter. there 3-6 is going to look like this: Lee, Aramis, Bradley, Soto. Those four are going to hit 100+ home runs. Not to mention that the bottom of the order, Fontenot and Reed, who both hit .300 last year for 2/3 of the season, are not your typical 7-8 hitters and will be on the base paths when #12 steps to the plate anyway. There aren't many leadoff hitters who are expected to get 90 RBI, but putting him there makes more sense to me than dropping him in the middle of all the other power. I wish the Sox had this problem.
5. Will Milton Bradley be worth $30 million?
While Bradley's .999 slugging percentage was incredible last year, he did so in Arlington, the American League version of Coors Field. There are so many questions behind Bradley that could hinder his time in Chicago. Can he play defense? He only played 19 games in the field last year. Will his temper get the best of him? Lou will have to find a way to control those mood swings though. I honestly think Bradley will fit in fine. It's not like Fukudome or Hoffpauir are Willy Mays out there. They needed a lefty bat and decided him over Dunn.
4. Fukudome in center field?
Johnson and Fukudome are going to be platooning in center. While against lefties they should be ok, because Johnson will be batting (.307 in 109 games last year). But the same cannot be said when Kosuke gets his turn. Is he going to show he is worth that fat contract he got in 2008, or is he going to flop again? This would be a higher question mark if Reed wasn't splitting carries with him.
3. Will Marmol be the man?
Last year, an argument could be made that Carlos Marmol was the best reliever not closing. With an exception of that early July debacle when he forgot he had to throw the ball over the plate and not the guy's head, Carlos was dominant. While he was not directly tied into either the Kevin Gregg or Kerry Wood deal, they both happened because of the faith Hendry put in the Dominican. The Cubs have the luxury of having three potential closers in their bullpen though, but if Marmol doesn't work, none will be as efficient as Wood was last season after May.
2. Is Neal Cotts their lefty specialist?
I say this now half-joking, especially believing the only thing I would consider Cotts a specialist at is whiskey-downing. But this could be a potentially huge problem. They have no other lefty in the bullpen. Um, Hendry may want to fix that. Joe Beimel is available, as are Ricardo Rincon and the infamous Will Ohman. And with the market being what it is (Hudson signing for $3 mil, Crede for $2) Beimel could be had for a few million and they wouldn't even have to give up a draft pick.
1. Can the vets stay healthy?
While Marmol, Sotos and Theriot all were key contributors to the 97-win Cubs last year, they have to depend on Ramirez, Lee, Soriano, Zambrano and so many other veterans to remain off the DL in order for them to compete again. The one thing hurting this Chicago team right now is the fact that so many guys have tendencies to find themselves missing a couple weeks a year to nagging injuries.