The 25 Man Roster - how does it compare to last year?
As inspired by Rob's most recent post, I'm going to try to construct the 25-man roster that we'd be most likely to see in Game One of the season. A fun exercise would be to revisit this post then to see just how wrong I'll be because I'm sure I'll screw up at least three or four roster spots.
Starting Pitchers (5): Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, Gaudin
Relief Pitchers (7): Cotts, Marshall, Wuertz, Vizcaino, Heilman, Gregg, Marmol
Catchers (2): Soto, Bako
Infielders (6): Lee, Fontenot, Theriot, Ramirez, Miles, Rivas
Outfielders (5): Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley, Johnson, Hoffpauir
The most debatable guesses - Gaudin as a starter, Rivas cracking the lineup as a backup middle infielder, and Hoffpauir being the 5th outfielder in front of Gathright. My reasoning is that the Cubs need Marshall in the pen, Gaudin is young enough to still find success as a starter, the Cubs really have no good alternatives for backup middle infielder (Bobby Scales?), and unless he flat-out reverts, Hoffpauir earned it last year.
Compare these guys with last year's team.
2008 Zambrano vs. 2009 Zambrano
Carlos was plagued with arm problems last year. It seems to be an issue with his mechanics, though, not with the actual condition of his ligaments and rotator cuff. He was hurt and examined often; we were told that there is no damage and his arm is in good shape, let's assume that he'll have a healthier '09. Advantage: 2009
2008 Ryan Dempster vs. 2009 Ryan Dempster
Dempster won 17 games in a walk year. He's been rewarded with a large contract and is now 5 years removed from Tommy John Surgery. I just can't imagine him having a year as good as last year, although he should hopefully remain reliable as a front-line starter - albiet one who you do not want to start the first game of a playoff series. Advantage: 2008
2008 Ted Lilly vs. 2009 Ted Lilly
Lilly had a painfully rough start last year and then managed to climb out of it and win 17 games. He very well might be capable of winning 17 more this year, and unless the Reds continue to give him trouble he should have a better ERA. But overall I doubt he'll be much better - or worse - than last year's performance. Advantage: Push
2008 Rich Harden/Sean Gallagher vs. 2009 Rich Harden/???
When Jim Hendry pulled the trigger last year for Harden, he was seen as either a genius or an idiot. The basic argument was that Billy Beane knows when to cut the chord on a player and Harden would be unlikely to stay healthy enough to help the Cubs. Well, he had a great 2008 - when he was healthy enough to pitch - but he enters '09 with a damaged wing and about a zero percent chance of staying healthy all year long. Advantage: 2008
2008 Jason Marquis vs. 2009 Chad Gaudin/Sean Marshall/anybody else who wings the job
I just can't see the Cubs missing Marquis. The only thing he really brought to the team was consistency - he didn't miss a start due to injury concerns. Colin liked to point out last year that Marquis was the 7th or 8th best starter on the Cubs and I agree with him. It'll be hard for the Cubs to do worse in terms of overall performance. Advantage: 2009
2008 bullpen vs. 2009 bullpen
It would be way too time consuming to do this arm by arm. The Cubs are better by subtraction. Bob Howry and Scott Eyre are gone, and while Cotts lingers the Cubs should have fewer blowout middle inning defeats. Vizcaino, Heilman (or Gaudin), and Gregg all have the ability to be very capable middle relievers, and it seems unlikely that the Cubs will have 8th inning problems either. Nobody here will have the flat-out dominance that Marmol exhibited, but you don't need that to be a good team with a good bullpen. Overall, Advantage: 2009
2008 Kerry Wood vs. 2009 Carlos Marmol
I like Kerry Wood as much as anybody but there are a few things I won't miss. I won't miss his regular injuries. I won't miss the concern that he'll walk into a game without his stuff. I also like Carlos Marmol as much as anybody but there are a few things that worry me. I won't forget how he spent a month missing the plate with regularity. I won't forget how concerned Larry and Lou would look if his first couple of pitches were balls. I also won't forget how flat-out dominating he can be. While Marmol scares me a little, I think it's hands-down Advantage: 2009
2008 Geo Soto vs. 2009 Geo Soto
Catching is a weird position because it beats the crap out of your body. Players like Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench are miraculous because they remained consistently good hitters while taking years of physical abuse. Geovany Soto has the body of a catcher and he's at the age where hitters tend to get better. I don't know if he's going to hit the ball with more pop, or even as much, but I'd have to say that it's going to be Advantage: 2009
2008 Derrek Lee vs. 2009 Derrek Lee
Derrek showed decline last year and he did a few concerning things. He was a little too prone for errors at first. He hit into a ton of double plays. He still managed to put up good offensive numbers with fewer homeruns than we would've liked. He shouldn't have been a #3 hitter based on his production and he shouldn't be the #3 guy in '09 either. But will he be any worse in '09? Probably not. I think that if he is on a decline, it will be a slow one. Advantage: Push
2008 Mark DeRosa vs. 2009 Mike Fontenot
This is the fun debate. DeRosa had a career year. Actually, so did Fontenot. It's very unlikely that 2009 DeRosa will be as good as the '08 version; in fact it's very unlikely in my opinion that 2009 DeRosa will be as good as 2009 Fontenot. Then there are two other factors to consider - the balance lefty Mike brings to the lineup and the better defense he has at second base. It's a tough argument to make and I'm going a little bit on faith and assumption here, but at this point I'd argue Advantage: 2009
2008 Ryan Theriot vs. 2009 Ryan Theriot
He played over his head in '08 and probably put up the best numbers that he'll ever have. He's not going to be any better or worse defensively, he might get caught stealing fewer bases, but overall I'd expect somewhat declined production from the Quite Theriot in 2009. Advantage: 2008
2008 Aramis Ramirez vs. 2009 Aramis Ramriez
I don't think he's going to put up better or worse numbers. A-Ram is consistently good and he will probably demonstrate the same sort of offensive dominance that we've come to expect from our third baseman. Advantage: Push
2008 Alfonso Soriano vs. 2009 Alfonso Soriano
The one argument I will make is that Soriano just can't keep getting hurt every single year. And if he stays healthy, even if he doesn't hit as many homeruns per at bat, then the Cubs will benefit from his health this coming season. Advantage: 2009
2008 Jim Edmonds vs. 2009 Milton Bradley
I know that Bradley won't be playing the same position as Lassie did last year, but realistically Edmonds is who he will be replacing in 2009 in the lineup. While Jim Edmonds put up awesome production in his limited play time, he was defensively horrible and he actually wasn't that great of a hitter especially as the season rolled on. Bradley comes to Chicago with an injury risk and a possible attitude, but he's younger and can hit the crap out of the ball. Advantage: 2009
2008 Kosuke Fukudome vs. 2009 Kosuke Fukudome
I keep saying it and I'll say it again. In March when we tried to guess how he'd do, some of us came extremely close to his final offensive totals. We then said "cut him some slack because it's his first year and he'll do better in '09." Then we forgot our own words and now we worry that he's a bust. I don't think he will be. He's not going to hit .300 next year, or even .290, but Fukudome will have a better second year in Chicago. I'd bet on it. Advantage: 2009
2008 Bench vs. 2009 Bench
Last year's bench was bar none stronger. Granted, Pontoon Butt didn't hit the ball well, but the bench benefited from guys like Blanco, Fontenot, Reed Johnson, and Hoffpauir. I don't think the bench of 2009 will fail the Cubs, but I don't think they'll be as responsible for as many awesome moments. Advantage: 2008
Final Tally: 2008 4, 2009 9, 3 ties
I've made this point before too, but I like to repeat myself I like to repeat myself. (That was a joke.) We as Cub fans are so enamored by how we feel about DeRosa and Kerry Wood that we kind of aren't looking with clarity at how much better the team actually is. I imagine that a lot of Cub fans would argue that this off season was a bust, despite upgrades in the starting rotation (by subtraction), the bullpen (by subtraction), and the outfield. The Cubs didn't have that one big move this year, but all the little ones will add up. I honestly won't be surprised if they come close to matching - or even exceeding - last year's total runs scored and if they stay healthy this might be the first time in a long time that the team wins 100 games.
It could happen. It may even be likely when you consider how bad the rest of the NL Central will be. But more importantly, could this team as constructed win in the playoffs? I say yes, even if we didn't know that they'd be likely to upgrade some more in June and July.