I want to take a break from College Basketball and write about something coming up very soon, the start of baseball season. I'll do a Chicago Cubs/NL Central preview and Detroit Tigers/AL Central preview since one is my favorite team and one is the local team (that I do root for, besides against the Cubs, but the Cubs are number one in my heart, trust me).
Chicago comes in this season with a lot of hope, but not a lot of change. Milton Bradley, one of the dumbest free agent signings ever, is gone. Why Hendry gave him 30 million dollars over the next three years is beyond me. He did just what I thought he would do, be a jerk in the clubhouse and not produce on the field. Now, he is gone. Luckily, Marlon Byrd is here to add some offensive firepower. The most important pickup for the Cubs this season is probably Rudy Jaramillo, the Rangers old hitting coach. He could get more production out of hitters like he did in Texas. The Cubs are going to need every run, as the core of players are getting older.
The Cubs had the second best team ERA last season, behind the Giants. If Lilly and Zambrano can come back healthy and strong, the Cubs could have a top pitching staff once again. Sadly, it seems Zambrano will never live up to the hype has had for the last decade. Lilly could miss the first month of the season, so he will be fresher in the dog days. I am happy the Cubs let Harden walk (and sign to the Rangers) and move on. He was an excellent pitcher. But his injury concerns were too much and him being a "five and dive" only made our bullpen work harder every fifth day.
The Bullpen is going to be weaker this year, with Angel Guzman injured (again) and Carlos Marmol walking too many batters to be a closer. He can still turn it around, but there is a reason Kevin Gregg (also gone) closed last year. Hopefully, young arms from the organization like Jeff Samardzija or Sean Marshall can step up and give solid innings. Carlos Silva could help out, but I have a feeling he is going to get shelled often. I would like to see a move or two made to help bolster the pen.
Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are older and more brittle. They are very capable of putting together another good season or two, but don't count on it. Theriot and Fontenot are playing on borrowed time. Eventually, I bet around late June, Sterling Castro will get called up and play second or shortstop. He is a real deal prospect who will be a Cub for a long time. I doubt the Cubs will move one of those guys, but it could happen. Soto is back, trimmer and ready to rebound. He was hurt all year but is ready to take on a full season. Koyie Hill is tough guy and a solid backup, but I don't want him to start too often. The outfield will be Soriano, Fukudome and Byrd. Byrd is an upgrade in Center. Fukudome will never hit with power in America. He is still a solid player and could put a nice season together under Jamarillo. Soriano won't ever live up to the hype, but I hope to see him not be so streaky. I wish the Cubs would have resigned Reed Johnson, but Sam Fuld is a good replacement. Tyler Colvin could get a call up this year.
A lot of fans are calling for Jim Hendry's job. But he usually puts together good trades and free agent signings, and has rebuilt the Cubs minor league system. The farm system now has some actual talent and is going to start contributing to the big league club really soon. I suspect Lou Piniella is going to retire soon, and the Cubs will start the search for the new manager, who if given a few years could be Ryne Sandbergh. Its too early to tell.
The Cardinals, even with less pitching, should win this division. Matt Holliday was a huge signing for them. Pujols is still the best player in the game, and the Cardinals will be the team to beat. The Cubs will come in second, almost by default. The team's payroll is too high to expect a second place finish, but they can not out hit the Cards. The team is getting younger, and soon they will a radically different team. If they fall behind early, they could move some veterans from more prospects. Milwaukee still has a lot of talent, but they don't have the pitching to compete with the top two. They are a good young team, but need to start making some moves and signing some free agents. The Reds will be a trendy pick to make the playoffs, but they don't have the depth to win the division. They are starting to get the players they need to win, but are a year or two away from really being a threat. Chapman won't play much this season. Pittsburgh is also starting to rebuild and won't finish in last this year. But they will have another losing season. Houston is going to be awful and they have maybe the worst team in the league. They have a few good holdovers, but they could all be sold by the deadline. They are so old as a team that the future doesn't look bright either. With the NL East improving, I think only the division winner will get a playoff spot. This could be a very good division in a few years. But right now its very top heavy.