Making Sense of the MLB Trade Deadline

Whoa. Ok. That was a lot of movement. Between the new players on new teams in the NFL and now MLB, my head is spinning.

Naturally, when there is any sort of mass player movement in any of the major sports leagues in the United States, we must pick ourselves some winners and losers. So, why should we be any different?

We will break this down into three categories: winners, losers and those in limbo. That’s right. You came for two, and we’re giving you a third on top of that. Take that, ESPN!

WINNERS:

Texas Rangers:

-Acquired RP Koji Uehara from BAL for SP Tommy Hunter and 1B Chris Davis

-Acquired RP Mike Adams from SD for 2 pitching prospects

The Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League not playing in the East. They had a clear weakness on their ballclub: the bullpen. They can mash with the best of them and they have solid starting pitching thanks to All-Stars C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando. However, their bullpen ranked 11th in the league and outside of Arthur Rhodes, the unit was under-performing.

One American League official went as far to say that if the Rangers were able to trade for Uehara (1.71 ERA, 62 Ks in 47.0 innings), they would play in the World Series. Ok, maybe that guy got ahead of himself. But, the Rangers did pick up the most dominate reliever available for their eighth inning, then got Mike Adams (1.13 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 49 Ks in 48.0 innings) to shorten the game even more. Starters need only to go six innings with Adams, Uehara and Neftali Feliz to round out the ‘pen.

The Rangers did part with a youthful arm in Tommy Hunter (13 wins as a 23-year old in 2010), but the team had given up on fixing Chris Davis (24 Ks in 76 at bats this season). As for the pitching prospects, they weren’t the best the team had to offer, which is always good to hear from an organizational stand point. The Texas Rangers had the best deadline, dare I say.

New York Mets:

-Acquired two players to be named later from MIL for RP Francisco Rodriguez

-Acquired SP Zack Wheeler from SF for OF Carlos Beltran

Whoa! Before you go calling me a homer, understand something. First, the Mets escaped from what was going to become a vesting option of $17.5 million to Francisco Rodriguez if he finished 55 games this season. Emphasis on finished. He could’ve lost 55 games this year and it wouldn’t have mattered, the option would’ve kicked. All he had to do was be the last pitcher to appear in the game. Literally, my grandmothers could be the players to be named later in that deal with Milwaukee, and it won’t matter. That money is going right to Jose Reyes, thankfully.

Second, you need to realize that had the Mets held onto Carlos Beltran, they would not have been able to offer him salary arbitration. In fancy talk, that means the Mets wouldn’t have gotten any draft pick compensation for Beltran had he left in free agency. He would qualify as a Type A free agent, which normally means the team that signs him surrenders their first round pick to the Mets, plus a compensation pick at the end of the first round. But, none of that would’ve gone to the Mets due to a loophole in his contract (damn you, Scott Boars!).

Third, while the Mets had offers from teams to either A) bring home a truck of B-level prospects, B) pay off Beltran’s remaining $6 million+ or C) both, Sandy Alderson and company held firm on getting the best available player they could. And, you know what? They did just that. Wheeler was the Giants’ best pitching prospect (out of a system that has produced Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, among others) and Baseball America had recently rated Wheeler as high as 35th out of all prospects in baseball. Wheeler immediately slots into one of the top four Mets pitching prospect slots (along with Matt Harvey, Jenrry Meija and Jeurys Familia) and projects to be a power, top-rotation type pitcher.

Getting value for Beltran was key for Alderson. He accomplished that, and that makes the Mets winners at the deadline even though they probably aren’t competing for a playoff spot. Hooray!

Houston Astros:

-Acquired OF Jordan Schafer and 3 pitching prospects from ATL for OF Michael Bourn and cash

-Acquired SP Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton and 2 prospects from PHI for OF Hunter Pence

Alright, another team that isn’t competing for a playoff spot. You think I’m crazy. Hey, you may be right. But, you need to look long-term here.

Remember, the Astros are stuck in the king of rebuilding projects and have a new owner coming into office. They need a franchise makeover. Does it hurt to trade away the face of the franchise and the one productive player on the team? Absolutely.

But, what does that say about your franchise if Hunter Pence is your keystone guy? Is he a good player? Absolutely. Should he be the best player on your team? No way.

In Cosart and Singleton, the Astros got the Phillies two best prospects not named Dominic Brown. That’s a win right there. From the Braves, they got 3 pitchers that project into productive parts, but not necessarily stars. However, they sold Bourn when his stock was highest, so that should be commended.

San Francisco Giants:

-Acquired OF Carlos Beltran from NYM for SP Zack Wheeler

-Acquired INF Orlando Cabrera from CLE for player to be named later

We already covered the Beltran trade from the Mets angle. The Giants angle is a lot easier to understand. They needed immediate pop in the middle of their order. Well, that’s Beltran.

What I love even more is the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera. This man IS playoff baseball. I understand the Indians traded him because their second baseman of the future has been playing well, but Cabrera is a lock to make the playoffs on whatever team he is on. I don’t know why, it’s just the truth. Expect Cabrera to play the 2010 Edgar Renteria role on this team.

Oh, and by the way, remember that it was Renteria who was named World Series MVP last year.

Team that went in the right direction, but didn’t impress: Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks

LOSERS:

New York Yankees:

-No major acquisitions

Absorb that sentence for a little bit, Yankee fans. Your general manager has pretty much informed you that he feels the mix of Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes will be good enough for a long run in the October. To me, that seems a little bit optimistic. And by optimistic, I mean delusional.

This team needed a starting pitcher in the worst way. C.C. Sabathia would be the likely Cy Young Award winner for the American League if Justin Verlander didn’t exist. But, after him, A.J. Burnett? And that’s really all you can trust? Wait, we’re trusting A.J. Burnett now? Oh, brother.

Hey, in their defense, it’s not like the Yankees didn’t try. They really wanted Hiroki Kuroda, but he refused to waive his no-trade clause and chose to stay in Los Angeles. They tried to get Ubaldo Jiminez (I’m not done with him) from Colorado before the Indians package trumped the Yankees. And, its not like the Red Sox and the Rays broke the bank in their trades either. But, the Red Sox did improve their rotation (Erik Bedard) and they added infield depth (Mike Aviles).

The Yankees didn’t do anything, and that hurts.

Cleveland Indians:

Acquired SP Ubaldo Jiminez from COL for SP Drew Pomeranz, SP Alex White and 3 prospects

-Acquired OF Kosuke Fukudome from CHI for 2 prospects

-Acquired a player to be named later from SF for INF Orlando Cabrera

The Cleveland Indians feel that they are in the thick of the race for the AL Central. And, less than three games out of first certainly means they are in the race. The Twins held firm at the deadline, the White Sox appeared to be sellers, and the Detroit Tigers added a nice piece in SP Doug Fister, but he doesn’t necessarily put them over the edge.

So, kudos to the Indians for putting in the effort to try and win this division. Now, time for my problems with both of these trades. Starting with Fukudome.

Ok, I understand their offense needed a bit of an upgrade. Not a full upgrade like the Giants needed, but enough of one where the Indians offered to pay Beltran’s entire remaining salary to the Mets plus prospects. So, why did they go after a guy that is ranked behind the likes of Ryan Theriot and Brian Schneider in terms of his career production rate on BaseballReference.com? Fukudome’s beautiful triple slash (average/on-base/slugging) for 2011? .273/.374/.369

Yikes. Not sure where I should be seeing an upgrade. Luckily, I’m not overly impressed with the prospects they gave up for the aging outfielder. So there’s that.

But, believe it or not, I had a bigger problem with their trade for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jiminez. In his first 16 decisions of 2010, Jiminez went 15-1 and looked like the shoe-in for NL Cy Young. Since then, however, Jiminez has gone 10-17. This year, he sat at 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA, a far cry from his 2.88 in 2010, and that was even lower in the first half of 2010.

Furthermore, does anybody else find it strange that the Rockies were so quick to trade Ubaldo Jiminez? He’s under team control until 2014, and its not like the Rockies are cheap when it comes to locking down their home grown talent (see: Tulowitzki, Troy and Gonzalez, Carlos). So, I smell something that the Rockies are seeing that maybe the Indians are not. The shine on Jiminez seems to be fading in the sense that Francisco Liriano is not the pitcher we all thought he’d be, either.

Also, the Rockies made out like bandits here. They acquired two of the Indians last three first round picks (Pomeranz and White). In fact, those two picks were both Top-10 selections. Pomeranz was such a recent selection that you see his name in the transaction column as “player to be named later” because the Indians aren’t allowed to trade him since he hasn’t been a member of the organization for a full calender year yet.

The Rockies are exceptionally good at rebuilding on the fly. They now have two controllable power arms that may be ready by next year or 2013. And the Indians? They traded for the market’s largest questionmark. You can be aggressive to a fault at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, that’s what the Indians were.

San Diego Padres:

-Acquired a prospect from PIT for OF Ryan Ludwick

-Acquired two prospects from TEX for RP Mike Adams

Ok, the Padres got the most out of what they could for the players they traded. The problem in San Diego is more of who they didn’t trade: closer Heath Bell.

Bell is a very good closer and a huge fan favorite in San Diego (as he was at Shea Stadium when he was the conductor of the old Norfolk Shuttle). But, the Padres probably did themselves a disservice by not trading him away. This was the highest his trade value would ever be, and now the team has put themselves in a situation where they will have to pay the big bucks to keep their stopper long-term.

Now, hindsight is always 20-20. This non-move could turn out to be great for the franchise. But, I honestly do not like it when teams invest in relievers not named Rivera. So, I will let this one play out a little bit. I just don’t understand why a team in full fledged rebuild mode wouldn’t move their most valuable asset that could be replaced rather quickly from within.

Other teams that disappointed, but not as poorly: Oakland A’s, Washington Nationals

Teams in Limbo

Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals:

Basically I group all three teams together because they conducted the largest, craziest trade of the deadline period. Stay with me here:

White Sox acquired RP Jason Frasor and SP Zach Stewart from the Blue Jays

Blue Jays acquired INF Mark Teahan from the White Sox, OF Colby Rasmus, SP Brian Tallet, RP Trevor Miller and RP P.J. Walters from the Cardinals

Cardinals acquired SP Edwin Jackson from White Sox, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Marc Rzepczynski, OF Corey Patterson and three players to be named later from Blue Jays

Have you digested all that? So, how do three teams conduct a huge trade and seemingly stay in the same place they were pre-trade? I’ll explain.

For the White Sox, General Manager Kenny Williams just confuses me to no end. When the team should be sellers, he buys. When the team should be buyers, he sells. He gave Adam Dunn a four-year contract when no team was willing to go more than two. He picked up Alexis Rios from the Blue Jays when the team was bound to release him anyway. I don’t get it.

Edwin Jackson was having a good year, and the White Sox did well to sell him when his value was high because Jackson has been an up-and-down talent his entire career, hence why he’s played for six teams in eight years. Mostly, the White Sox stay in limbo with this trade because while Zach Stewart is a promising pitching prospect from Toronto, he is no Daniel Hudson, who is the player the White Sox traded to get Jackson in the first place.

For the Blue Jays, I think I understand this trade. I think. The big prize they picked up is OF Colby Rasmus, who was once one of the best prospects in all of baseball while he was maturing in the St. Louis farm system. He hit .276 with 23 home runs for the Cardinals in 2010 as a 23-year old, but has been marred in a season-long slump in 2011, dipping his average to .240 with only 11 home runs. Apparently, Rasmus wore out his welcome with manager Tony LaRussa for seeking outside help for his hitting woes, which is a no-no for the Cardinals. When push came to shove, the team stuck with management and not Rasmus.

 However, he’s still young (24). He could easily figure out this funk and blossom into the well-rounded centerfielder experts had predicted he’d become. Here’s my problem with the trade: the Blue Jays didn’t need the help with their offense.

In the American League East, you will not win with a powerful line-up. Look at the Rays. Their line-up is below average for the American League, but they’re constantly competitive in the East because they have pitching depth very few other teams have. The Blue Jays dealt Stewart, one of their better pitching prospects, to get Jackson who enabled them to get Rasmus. In their system, they still have Kyle Drabek, their prize in the Roy Halladay trade. But, he struggled in his first stint of Major League action. The Jays will need a massive amount of pitching to catch up to the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. I don’t see how this trade helps them, at all, in the long run.

Lastly, for the Cardinals, here’s why I don’t quite get it. I believe they are a team that has become in love with the notion that pitching coach Dave Duncan can fix any pitching problem. Edwin Jackson shows flashes of brilliance, and the Cardinals will try to harness those flashes into sustained excellence. And with Duncan’s track record, that very well could happen.

The team’s biggest hole was at shortstop, which they feel they answered by acquiring Rafael Furcal from the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, we will see if Furcal can stay healthy for any long period of time to actually help the team. They felt they could afford to trade Rasmus now because Lance Berkman has played so well in right field, and Jon Jay has exceeded expectations from all outfield positions.

My problem with this deal really comes back to Rasmus. I feel the team gave up on him much too early. He was their youngest player starting every day and, more importantly, was under team control on the cheap for at least another two years. With Albert Pujols soon to get a new contract, cheap, reliable talent is a major point of salary relief the team will need. Jon Jay has hit over .300 in his 600+ Major League at-bats thus far in his career. But, is he really your long-term centerfielder in St. Louis? I’m just not certain.

For me, the Cardinals will have to show me they have a viable solution in center before I move them out of limbo.

Other teams who tried to improve, and may have improved, but didn’t impress: Pittsburgh Pirates

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PodCast Interview with George Castle

George Castle is a long time writer for the Times of Northwest Indiana, covering the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls for the newspaper.

He’s also recently released his 10th book on baseball, titled “When the Game Changed”. Furthermore, he hosts a syndicated baseball radio show titled “Diamond Gems”, links for which you can find on our page in the LINKS section.

Interview with George Castle of the Northwest Times of Indiana.

Week Four Summary: Chicago Sports Culture

On Thursday, we wrapped up week 4 of Home Field Advantage with a great interview with George Castle, a long-time sports writer for the Times of Northwest Indiana and author who just released his 10th book on baseball called, “When The Game Changed: An Oral History of Baseball’s True Golden Age: 1969-79.” George also hosts a radio show, called “Diamond Gems,” and is extremely knowledgeable in the intricacies of the Chicago sports culture, and we are very thankful to him for sharing his time and knowledge with us this week! George helped fill us in on the vibes in Chicago regarding the 5 professional teams that represent the city. Here are a few highlights from the interview:

In regards to Chicago’s biggest “Lovable Losers,” the Cubs, Castle says that it’s hard to be a Cubs fan not only because of the World Series drought that dates back to 1908, but also because going to games is almost unreasonably expensive, especially given the low quality squads the franchise has fielded recently. However, with a number of key acquisitions in the off-season, and the retention of interim coach Mike Quade into the 2011 season, the Cubs program is looking to build off a strong latter half of the 2010 season with a young squad and a relatively solid rotation, highlighted by new Cub Matt Garza and returners Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. However, given the strong competition being built within the other NL Central programs, including the Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, and more, Castle asserts that Cubs fans are still “bitter and cynical” and do not have many expectations for the upcoming season. Much of this stems from the longtime playoff disappointments, coming most recently in 2007 and 2008, but it all seems to be wrapped up into 102 years of pent up frustrations that don’t seem to be ceasing any time soon.

The cross-town rival of the Cubs, the White Sox, have been having more success recently, winning the 2005 World Series, and having much a brighter outlook for the upcoming season. With the re-signing of Paul Konerko, and the acquisition of former Nats ace Adam Dunn, the Sox still have lingering uncertainties regarding the personnel to fill the all-important role of closer, but are feeling confident, particularly given the lackluster off-season the Twins have had, as far as acquisitions go. With the White Sox fan faithful, the program looks to ride high into the 2011 season, barring any unforeseen injuries that have plagued the clubhouse for the past few years. The road to success for the White Sox is looking to be much easier to navigate than for their National League counterparts, but only time will tell, as the season begins in just a few weeks.

An aspect of the Chicago sports culture that makes it so different than the other 4 cities we have covered so far on HFA is that the Windy City has a very storied championship culture, but also has experienced recent successes, as their Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and the Bulls and Bears have worked their way back to prominence recently as well. The Blackhawks, fresh off an off-season salary cap-induced personnel purge, have been heavily impacted by the losses of key pieces of their successful 2009-10 squad. The team has to do a tremendous amount of tightening up on defense and their back line in order to return to championship form, as the season is dwindling.

For the Bears, however, things are definitely looking up, as they are coming off of a productive playoff run in 2010-11. Before being blatantly embarrassed by the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the NFC finals, the Bears, led by quarterback Jay Cutler, were still not a very well-liked team in Chicago, according to Castle. There has been a large amount of negative publicity regarding head coach Lovie Smith, and given his recent contract extension until 2013, fans have been openly questionable of Smith’s extended presence in Chicago. Another part of the Bears’ personnel who fans are not particularly fond of is the playmaker himself, Jay Cutler. As Castle asserted in the interview, Cutler “does not seem to think that good PR is part of his job.” He is relatively quiet and closed off in interviews, and has not seemed to give himself to the fans and overall culture in Chicago, as franchise players customarily do. Without fans feeling like they have a vested interest in the coach and QB at the helm of their program, it makes sense that there are “not a lot of good vibes” regarding the Chicago football franchise at this time.

Another big team that is attracting a lot of chatter in Chicago right now is the historically successful Chicago Bulls, the team formerly pioneered by Michael Jordan in the 1990’s, and notorious for being some of the best teams in the history of basketball during this era. After a short hiatus from playoff glory, the modern day Bulls, led by stars Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Joaquim Noah, are asserting their presence atop the Eastern Conference with some big wins over the Heat and Magic most recently. They have recently surpassed their 2009-10 record of 41 wins, and still have a good chunk of the season left. Additionally, they have managed to compile a fantastic record without having both pieces of the frontcourt, Noah and Boozer, healthy at the same time. Castle asserts that this has a big part to do with the outstanding play of Derrick Rose, who he calls “by far the Bulls’ greatest player since Jordan.” Given the heavy competition from the Celtics, Heat, Magic, and new-look Knicks, the drive for supremacy in the East is not going to be an easy one, but this Bulls squad has shown through their drive and key wins that they are “not intimidated” by the opponents they are up against, Castle states. With the playoffs in the near future, this Chicago team is attracting a tremendous amount of buzz in the media and fan base alike, which is bringing the fans back to the electric environment of Jordan’s Bulls. And given the excitement that is being demonstrated, there is nothing like some good old nostalgia to bring back a twinkle to the eyes in the Windy City.

Given that this is the largest market we have covered thus far on HFA, the five franchises are at very different points, and are generating very distinct vibes within the Chicago sports world. That said, it is impossible and almost unfair to attempt to categorize the culture under one label. However, George Castle efficiently summarized what it means to be a fan in Chicago by asking “is that all there is?” He asserts that Chicago is an incredibly passionate sports town with tremendous resources that are the building blocks for success, but often times cannot seem to pull everything together and make the championships happen. This is mainly because of mismanagement of the franchises, with owners spending money unwisely and under-utilizing key players and opportunities along the way, according to Castle. Given the tremendous satisfaction for fans due to the 90’s Bulls squads, Castle states that the Chicago fan “hasn’t been championship starved, but there’s a lot still left on the table.”
We would like to again thank George Castle for his time on Thursday. Check out his work on his “Diamond Gems” radio show at
rantsports.com/mlb/diamond-gems/
or nwi.com/sports .

See you next week for Bay Area action!

Links courtesy of George Castle

Yesterday on HFA Radio, we had an excellent interview with George Castle, long-time sports writer for the Time of Northwest Indiana and an author who just released his 10th book on baseball called, “When The Game Changed: An Oral History of Baseball’s True Golden Age 1969-79”.

George also hosts an on-line show called “Diamond Gems” that we would recommend all of you check out. He was kind enough to come on our show and provide us with the links, and we are more than pleased to forward them onto you!

For “Diamond Gems”, go to

rantsports.com/mlb/diamond-gems/
or nwi.com/sports

Thanks again to everyone who continues to check out our blog! This weekend, we hope to have fixed all our problems regarding the podcasts, and will work towards having those up as quickly as possible!

Cubs Manager Quade says Scuffle “No Big Deal”

After an in-game dugout scuffle between Cubs pitcher Carlos Silva and third baseman Aramis Ramirez, manager Mike Quade held a team meeting and says that there is no ill-will between teammates in the clubhouse (ESPN News Link).

The Cubs got off to a very slow start in their spring training game yesterday against the Brewers, committing a couple errors, including one by Ramirez. Silva allowed six first inning runs after the Cubs accumulated three errors in the field behind him. In between innings, Silva confronted Ramirez, and the two were said to be involved in a shoving match soon after.

Quade did not expect either of the veterans to apologize to each other, but stressed in his team meeting that the club has to find better ways to exhibit their frustrations. Last year, the Cubs suspended pitcher Carlos Zambrano after he had a profanity-laced outburst in the dugout then scuffled with former first baseman Derrek Lee. Zambrano was also forced by the club to seek anger management assistance, and the Cubs feel comfortable where the flame-throwing is mentally.

The Cubs need order in their clubhouse. Yes, this was a small incident between two veteran players. However, coming off a season last year that had a huge fissure in team unity, the Cubs can ill-afford to relapse into bedlam. Quade needs to offer a voice of guidance, which it appears he has to diffuse the situation. Time will tell if these problems continue to flare up for a team that want to remain competitive this season and reach the postseason.

HFA Radio Returns at 4pm Today!

Today, Home Field Advantage Radio returns at 4pm EST.

Kaiti and I will be joined today by long-time sports writer for the Times of Northwest Indiana, George Castle. Along with writing for the Times, Castle has recently released his 10th book, titled “When The Game Changed: An Oral History of Baseball’s True Golden Age 1969-79”. Castle also hosts “Diamond Gems” radio show, which is currently being transformed into into an on-line video show.

Make sure you tune in at icecast.marist.edu for full coverage of Chicago’s sports and culture!

State of the Franchise: Chicago Cubs

Last Season: 75-87 (5th in NL Central, 16 games behind Cincinnati Reds)

Looking at the win-loss record for the Cubs last year would be doing this team an injustice. Manager Lou Piniella retired during the season after three-plus years in Chicago and 23 years coaching in total. Replacing him was long-time Minor League manager Mike Quade, who guided a beleaguered bunch to a strong 24-13 finish to wrap up the season. After former Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg trumpeted for the job in the off-season, the new Cubs ownership group and general manager Jim Hendry elected to stay with Quade based on the team’s performance at the end of the 2010 season.

In the off-season, the Cubs looked to upgrade in several positions. The team traded the likes of first baseman Derrek Lee and starting pitcher Ted Lily during the season, and looked to upgrade at both those positions before Opening Day 2011. The Cubs also non-tendered second baseman Ryan Theriot, who eventually latched on with the St. Louis Cardinals and traded another starting pitcher, Tom Gorzelanny, to clear some salary space.

To shore up the team’s need for a first baseman, the Cubs went out and gave former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena a one-year, $10 million contract. Pena enjoyed his most successful tenure in Tampa after bouncing around between four other organizations. Pena had a career year in 2007, when he broke out to a tune of .282 with 46 home runs and 121 runs batted in on his way to a Silver Slugger award. In recent years, however, the average has been on a decline from .247 to .227 to a lowly .198 last year. However, the power has always been there, connecting for 39 home runs in 2009 on his way to his only All-Star selection, and had 28 last year. While the power will be nice, the Cubs desperately wanted Pena for his glove and range. While Derrek Lee was a former Gold Glove winner himself, he lost mobility as he aged. Pena, however, has come into his own recently, and won the award in 2009.

Pena’s inclusion at first base will take pressure off their young phenom shortstop Starlin Castro to be perfect with his throws. Castro performed well offensively, leading the team with his .300 average and connecting for 31 doubles to go with his five home runs. The Cubs will look for the soon-to-be 21 year old to increase his stolen base numbers from ten in his rookie campaign. However, while Castro can track down any and every ground ball up the middle of the diamond, his throwing was the culprit mainly for why he recorded 27 errors at short in only 123 games. The clubs thinking is the defense of Pena will help limit those throwing errors and increase the overall infield defense.

While Pena is the only addition the Cubs made to their everyday line-up, the team will look for both bounce-back seasons from some and replicas of 2010 from others. The key to the Cubs offense, as it has been since he’s been with the team, is third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez, a two-time All-Star for the Cubs, had an injury shortened season in 2009, then battled injuries and long-lastings slumps in 2010. While his power numbers were still there (his 25 homers, 83 runs batted in and .452 slugging percentage led the Cubs), his average fell to .241 and couldn’t get his on-base percentage over .300 (.294). If the Cubs want to find pop in their line-up, Ramirez will have to regain his 2008 form, when he finished 10th in the National League MVP voting with a line of .289, 27 home runs and 111 runs batted in and posted a OPS of .898.

The Cubs will also rely on center fielder Marlon Byrd to come relatively close to his 2010 performance of .293, 12 home runs and 66 runs batted in. Also, anything that Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome would be an added benefit at this point in time. Blake DeWitt, acquired in the Ted Lily trade, will also likely assume starting second base duties for the Cubs, and if he can hold his own, then the Cubs should have a sustainable line-up.

Pitching was an area the Cubs felt they had the team’s strengths with. They’ve recently extended their All-Star closer Carlos Marmol three years, and feel that former ace Carlos Zambrano has controlled his insanity to a point that he and Ryan Dempster will make one of the strongest 1-2 punches in the National League Central behind the Milwaukee Brewers’ Yvonni Gallardo and Zack Greinke.

The big part the Cubs acquired is another former Ray, this time starting pitcher Matt Garza. For the Rays last year, Garza posted a 15-10 record with a 3.91 ERA in 204 2/3 innings, all while competing against the line-ups of the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays on a daily basis. Playing in a league without the DH and where the pitcher’s spot comes around the line-up at least three times a game, it is natural to expect the numbers for Garza to improve.

Much like their cross-town counterparts, the White Sox, the Cubs will have stiff competition from the defending division champion Reds and their league-MVP first baseman Joey Votto. Not to mention, the new look Brewers, who revamped their rotation to challenge the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants for the best in the league. Oh, and last time I checked, Albert Pujols still called St. Louis home. It’ll be harder for the Cubs to overcome the obstacles in front of them then it will the White Sox.

But, remember, this team is so much better than the team of misfits that finished last year 24-13 under Mike Quade. Imagine what Quade can make of this talented group for a whole 162-game schedule..