12/30 A look back at 2013
The 2013 season was another step in the Cubs’ rebuilding process. For the second straight year, the Cubs dealt 40 percent of their starting rotation. They seemed to set a record for most deals in July as Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Scott Hairston also were traded. In August, David DeJesus was sent to the Nationals.
In return, the Cubs felt they strengthened the organization with players such as third baseman Mike Olt and pitchers Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Jake Arrieta, Ivan Pineyro, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black. It’s all part of Theo Epstein’s plan since taking over as Cubs president of baseball operations.
All the transactions didn’t solve the 2013 team’s problems, and the Cubs finished last in the tough National League Central at 66-96, the fourth straight year they’ve posted a sub .500 season.
As 2013 comes to a close, here are five storylines from the Cubs’ season:
5. Hot prospects
Every time Javier Baez hit a home run, or first-round Draft pick Kris Bryant won another award, there were questions about where the Cubs top prospects would fit in the big league lineup. Baez, the No. 1 pick in 2011, and Bryant, who was the second overall selection in June, stole some of the headlines from the big league team. The Cubs front office’s mantra is that the kids need time to develop but fans are eager for someone to cheer for. Baez, who belted 37 homers and drove in 111 runs combined at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, and Bryant, the college player of the year who was named the Arizona Fall League MVP, aren’t the only super kids. The list of potential impact players in the Cubs system also includes Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards, and Jorge Soler. Now, the question is when.
4. Marmol, Fujikawa and Gregg
Carlos Marmol lost the closer’s job one week into the regular season, and Kyuji Fujikawa took over but he was limited because of elbow problems. The Japanese pitcher eventually needed Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs had to scramble. They signed Kevin Gregg, who was released by the Dodgers April 3, and he proceeded to reclaim the job, finishing with 33 saves. Marmol was eventually traded to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier, and didn’t get another save opportunity the rest of the season. The Cubs bullpen was a problem most of the season, ranking on the bottom of the National League in ERA, walks, and home runs allowed.
3. Alfonso Soriano is traded to Yankees
For the second straight year, the Cubs were busy at the Trade Deadline, but none of the moves affected the players the way the departure of Alfonso Soriano did. The veteran outfielder was dealt to the Yankees, where he began his U.S. pro career in 1999. He has one year remaining on the eight-year, $136 million contract he signed with the Cubs in November 2006. While fans were critical of Soriano’s defensive ability, he was revered in the Cubs clubhouse. Soriano topped the Cubs in home runs and RBIs at the All-Star break, and they struggled to fill his spot in the lineup after he left. The Cubs may have been the only team to use a backup catcher, Dioner Navarro, in the No. 4 spot.
2. Manager Dale Sveum is dismissed
Sveum was a no nonsense kind of guy. He held players accountable. He believed in face to face communication. In Spring Training, he organized a bunting tournament, and included himself in the bracket. When Sveum was hired in November 2011, Epstein trusted the manager and his coaching staff to compile “The Cubs Way” handbook, to be used throughout the organization.
The Cubs lost 197 games in two seasons under Sveum, but Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer said the record wasn’t the reason the manager was dismissed. There were issues regarding the development of some of the Cubs, and Sveum got his signals crossed with a few players and the front office.
“There has to be a clear, unified message, and [players] can’t be getting different signals from different directions and collectively — myself included — we failed to provide that,” Epstein said.
Sveum wasn’t out of work for long. Royals manager Ned Yost waited one hour after Sveum was dismissed before calling to offer him a job on Kansas City’s coaching staff.
1. Starlin Castro takes a step backward
Castro was disappointed when he didn’t bat .300 for a third straight season in 2012, finishing at .283. But no one expected the shortstop to struggle as much as he did in 2013, batting .245 — including a .167 June. What happened? The shortstop lost his aggressive approach, struck out a career-high 129 times, and often looked lost at the plate. He was dropped to eighth in the order in August.
“This year, it’s too many things to think about [and] I’m not supposed to think [up there],” Castro said. “Sometimes you have a tough season, and you want to please everybody. But it’s not right. You have to listen to the things that can help you — not everything. When you come to home plate, you don’t have any idea, because you listen to too many things.”
Toward the end of the season, Castro announced he was just going to “be me.” The shortstop may be the Cubs’ new leadoff man in 2014 — he batted .263 there this past season — and the team can only hope he regains his approach, especially since this is Year 2 of his seven-year, $60 million contract.
– Carrie Muskat