Ten questions facing the Cubs in 2010
Key arms and new owners top club's list of key issues
CHICAGO -- It's a new year, a new decade and new owners for the Chicago Cubs.
The 2010 season will be the first under the Ricketts family, who were officially handed the keys to Wrigley Field and the team in late October for $845 million. They've given the go-ahead to remodel the home clubhouse to create a new players' lounge and build an ice skating rink outside Wrigley Field for fans.
But there's more to the Cubs than upgrading the rest rooms and picking a new Spring Training site. What will the Ricketts' team do on the field? Their dream is the same as any other Cubs fan: To win a World Series.
"I'll be honest, I think we have a team that can do it next year," Tom Ricketts said during his introductory news conference. "I'm not going to promise anything. ... The fact is, we have talent and this team next season can go all the way to the finish line. The key is, every season, to be able to stand up and in complete honesty say, we believe we have enough talent to get it done. To do that and be sincere about it and consistent with it, you're going to get it done."
Besides staying healthy, there are several questions that need to be answered in the new year. Here are a few:
10. Which Geovany Soto will show up? Will it be the catcher who won NL Rookie of the Year, batting .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs? Or the one who suffered through a sophomore slump and batted .218? The reports so far this offseason have been good regarding Soto's workouts in Puerto Rico. The 2009 season was a wake-up call for Soto, who was embarrassed by what happened. Expect a a more prepared catcher this spring. The Cubs can't afford Soto to go through a junior jinx.
9. Can Carlos Marmol handle closing? The last two springs, Marmol has come to camp competing for the closer's job. This year will be the first in which the right-hander knows he has the job. He went 11-for-11 in save situations when he took over for Kevin Gregg, but also walked 65 in 74 innings. Those walks usually come back to haunt you. The problem often is that Marmol gets a little too amped and tends to overthrow. His only backup is lefty John Grabow.
8. Byrd to soar in center? The Cubs want to improve their outfield defense, and moving Kosuke Fukudome back to right will help. The Cubs filled a big gap in center with the signing of veteran Marlon Byrd on New Year's Eve. Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who coached Byrd when both were with the Rangers, also believes that Byrd can be the No. 5 hitter the club has been looking for this offseason.
7. Can Carlos Zambrano be the ace? Zambrano was on the disabled list twice, missing 31 games. He won nine games out of 28 starts, his lowest total since becoming a full-time starter.
"Carlos has something to prove this year," Lou Piniella said. "He's coming off a nine-win season and everybody knows he's a lot better than that. Truthfully, I don't want to put any pressure on him, but this is a young man who should approach 20 wins every year with his stuff and physique. Hopefully, this is the year he gets to that."
6. Does Lou still have the fire? Fans and critics didn't like how Piniella seemed complacent on the bench. Piniella would bristle when asked if he had lost his desire to manage. He has guided the team to three consecutive winning seasons and is the first Cubs manager to do that since Leo Durocher (1967-71). This is the last year of his contract and the 66-year-old Piniella says he isn't looking beyond 2010. Milton Bradley did create tension in the clubhouse, but that's gone now that the outfielder has been traded. Piniella said his biggest disappointment is going 0-6 in the postseason with the Cubs. Can he and the Cubs win in October? They'll take the first step on Opening Day, April 5 in Atlanta.
5. Can a kid get a job? The Cubs brass feel prospects Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro both need more time in the Minor Leagues. They're close. Being in a big market doesn't seem to give the kids much chance to play. Randy Wells took advantage of his opportunity last season and should be an inspiration to others in the Minor League system. Can someone like Andres Blanco, a young switch-hitting infielder, who had a terrific winter in Venezuela, get a chance at second base? And what about Sam Fuld? Can he handle center field full time? We'll see.
4. Can they improve in the field? The focus often is the lineup and rotation, but Derrek Lee is the only standout on defense. Fukudome looks better in right. Alfonso Soriano struggled in left, primarily because of his bum left knee. Chicago pitchers can't be worried about whether or not their teammates will catch the ball. The baseball cliche is that a team needs to be strong up the middle and the Cubs have to improve on that.
3. Will Ted Lilly bounce back from surgery? No surgery is minor, and even though the left-hander's arthroscopic procedure was described as a simple clean-up of his shoulder, it's not clear when he'll be back. He was to be re-examined after Jan. 1, and could miss the first month of the season. Shoulders are tricky -- see Mark Prior and Kerry Wood -- and hopefully, Lilly will be back in action sooner than later. That leads us to question No. 2.
2. Can Carlos Silva bounce back? Going into Spring Training, the Cubs have at least nine pitchers vying for five spots. Lilly, Zambrano, Wells and Ryan Dempster are set. That leaves Silva, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Tom Gorzelanny, and Rule 5 pick Michael Parisi among those battling for the fifth spot. Because Lilly's return may not be until early May, there are two openings in April. Silva was 5-18 over the last two seasons in Seattle, and has been slowed because of shoulder problems. Wrigley Field could be a good fit for the sinkerballer, especially when the wind is blowing in. It's also time for Samardzija to show he -- and the Cubs -- made the right decision in picking baseball over football.
1. Will the new owners make a difference? The Ricketts family are well-versed in Cubs history and don't need to be reminded of how long it's been since the team last won a World Series. Chairman Tom Ricketts says he'll be mingling among the fans. Will they give him an earful? Hendry says a $140 million payroll is enough, and since most of the players who won 97 games in 2008 are back, it should be.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.