09/29/11 10:00 AM ET
Turnover, young faces likely to mark 2012 Cubs
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"Two things can happen," Soriano said. "It can change, or stay the way it is now. I don't know what they want to do. We don't have control of that. We can only play the game and do our job. The owners have the control. We'd like to stay together, but who knows?"
Who knows? How about the new general manager, who will likely be named soon -- though Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said on Wednesday there is no timetable for filling the position. The resumes started arriving at Wrigley Field in mid-August, when Jim Hendry was formally dismissed after running the team since July 2002 and winning three division titles.
Ricketts has given player-development director Oneri Fleita a vote of confidence by signing him to a four-year extension. Scouting director Tim Wilken was assured that he can proceed with business as usual in 2012.
That doesn't mean the new GM can focus on remodeling his office. I hate to use the cliche, but the elephant in the room is Carlos Zambrano, who is owed $18 million next season. Coaches' contracts expire on Oct. 31. Manager Mike Quade has a contract for 2012, but so did Hendry.
And what about the roster? There could be two new corner infielders. Aramis Ramirez's agent has declared the third baseman will test the free-agent market. First baseman Carlos Pena, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs, will be a free agent. They're not linked.
"Whatever Aramis does, he'll do what's best for him. And at the end of the day, I'll do what's best for me," Pena said.
After one season in Wrigley Field, and his first in the National League, Pena has made it clear he'd like to return.
"I've become emotionally attached to the city and the Cubs," Pena said. "I knew it was going to be that way. You give your heart and soul to the ballclub you play for. I just fell in love with the place immediately and the opportunity we have of getting to where we want to go to."
That would be the World Series, where the Cubs haven't been since 1945. The Cubs' GM job is one of the most attractive in all of professional sports. It's a big market, with a loyal fan base. The team drew 3 million fans at Wrigley Field for the eighth straight season.
And the next general manager has a lot of work to do to make them happy.
First base: Will Pena return or will the Cubs gamble that Bryan LaHair, who turns 29 in November, is ready for a full-time job in the big leagues? Pena didn't disappoint as far as his home-run numbers go, even though he didn't hit his first one until May 3. LaHair belted 38 homers at Triple-A Iowa and was named Pacific Coast League MVP, but is no Gold Glove candidate. Or, do the Cubs totally convert Tyler Colvin this offseason?
Second base: Darwin Barney was projected as an extra infielder, but won the starting job and got off to a great start, batting .326 in April. He's a perfect fit in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. His competition next spring could come from DJ LeMahieu, who batted .319 at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa combined.
Third base: There's a big hole with the expected departure of Ramirez. The Cubs do have a $16 million mutual option for 2012, but Ramirez's agent says they want to see what's available. Ramirez will be the top free-agent third baseman on the market. Ramirez has hinted he'd like another multi-year contract. The only third baseman in the system close to being ready for the big leagues is LeMahieu, and he doesn't have the power Ramirez does.
Shortstop: He did make the most errors by a Cubs player since Keith Moreland committed 28 in 1987, but Starlin Castro was one of the few bright spots in 2011. The Cubs' lone All-Star, he led the National League in hits with 207. And he turns 22 next March.
Catcher: If Geovany Soto continues his up-and-down career pattern, next season should be great. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2008, batting .285, then battled injuries the next year. He bounced back in 2010, hitting .280, but struggled this season, especially with runners in scoring position. The Cubs need the good Geo. Welington Castillo batted .286 in the Minor Leagues, but battled injuries. Steve Clevenger, a converted infielder who hit .295 at Double-A Tennessee, has made huge strides behind the plate.
Right field: The Cubs had hoped Colvin would assert himself and claim this spot in 2011. But he did not look like the same hitter who smacked 20 homers in 135 games in 2010. Do they gamble that highly touted prospect Brett Jackson is ready? He batted .274 with 20 homers and 23 doubles between Tennessee and Iowa, but is projected as the center fielder of the future. The new GM may have to shop on the free-agent market.
Center field: Marlon Byrd can cover center field, but he didn't come through with runners on base. After batting .282 with runners in scoring position in 2010, Byrd didn't come close to repeating that production. Next season is the last year of his contract, and Jackson is waiting in the wings to take over center.
Left field: The 2012 season will be year No. 6 of Soriano's eight-year contract. He will hit 20-something homers and drive in 70-plus runs, but he may get more days off to stay fresh. He turns 36 in January.
Starting pitching: Matt Garza and Randy Wells, both arbitration-eligible, will likely be back, but the rest of the starting five is to be determined. Ryan Dempster has a $14 million player option for 2012. Zambrano, who was banned for the final seven weeks because of his insolence, most likely made his last start for the Cubs on Aug. 12, after which he announced his "retirement." The Cubs hope Andrew Cashner returns healthy after missing most of the season with a strained right rotator cuff. He'll prep by pitching in the Arizona Fall League. The farm system did not provide much help, which means the new GM may have to look outside the organization for help -- and hopefully do better than Doug Davis.
Relief pitching: The closer is set, as Carlos Marmol is under contract through 2013. Sean Marshall, the most reliable setup pitcher, is also signed for next year. Kerry Wood and John Grabow are free agents, and Wood, 34, will be coming off arthroscopic knee surgery. If Wood doesn't return to the Cubs, he'll retire. James Russell and Jeff Samardzija were a nice left-right punch in the middle, but Samardzija has said he wants to start. Again, that's to be determined.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.