by Matt Eurich

The first year of Theo Epstein’s reign as the leader of the Chicago Cubs has been pretty much what we expected.  Epstein was able to move some veteran pieces to add to the minor league system, he signed a prized international player, and the team has been abysmal on the field.

Expectations were not high for the Cubs on the field and most fans understood that.  The 2012 season was the beginning of the rebuild for the organization and Epstein has gone on the record noting that 2013 might not be much better (h/t ESPN Chicago): “I think obviously we really care about our fans and we want them to have a great experience, but we’re trying to be transparent about it.  We have a plan and we have a vision and it won’t happen overnight, but given the way of things I think this is the best way to go.”

Knowing that Epstein’s plan won’t happen overnight the upcoming season may be just as gut-wrenching at this season. With a desire to improve the team for the long-haul, what can the Cubs do this offseason to improve itself moving forward?

Move Alfonso Soriano

It seems like a broken record.  Cubs’ fans have been clamoring for management to move Soriano and his terrible contract for years.  In past years moving Soriano seemed completely impossible with him struggling at the plate and a lengthy expensive contract attached to him.  Soriano has played well this season heading into Tuesday’s game against the Rockies with a line of .263/.317/.504 with 31 homeruns and 105 RBI.

Soriano’s average is not what many teams will be desiring, but he has been able to prove that he still has some power and has shown surprisingly good defense in left field this season, leading all NL left fielders with a .996 fielding percentage.

The trade value of Soriano could not be any higher and although the Cubs would likely have to pay a majority of the money that is left on his deal (2 years/$38 million), he could still be a valuable addition to a possible contending team as a designated hitter or left fielder.

Moving Soriano opens up the opportunity to bring up Jorge Soler next season if they feel he is ready to make the jump and if not it would give David Sappelt a chance to play every day.

Move Matt Garza

Many Cubs’ fans were torn on whether or not the Cubs should move starting pitcher Matt Garza.  In Garza’s first season in Chicago in 2011, he finished the year with a 10-10 record and a 3.32 ERA.  Garza was expected to be trade bait for the Cubs leading up to the trade deadline, but an injury sidelined him before the deadline and he was ultimately placed on the disabled list, finishing his season with a record of 5-7 and a 3.91 ERA. 

Garza likely won’t be moved in the winter because of lingering concerns of his injury but if he is able to perform well early in training camp, the Cubs could move him if the price is right.  Before his injury, he was considered one of the top pitchers to be moved and many felt he had the best shot at bringing back quality prospects in return.  A depleted farm system is still a major concern for the organization and moving Garza, for the right price, can vastly improve the system.

Improve Pitching Staff

One of the most pleasant surprises this season was the play of Jeff Samardzija.  Samardzija was given the opportunity to be a starter this season and made the most of his opportunity.  He finished the season with a record of 9-13 but finished with an ERA of 3.81 and accumulated 180 strikeouts.  Samardzija might not nescessarily be the ace in the future for this staff but has made a strong case to being a reliable contributor to the rotation.

If Garza is moved in the offseason the rotation looks bleak following Samardzija. Both Travis Wood and Justin Germano have been hit or miss at times this season and rookies Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin have both struggled in their limited starts

The Cubs will likely look for a couple of veterans starters who could be stop gap for a few seasons and if young enough, an important piece for the future.

Shaun Marcum has struggled with injuries the last few seasons and had Tommy John surgery in 2008.  Marcum has a career ERA of 3.78 and because of injury concerns, he could be available for a cheap price.

After suffering a horrific head injury caused by getting hit in the head from a line drive earlier this month, the future for Brandon McCarthy is up in the air.  Doctor’s say he will make a full recovery and up until the injury he had an 8-6 record with an ERA of 3.24.  The effects of his injury are the big unknown for McCarthy, but if the Cubs were able to sign him to a reasonable three or four year deal, a move to the NL could greatly improve his numbers. 

Once viewed as one of the best young arms in the game, Ervin Santana has struggled with a ballooning ERA and injury concerns in recent years but, like McCarthy, could benefit from a jump the NL.  Santana has two 16-win seasons and a 17-win season under his belt and a career ERA of 4.30.  Santana might have a high asking price given his past success but with youth and an opportunity improve his numbers in the NL, he may be the perfect fit for what the Cubs are trying to do.

Unlike the starting rotation that has seen some good things, the bullpen has struggled all year.  The Cubs’ bullpen currently has the second worst ERA in the majors with 4.58.  Adding young veterans like 29 year-old right hander Carlos Villanueva (7-6, 37 appearances/15 starts, 3.88 ERA) or  29 year-old left hander J.P. Howell (1-0, 53 appearances, 3.08 ERA) would add depth and with a guy like Villanueva, rotation flexibility. 

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