Heading into the offseason, Jim Hendry said that the Cubs could contend with just 3 or 4 moves. Well, Hendry has made his 3 or 4 moves and, combined with the emergence of Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro last year, the 2011 Cubs roster will look a lot different that the 2010 version. But will it be better?
Let's take a look at the key differences and see if the Cubs really have improved (at least on paper):
First Base - The Cubs effectively swapped Derrek Lee for Carlos Pena. Before he was traded to Atlanta, Lee hit .251/.335/.416 with the Cubs versus Pena's .196/.325/.407. Despite Pena's atrocious average, he and Lee posted similar OPS' (.732 for Pena, .752 for Lee) as well as OPS+ (102 for Pena versus Lee's 95 with the Cubs). Digging deeper into the numbers, Pena posted a better WAR than Lee in 2010 (1.1 versus 0.8) as well as over the last 4 years (11.1 versus 8.3). I think that Lee was a far better player than Pena, in his prime, but recent history and Pena's age (32 versus Lee, 35) gives the edge to Pena.
Second Base - Here the Cubs are replacing Mike Fontenot, the lefthanded hitter in the platoon with Jeff Baker, with a new lefthanded hitter, Blake DeWitt. In 169 AB's with the Cubs, before he was traded, Fontenot hit .284/.332/.402. In 184 AB's with the Cubs, after coming over in the Ted Lilly trade, DeWitt hit .250/.314/.375. For their (brief) careers, Fontenot has an OPS of .749, a OPS+ of 92 and a career WAR of 2.8 (with the Cubs). DeWitt boasts a career OPS of .713, OPS of 91 and a career WAR of 3.1 (in two fewer years than Fontenot). Neither player has a clear edge here, so I will call it a tie.
Shortstop - Starlin Castro replaced Ryan Theriot at short early in the season, with Theriot moving to second, before eventually being traded. In his first season with the Cubs, Castro hit .300/.347/.408, giving him a OPS of .755, OPS+ of 97 and a WAR of 0.4. For his career, Theriot hit .287/.350/.362 with the Cubs, with an OPS of .712, an OPS+ of 83 and a WAR of 5.0 (-0.7 for 2010). Theriot has moved on to the Cardinals and the Cubs are a better team without him.
Right Field - Here Tyler Colvin is replacing 2010 opening day starter Kosuke Fukudome. Colvin hit .254/.316/.500 in 2010, whereas Fukudome has a career line of .259/.368/.410. Despite the edge in OBP, Fukudome's lack of power hurts him here as Colvin's 2010 OPS (.816) and OPS+ (109) beat Fukudome's career OPS (.778) and OPS+ (100). However, it should be noted that, just looking at 2010, Fukudome's OPS (.809) and OPS+ (111) are comparable to Colvin's. All things considered, I like Colvin's upside (and contract) better than Fukudome's, thus giving him the slight edge.
Starting Rotation - One might think that Matt Garza is taking Tom Gorzelanny's spot in the rotation, but Garza is really replacing Ted Lilly in the rotation, as Gorzelanny was considered the 6th starter (as evidenced by Carlos Zambrano replacing him in the rotation upon his return from exile). In his 4 years with the Cubs, Lilly was one of the most consistent pitchers in the rotation, posting a 3.70 ERA, a 23 ERA+ and a 12.4 WAR. For his career, Lilly posted a 4.18 ERA, 108 ERA+ and a cumulative WAR of 25.1. On the other hand, Garza has a career ERA of 3.97, an ERA+ of 107 and cumulative WAR of 9.8. Garza's WAR of 9.0 over the last 3 years is comparable to Lilly's WAR of 9.2 over the last 3 years (with the Cubs). With their stats fairly similar, the deciding factor comes down to age and contract again, with Garza getting the edge in both.
Bullpen - The Cubs bullpen was a shambles in 2010, with Lou Piniella trying Carlos Zambrano in the setup role before eventually using Andrew Cashner and Sean Marshall in that role. The addition of Kerry Wood allows Cashner to focus on starting (he is effectively replacing Gorzelanny) and gives the Cubs a strong righty/lefty combo at the back of the pen. If John Grabow can regain his form, after an injury plagued season, and the Cubs can find a couple more decent relievers (from numerous candidates), the 2011 bullpen cannot help but be better.
Manager - Mike Quade was named iterim manager when Lou Piniella took early retirement and immediately breathed new life into the franchise. Its unknown if he can work the same magic in 2011, but he will certainly bring a change of pace from Lou's tired old "I don't know what to do" routine. Ryne Sandberg may have been a more popular choice amongst Cub fans, but Quade is definitely a step up from the fading into the sunset Piniella.
When I started writing this article, I fully expected the 2010 squad to be better than the 2011 version. However, the 2011 roster stacks up well versus 2010. Will it be enough to contend in 2011? I doubt it. But maybe the Cubs can at least finish above .500.