For the first time in years, there is true optimism for the Chicago Cubs, optimism that seems to be warranted with Monday's introduction of Joe Maddon as the team's new manager.
Few though that Rick Renteria would be the Cubs manager who saw the rebuilding process through. But it was also a little surprising to see him only last one season – a season when the Cubs didn't perform below expectations – in Chicago.
The team obviously thought the opportunity to hire Maddon was more of a long-term solution, one that could lead to the team going to the World Series the same way he took the Tampa Bay Rays there for the only time in franchise history.
"Last Thursday, we learned that Joe Maddon -- who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us -- had become a free agent," team president Theo Epstein said in a press release.
"We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization. In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe."
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Reasons for optimism
The optimism in Chicago is clear.
Outfielder Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro both had big years while the team went 73-89. Third base prospect Kris Bryant is major league ready. Javier Baez and Jorge Soler were called up late in the season. Infielder Addison Russell, outfielders Albert Almora and Billy McKinney and C/OF Kyle Schwarber complete a list of the best collective hitting prospects in baseball.
All are believed to have the tools to be future stars, odds are good some of them will become that.
The timeline, until now, seemed to be that the team would be ready to really compete in 2016.
Until then, it's hard to believe they will make a huge money splash in free agency. They couldn't come to an agreement with Jeff Samardzija and sent him packing before he could walk after next season.
Now, they have to choose how much money they are willing to pay for upgrades this season. Off the field, the team is renovating Wrigley Field and adding renevue-generating advertising signage in the outfield for the first time that has upset their rooftop neighbors but also could be a big part of paying the big money free agents and a big money manager like Maddon.
It will be interesting how hard they go after guys like free agent lefty Jon Lester or even former White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy.
What could go wrong?
The most obvious issue is pitching.
Until now, the Cubs relied on Samardzija and a group of second-chance guys that sometimes panned out and sometimes didn't.
Edwin Jackson has been a complete failure. Samardzija is gone. Travis Wood had a good season and then a bad one.
Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront are projects at best. Jake Arrieta was the team's best pitcher last season, but has plenty of bad seasons under his belt too. And, Tsuyoshi Wada just agreed to terms with the team as well.
So, the rotation will be Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and then maybe Wada, Turner, Wood or Jackson.
That's not a winning team's rotation and even top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards has a history of injuries that makes him a huge question mark.
The other issue comes with the hitting. They have a lot of sluggers who swing for the fences and strike out a lot. That isn't really what works great at this point.
The Yankees tried that for years and it didn't necessarily work out for them either.
While there is plenty of optimism, there are plenty of holes in the Cubs' plan as well.
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