Baseball preview: Chicago Cubs

It's been 100 years since the Chicago Cubs tasted victory in the World Series. After winning back-to-back championships in 1907 and 1908 against the Detroit Tigers, the Cubs have lost seven times in the Fall Classic. Since losing to the Tigers in seven games in 1945, the Cubs have not even made an appearance in the World Series.

According to pitcher Ryan Dempster, that's all going to change this year. If you missed it, Dempster predicted a championship last week as the Cubs began spring training. He stopped short of guaranteeing anything, but he thinks the Cubs have improved this year and will build upon last season's playoff appearance.


I see Dempster's point, but I think there are some questions that need to be answered before people plan to watch the Cubs in October. Will Japanese import Kosuke Fukodome find success in the United States? Who will be the closer in 2008? Is Felix Pie ready to be the everyday center fielder and will he make a positive impact?

Based on potential, Fukodome is worth a high draft pick. However, you'll be in trouble if he struggles in the major leagues. Honestly, I'd avoid drafting him if there are other players available who have proven that they can hit in the majors. If you feel he's worth the risk, then draft him. I'm just not sold on his ability yet.


Because the Cubs have not named a closer yet, it's a situation that will need to be monitored as your draft approaches. Kerry Wood, Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol are all competing for the position. All three will be worthy of being drafted if they are going to see regular save opportunities, but none of them will be very valuable if the team chooses to split the save chances.

For the last couple years, Pie has been hyped as someone who will become a superstar once he is given the opportunity to play everyday. Last season, he hit .215 with two home runs and 20 RBIs in 87 games. He also had eight stolen bases and scored 26 runs. In seven seasons in the minor leagues, Pie hit .300 and showed some speed. Personally, I would not draft him this season unless you're able to keep him for the future. I think he'll eventually be a solid player in the major leagues, but he's going to need to get some experience first.

Chicago Cubs

2007 record: 85-77 (1st in NL Central)

Key additions: OF Kosuke Fukodome, RHP Jon Lieber

Key losses: OF Jacque Jones, OF Cliff Floyd, C Jason Kendall, LHP Will Ohman

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Alfonso Soriano, LF – It's rare to find a player who will combine speed and power as well as Soriano does. His numbers declined last season in Chicago, but he still hit 33 home runs and stole 19 bases. Hitting primarily from the leadoff position, Soriano managed to collect 70 RBIs. He'll likely hit around .280 with 30-35 home runs and 25-30 stolen bases in 2008. Soriano is one of the top three outfielders available.


2. Carlos Zambrano, RHP – Zambrano has pitched more than 200 innings in every season since 2003. During that stretch, he won at least 13 games every year and never had an ERA above 3.95. Zambrano also strikes out close to 200 hitters per season. Unfortunately, he led the NL in walks in 2006 (115) and 2007 (101). So, if your league counts walks as a statistic, then he'll hurt you in that department. He's still one of the most reliable pitchers in baseball and should be one of the first pitchers selected.

3. Aramis Ramirez, 3B – In four full seasons in Chicago, Ramirez has a .305 batting average. He's averaged 32 home runs and 103 RBIs per season. This season should be no different and that's why I selected Ramirez as a keeper in my league. He's one of the top third basemen available and will hit around .300 again this season with 25-30 home runs and 100-110 RBIs. Ramirez will also score around 80 runs and have 30-40 doubles.

4. Derrek Lee, 1B – After missing most of the 2006 season, Lee bounced back nicely last season. He hit .317 with 22 home runs and 82 RBIs in 150 games. Lee will likely hit above .300 this season with 20-25 home runs. He's only had more than 100 RBIs once before in his career (107 in 2005), but I think he'll come close again this season. I'd expect him to have 85-90 RBIs, but that prediction could be a little low. Lee will also score between 90-100 runs and hit 40-50 doubles.

5. Ted Lilly, LHP – Lilly has won 15 games in each of the last two seasons. He lowered his ERA to 3.83 in 2007, which was his first season with the Cubs. Lilly struck out 174 hitters and only walked 55 in 207 innings. The 32-year-old left-hander will likely win 10-15 games in 2008. Lilly's ERA could be closer to his career average (4.46), but that's the only thing preventing him from being a solid fantasy choice. Be sure to draft him if he's still available in the middle rounds.

Hidden gems:

1. Geovany Soto, C – The Cubs will rely on the 25-year-old Soto to be the primary catcher in 2008. He doesn't have a lot of experience (30 games played in the majors), but he'll be a good pick for someone in your fantasy league. In his first six seasons in the minor leagues, Soto didn't show much power. Last season, he showed that he was ready for the next step by hitting .353 with 26 home runs and 109 RBIs in 110 games at Triple-A Iowa. He's worth being drafted as a catcher because the position isn't particularly deep. Soto could wind up being the steal of the 2008 season.


2. Carlos Marmol, RHP – Marmol showed that he is a quality reliever by going 5-1 with a 1.43 ERA in 59 appearances last season. The next step is proving that he's a quality closer by collecting a bunch of saves this season. If Marmol is named the closer, then his fantasy value greatly increases. Nevertheless, Marmol's ERA will help you in extremely deep leagues. If your league counts holds, then Marmol should be high on your list of relievers. Still, his true value is in the saves he'll collect if he is named the closer.