Now that the Sosa administration is gone, the clear strength of the club, it's starting pitching, will get all of the attention. The staff has the potential to be the best in the big leagues, however there always seems to be one member whose health is in question. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have already had flare-ups. And the closer situation has to be cleared up if Chicago wants to stay with the Cardinals in the NL Central race.
Worth Every Penny
I'd love to say Prior or Wood, but their injury history makes me nervous. Greg Maddux turns 39 on April 14 so he's not a no-brainer. So that leaves Carlos Zambrano, who posted a 2.75 ERA last year and was quietly the staff ace . He's worth at least what Wood is, if not more, and you may be the only one in your league who realizes that. Nomar Garciaparra might also qualify for this honor by the time his comeback season is done. About to Blossom
Dusty Baker frowns on young players, so most of the Cubs are known quantities. Should Prior stay healthy, however, he has the makeup to challenge Jason Schmidt as the league's best pitcher, much like in 2003 when Prior was 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in only 30 starts.
Todd Hollandsworth will be the Cubs regular left fielder, at least on paper. The 1996 NL Rookie of the Year hasn't played in 100 games since 1997 and has made eight trips to the DL in his career, including the one that ended his 2004 season last June 28. With Sosa and Moises Alou gone, the Cubs could really use Hollandsworth's bat in the lineup everyday. With his history, however, I can't see it.
Do You Feel Lucky?
Jerry Hairston Jr. was the main player acquired from the Orioles in the Sosa deal but he doesn't have a position to play ... or does he? Hairston can play third base (not likely with Aramis Ramirez entrenched there), second base (likely splitting time with Todd Walker) or left field (very likely as a and leadoff hitter and replacement for Hollandsworth (see above). Hairston hit .303 last year and stole 13 bases in 287 at-bats. Look for him to get at least 400 plate appearances and steal 20 to 25 bases.
Corey Patterson was the Cubs' leader in steals last season with 32, the most for Chicago since Eric Young stole 54 in 2000. Patterson's likely going to be the leadoff hitter (until Hairston finds a home) and should at least match that total. Derek Lee has stolen double-digit bases in each of the last three seasons, a bonus for a guy with 30 home runs.
If Something Should Happen To LaTroy Hawkins
Joe Borowski entered 2004 as the closer and when he went out with a slightly torn rotator cuff, LaTroy Hawkins became the stopper. Now Hawkins job security is in jeopardy, although much more likely from someone from outside the organization (read: Ugueth Urbina) than from the in-house options (Ryan Dempster, Borowski, Jon Leicester).
Don't Forget About
Ramirez, Maddux, Glendon Rusch, Michael Barrett
Don't Bother With
Neifi Perez, Dempster, Mike Remlinger, David Kelton
David Sabino is the associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book, Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League (Muska & Lipman/Premier-Trade).