The top Cub this year -- Alfonso Soriano -- is no longer in town, meaning the fantasy options on the North Side take a considerable hit. With a 66-96 record and a last-place finish in the National League Central, it's just a matter of time before the kids -- Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, etc. -- take over Wrigleyville and make Chicago a threat to do the things that good baseball teams do. It's been awhile.
But, for now, we're stuck with this group (caution: it's not pretty):
1. Anthony Rizzo
Rizzo is the new face of the franchise, which only made things worse as the season wore on and his numbers diminished considerably. The first baseman hit .233/.323/.419 with 23 home runs, 71 runs, 80 RBIs and six steals, including a second-half slash of .222/.316/.389. Rizzo was awful against lefties, hitting .189/.282/.342 with seven home runs in 109 at-bats. It was something the Cubs were aware of prior to acquiring Rizzo, but he had seemingly fixed those lefty problems in Triple-A. The 24-year-old is the only power source you can trust in Chicago, and I think you can trust the batting average to come up, too; Rizzo's .258 BABIP was ninth lowest, but a lot of that was due to weak contact. I'm optimistically predicting a .275 BA with 25-plus home runs and 90 RBIs in 2014. The good news here is Rizzo's stock should be much lower after a down year, meaning the likelihood of getting a good bargain on Draft Day is that much higher.
2. Jeff Samardzija
Am I really writing about Samardzija again? I'll direct you here, here, and here for further commentary. The upside is I will never lose a spelling competition by goofing up Samardzija's name. It's actually rather easy, see: Samard-zija. Marc Rzepczynski? Now that's another story. The Cubs ace has been the talk of countless trade rumors, and you can expect those rumors to grow at the Winter Meetings. This season, Samardzija went 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 214 strikeouts in 213 2/3 innings. The peripherals are much nicer (3.77 FIP; 3.45 xFIP), but the frustration of owning Samardzija is the up-and-down nature of his starts. In a way, he reminds me of Matt Moore, who can be unhittable one start and can't escape the third inning five days later. Samardzija, however, turns 29 in January and has only been a true starter for two seasons. Another 200-strikeout season is likely, and I like the chances of a sub-3.75 ERA. There's No. 2 upside here. There's a reason so many teams would like to add him.
3. Starlin Castro
Castro's season is hard to explain. In fact, I'm not really going to try. I've searched and read many opinions on Castro, who I predicted would be a top-fantasy shortstop last winter, and my takeaway is, "Throw the season away." Castro needs to go back to being the Castro of 2011 and 2012, when he attacked fastballs early and often. Working the count isn't in the cards, here, and I'm sure that's something Theo Epstein and company will back off on in 2014. The young shortstop actually had a worse walk rate this time around, and his batting average fell from .283 to .245. Castro's power hasn't developed at all, so he's starting to look like a 12-15 home run guy at best going forward. Arguably one of the biggest disappointments in fantasy, Castro's stock could be somewhere outside of the top-12 shortstops in 2014; that would have looked absolutely silly a year ago. Like Rizzo, there's fantastic Draft Day value here, but Castro will need to get back into the 20-steal range to make it worthwhile. I'm not sure he makes it.
4. Nate Schierholtz
Did I mention the fantasy options on the North Side aren't that good? Schierholtz got a chance to play full time and delivered in a big way, hitting .251/.301/.470 with 21 home runs, 56 runs, 68 RBIs and six steals. Of course, the 29-year-old outfielder did all of his damage against right-handed pitching, hitting 20 home runs and 65 RBIs in those at-bats. That makes him an obvious platooner, which isn't the worst thing if you can complement him with a lefty killer. Expect a .260 BA and around 15-18 home runs, but I'm not sure he'll be doing all of his damage in Chicago. The Diamondbacks are on the lookout for an outfield bat (go figure), and they've been linked to Schierholtz in the past. He's a No. 5 outfielder with obvious limitations.
5. Edwin Jackson
For me, watching Jackson pitch is on the same level as watching A Christmas Story on a 24-hour loop. Seriously, give me Christmas Vacation already. Or even Elf. Anything else, really, will do. Jackson signed a four-year, $52 million contract last winter and turned it into an 8-18 record and 4.98 ERA. He, like always, underperformed his peripherals (3.79 FIP; 3.86 xFIP), and posted his lowest strand rate -- 63.3 percent -- since 2006. Jackson's strikeout rate also dropped from 21.3 percent to 17.4 percent while his walk rate remained roughly the same. One of these years Jackson will probably perform on par with what the advanced statistics say, but owning Jackson isn't easy on the pulse. He can look dominant for the first three innings and then completely fall apart in the fourth. It's probably safest to avoid him in most leagues, but he has more upside than the next closest guy on my list...
Honorable mention: Travis Wood
Wood was a regular in my weekly two-start series, as most refused to buy into the right-hander's fast start: In the first half, Wood was a top-25 pitcher, according to FanGraphs WAR. Wood settled down from there, finishing the season 9-12 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 200 innings. The Cubs lone All-Star isn't anything special, but, out of 32 starts, 24 were of the quality-start variety. Furthermore, he gave up four runs or more in only six starts, including just one with five. I can't really see Wood repeating, however, as he out-pitched his peripherals -- 3.89 FIP and 4.50 xFIP -- considerably. He's a back-end rotation guy not worth reaching for, but if he falls into your lap, then sure, take a stab.
Honorable mention, part deux: Pedro Strop
Gasp. The only Cub on the roster who makes some sense closing, Strop can be had with a final-round pick in your draft. He'll strike out the side one game and rehash nightmares of Carlos Marmol the next. If the Cubs don't sign anyone else with closer experience, Strop is the closer to own in Chicago.
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