Next year is here.
For nearly 100 seasons now, the Cubs fan’s lament has been, “There’s always next year.” But perhaps, for real this time, 2007 is our year.
No question, the Cubs will need a few breaks to break out in 2007. They’re counting on first baseman Derrek Lee to return from injury in top form. They’re crossing their fingers that at least one of the Mark Prior and Kerry Wood duo will stay healthy. They’re betting that closer Ryan Dempster will return to his form of 2005.
It is conventional wisdom among baseball experts, though, that the Cubs had one of the best off-seasons in baseball—not because of canny trades or under-the-radar signings, but rather because of the sheer girth of their winter budget. The Cubs landed a coup in the free-agent market in the form of outfielder and leadoff man Alfonso Soriano, who is coming fresh off of a 46 home run, 41 stolen base season. They improved their pitching staff by overpaying righty Jason Marquis—snatching him from the rival Cardinals—and southpaw Ted Lilly, who is likely to improve on his 4.31 ERA with the move from one of the strongest offensive divisions (the American League East) to one of the weakest (the National League Central).
In addition to these high-profile moves, the Cubs did in fact make some smart, low cost signings. They re-upped veteran catcher Henry Blanco—who has a knack for throwing out would-be base stealers and driving in clutch runs—to back up Michael Barrett. The Cubs also added Chicago native Cliff Lee, presumably to form a potentially strong platoon with Matt Murton in left field, and veteran pinch hitter Darryl Ward. Furthermore, the North Siders may have gotten a steal when they swapped troublesome reliever David Aardsma to the White Sox for lefty Neal Cotts, who was one of the best set-up men in the business just two years ago.
Yes, the Cubs need a lot of things to work out perfectly if they hope to, say, win the World Series this year. But then again, every team that has ever won the World Series has had a lot of breaks go their way. Is that really too much to ask for? After all, the Cubs’ management and ownership have put their team in a position to get these breaks. At least they’re trying super-duper hard, right?
This year I have hope. To be fair—I hate writing this because it forces me to admit it to myself—I have the exact same hope every single year. I’m like a child, desperately clinging to and believing any shred of evidence that the Cubs will do well. But truthfully, I really do believe, using my head over my heart, that the Cubs could have an exceptional team.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But we Cubs fans have been to hell and back multiple times (personally, I would say three times: the Brant Brown drop, the Steve Bartman drop, and the 2004 wild card collapse). We, more than any other fans of any other sports team, know what it’s like to suffer with our team. But who says, after all, that the road to a World Series couldn’t also be paved with good intentions?