The 2014 Chicago Cubs season is just barely over 40% finished and there have already been a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Very roller coaster season. They currently reside at the bottom of the NL Central standings, but they also just had a great extra inning win against the Marlins (with Travis Wood hitting the game winning RBI) But we've come up with 5 questions that will likely define the rest of the season and the rebuilding process going forward.
1. Can Luis Valbuena or Mike Olt develop into the third baseman of the future for the Cubs?
There's no doubt that Mike Olt has been pretty bad this season and even worse as of late. He's forced Ricky Renteria into benching him. Olt is currently batting .152, which is not an anomaly because that is what he batted in his only season with Texas. Per baseball-reference, his WAR (wins against replacement) is -0.4, which means he loses wins for his team versus a replacement player. However, he's an intriguing player. He has the power you are looking for at the corner spot...10 HRs and 25 RBIs. And he's 25 years old.
Luis Valbuena is the other 3B option. He's a couple years older than Olt at 28, but he actually looks like a decent professional hitter at the plate. He's batting a solid .284 and has had some timely hitting this year. But Valbuena isn't a natural 3B and isn't so hot at the corner spot. He only has 4 HRs and his career BA is .230 over 7 seasons.
The Cubs brass want Olt to succeed. But can he rise to the challenge? Does Valbuena have a coming out party in his 7th season?
2. Is Junior Lake a true work-in-progress or is he another Brett Jackson?
Junior Lake is fast, athletic, and has some decent pop in his bat. But Lake is a complete enigma. One game he is going 3-6 with 6 RBIs and has the fanbase thinking the Cubs have solved at least one future outfield spot. Then you look at his season and he strikes out 8 times for every walk. He strikes out 1 out of every 3 at bats. You can't have that if you are expecting to stay in the bigs for long, unless you're putting up 40 HRs and 100 RBIs.
So the big question is whether the 24 year old Lake can start seeing the ball better at the plate or is he the next Brett Jackson (bust flop)?
3. Can the Cubs get value for Jeff Samardzija in a trade?
When the Cubs traded Matt Garza, they got a decent swap out of it. For Garza, they got CJ Edwards, Mike Olt, and Justin Grimm from the Texas Rangers. Grimm, at 25 years old, has pitched decently for the Cubs this year. Appearing in 32 games with an ERA of 3.00 and a more than solid WHIP of 1.2. CJ Edwards is ranked as the Cubs 3rd best prospect. And Mike Olt has played a ton for the big league club. That was off a half year rental player in Garza. With a pitcher in Samardzija that is having a career year, has a year and a half left of team control and is affordable for a player of his caliber...can they pull off an even better trade than the one they got from Texas? I think it's imperative that the Cubs really hose another team in this trade in order to make up for losing a player of Samardzija's caliber.
4. How does the team respond to the potential trading of Jeff Samrdzija and Jason Hammel?
This team has had some ups and a lot of downs. They are actually playing decently right now just weeks away from the trade deadline. How does this group of young players respond to the adversity of losing one or more teammates? How do they respond to the loss of productivity from the mound? This response will say alot about who these kids are.
5. Do Jed and Theo bring the kids up?
This is the $100,000 question. Kris Bryant is tearing the cover off the ball in AA. Javier Baez is turning his season around. Do the Cubs bring them up in September when they're mathematically eliminated from playoff contention? These two are undoubtedly the future face of the franchise. Do the Cubs bring them up to give them experience at the major league level, to give the fans a glimpse of hope, and to hopefully start speeding the rebuild up?