Happy New Year to all Cubs fans out there. 2012 is the first full year in the Theo Epstein era. It's a new beginning. No looking back now. You know, except when we have to look back to make sure history doesn't repeat itself and for past stats, etc.
So, on the first day of 2012, CubsTalk has a list of 10 things to watch for in this new year. Some may be over and done with before February even hits, while others still be focal points at this time in 2013. We'll count down, just like you all did last night before midnight hit.
10. Starlin Castro career progression
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know Castro is already the team's most marketable player, so there's no doubt he'd be a focal point of the franchise in 2012. But at just 21 (he will turn 22 March 24), he is still so new and raw at this game. Will he develop more power this year? Will he cut down on his errors and utilize his athleticism effectively at shortstop? Will he turn in another .300 season and reach the 200-hit plateau again? How will he continue to handle the attenion he gets playing as the biggest name on one of the most popular franchises in all of sports?
9. Tom Ricketts
You can't have a calendar year without addressing the team's owner, especially when the chairman of the franchise lured the biggest front office name in the game to his town. Ricketts will be front and center all year -- as a fan, as a businessman (deals like purchasing the McDonald's and subsequent land across the street from Wrigley are great business moves) and as a chairman.
8. Alfonso Soriano's contract
If the Cubs are rebuilding, it's hard to see Soriano sticking around. He will turn 36 this week and is one of the most grossly overpaid players in the game because of his declining skills. Will the Cubs be able to deal him, even if they eat a huge portion of his contract? If he's not traded, will he play everyday or will young guys like Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt get playing time as part of the youth movementrebuild?
7. Young pitchers
How will Andrew Cashner fare coming off his shoulder injury? Will he be a starter or a reliever for most of 2012? Will Trey McNutt get back on track as the organization's top pitching prospect? Will guys like Rafael Dolis and Jeff Beliveau spend extended time in the big-league bullpen? Will guys like Jeff Samaradzija and James Russell build off their solid 2011 seasons?
6. Matt Garza trade talks
With the way things are shaking out, it appears one of two things will happen before this offseason is up -- either Garza is traded or the Cubs sign him to a long-term deal a la the John Danks contract. Neither has to happen (Garza is under contract through the 2013 season), but it appears this situation is coming to a head here in the first couple months of 2012.
5. Brett Jackson
As the organization's top prospect, many fans are clamoring for the Cubs to have Jackson crack the starting lineup from Day One of spring training. But if Jackson isn't ready, there's no point in pushing him. After all, it would take an awful lot to go right for the Cubs to contend in 2012, so they can take their time and be patient. But either way, one has to figure Jackson will make his MLB debut sometime in 2012. The only question is...when?
4. Carlos Zambrano
Given his outspoken nature and the entertainment factor, Zambrano will always demand attention as long as he is part of the Cubs' organization. The only question is...how much longer will he be with the franchise?
3. Rebuilding effort
The Cubs are rebuilding. No secret about that anymore. As such, every move made will be examined and analyzed and everybody will have an eye toward the future. The real question is, how far down the road will people be looking? Some seem to be impatient and want immediate results, but things don't work like that, especially considering the shape of this franchise when the new front office took over.
2. Ron Santo's Hall of Fame induction
I would love to move this higher up, but there is good reason, I promise. The HOF induction is long overdue for the most beloved Cub ever. Fans will join friends and family of both the Cubs organziation and the Santo family in late July to honor one of baseball's greatest personalities and most passionate players.
1. Theo Epstein
He's so popular, he is just known by one name. Like Madonna. Or Prince. (The singer, not the slugging first baseman everybody wants the Cubs to sign) Theo has celebrity status like no other front office member has ever had, including Billy Beane, who has a whole movie made off his "Moneyball" tactics. Whereas the Santo HOF induction is a fantastic moment and a truly happy occasion, it will only be the focal point of a couple weeks -- at most -- of 2012. Epstein will be in the news every single day of the new year. Every mistake he makes -- and he will make some, that's a guarantee -- he will be second-guessed like no other. Every success, no matter how small, will only add to his legacy.
2012 probably won't bring a World Series ring for Cubs fans, but it will still be a heck of exciting year. Stick right here at CubsTalk for all the latest on news and rumors each and every day.