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Cubs to build on offseason overhaul

Epstein
Associated Press
The Cubs can build around Starlin Castro, who batted .307 and led the NL with 207 hits last season.

– Theomania struck Chicago’s north side last October, and anticipation for what Theo Epstein might bring to the Cubs – maybe a championship like he did with the Red Sox – is as strong as ever.

Putting Epstein in charge as president of baseball operations, bringing in a new general manager in Jed Hoyer and hiring Dale Sveum as manager were just part of the Cubs’ overhaul as they again chase the World Series championship that has eluded them for 103 years and counting.

Epstein, who put together the team that ended Boston’s 86-year drought in 2004 and won another ring in 2007, has made this clear from the outset: The Cubs must strengthen the organization from within, build up the farm system and depth and look to the future while being competitive. And do things the same way from the minor league level up.

Quick fixes are no longer an option, and it was evident when the Cubs didn’t become a major shopper in the free agent market.

“I think patience is important, but urgency is important as well,” Epstein said on the first day of spring training.

“The goal of the 2012 Cubs is to win the World Series. And our goal as an organization is to build an organization that competes on an annual basis in the postseason and gives ourselves a chance to win the World Series.”

After bringing his former Boston colleague and Padres GM Hoyer to town to be the GM, Epstein fired manager Mike Quade. He hired Sveum, whose managerial experience at the major league level was limited to a handful of games and a playoff series at the end of the 2008 season with the Brewers, for whom he was hitting coach last season.

The Cubs rid themselves of mercurial one-time ace Carlos Zambrano and have added outfielder David DeJesus through free agency, third baseman Ian Stewart in a trade with Rockies, right-hander Chris Volstad in the deal with the Marlins for Zambrano, left-hander Travis Wood in a trade with the Reds and a prospect in first baseman Anthony Rizzo through a deal with the Padres.

But Chicago lost its top run producers from last year’s 71-91 team in third baseman Aramis Ramirez and first baseman Carlos Pena, and they will be relying on 36-year-old Alfonso Soriano in left field and career minor leaguer Bryan LaHair at first to provide some punch. LaHair hit 38 homers in Triple-A last season.

The Cubs can build around young shortstop Starlin Castro, who batted .307 and led the NL with 207 hits last season. But Castro was the subject of a sexual assault investigation this offseason, although no charges have been filed.

Darwin Barney will be second, Marlon Byrd in center and Geovany Soto behind the plate. Jeff Baker will be one of the first players off the bench.

If there is one thing Epstein was determined to do early on it was build depth in the pitching rotation, and he’s done that. Matt Garza, the subject of numerous trade rumors, got a one-year, $9.5 million deal to avoid arbitration and pitched better than his 10-10 record last season, his first with the Cubs.

Veteran Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, a free agent who went 6-14 with the Pirates last season, are in the rotation. The last two went to Jeff Samardzija, who had a breakthrough season in relief a year ago, and Volstad, who was impressive early in the spring. They also have Randy Wells, who was sent to Triple-A, and Rodrigo Lopez, who went 6-6 last season after injuries hit the rotation.

Closer Carlos Marmol blew 10 saves last season, and Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio have made it a point to straighten him out this spring, especially his control with certain pitches. That has been a point of emphasis as has defense after the Cubs made 134 errors last season.

Replacing Sean Marshall, the effective and durable lefty who was dealt in the Reds trade, will be difficult. Travis Wood was demoted to the minors but could end up in the bullpen after struggling as a starter this spring. Kerry Wood was re-signed.

Sveum has managed in the minors, briefly in the majors and has been a bench coach, third base coach and hitting coach. As a switch-hitting shortstop during his career, he played for an array of managers and has been able to see the game from many different angles.

After a recent conversation, Marmol complimented Sveum for his ability to relate to his players.

And for Sveum, that’s important in a clubhouse of various egos and abilities. How much it will help the Cubs win remains to be seen.

“Communication, obviously, is huge. It’s just a matter of treating these guys like human beings and understanding they’re human, no matter how much money they make,” Sveum said recently at spring training.

“Whether it’s the top guy or the 25th guy on the roster, they’re all human beings and they’re going to fail. There’s so much negativity in this game that you have to give everybody confidence. It’s just the way it is. These guys are major-league players and they’ve had lots of success and sometimes they doubt that ability they have.”

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