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No huge Cubs renovations, but maybe enough for a better 2013

If Matt Garzcomes back strong he could help Cubs mound or trade. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

If Matt Garza comes back strong, he could help the Cubs on the mound or in a trade. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 11, 2013 6:48AM



Will a restocked pitching staff and a few minor additions to the non-pitching roster be enough this spring to prevent the annual bunting tournament from becoming the most relevant competition in camp for the second year in a row? They had better be if the Cubs are going to look any better in 2013 than they did in Theo Epstein’s first year running the operation.

Key arrivals

Right-handers Edwin Jackson and Kyuji Fujikawa. Jackson was the surprise big free agent of the winter (four years, $52 million), the first long-term free agent signing for the Cubs in two offseasons under Epstein. He’s considered an important piece in the rebuilding process, both as an experienced, durable starter under contract through the projected turnaround/competitive years and as a shorter-term hedge for the rotation against a likely Matt Garza trade this year. Many expect former Japanese All-Star Fujikawa to be the Cubs’ rookie closer by the end of this season, though the Cubs insist that Carlos Marmol ($9.8 million in final year of contract) is their closer this year, suggesting Fujikawa takes over in 2014. Either way, the veteran (two years, $9.5 million) stabilizes what had been a late-inning weak link for the Cubs.

Other newcomers

Co-hitting coach Rob Deer, bench coach David Bell, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Carlos Villanueva, C Dioner Navarro, OF Scott Hairston, OF Nate Schierholtz.

Key departures

1B/OF Bryan LaHair, RHP Ryan Dempster, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Kerry Wood, RHP Chris Volstad, IF/OF Joe Mather, C Koyie Hill, C Geovany Soto, IF/OF Jeff Baker, OF Reed Johnson.

The big question

The Cubs have little reason to expect their hitting and run scoring to be any better this year than their near-bottom performance last year. Except, maybe, a rebound/breakout season from 3B Ian Stewart – remember him? Stewart hit just .201 with five home runs before mid-season wrist surgery last season, then disappeared from the field staff’s sight, inspiring questions about his desire, and eventually was cut loose at the end of the season. Largely because of scarcity at the position, the Cubs re-signed him, and Stewart says the wrist is finally healthy. He also worked with Hall of Fame hitter Rod Carew over the winter.

The X(-ray) factor

The Cubs are banking on more than a few guys to rebound from injuries, including three elbow-problem pitchers. Matt Garza hasn’t pitched since July 21 but has looked strong in throwing sessions and could bring a big trade return this year if he’s healthy. Scott Baker, the former Minnesota Twins stalwart signed to a one-year deal, appears on track for an early-season return to the rotation after Tommy John surgery. But perhaps the most intriguing guy is rookie Arodys Vizcaino, the right-hander acquired from the Atlanta Braves for Paul Maholm last July. He’s a high-ceiling talent with a chance to slide into the rotation by the All-Star break.

Number crunching

20 Increase in wins the Cubs must achieve over last season to avoid their first streak of four consecutive losing seasons since the 1980s.

447 Walks drawn by Cubs batters in 2012, the second-fewest in the National League.

573 Walks issued by Cubs pitchers in 2012, most in the National League.

64/38 Runs/RBI produced by Cubs center fielders last year; both marks ranked last in the majors for the position.

.201 /.611 Batting average/OPS produced by Cubs third basemen last year; both marks ranked last in the majors for the position.

94 Days Matt Garza has spent on the disabled list in his two seasons as a Cub, 77 more than the rest of his career combined.

Save the dates

Sunday: Pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz.

Tuesday: First workout for pitchers and catchers (Fitch Park, Mesa)

Feb. 17: First full-squad workout (Fitch Park)

Feb. 23: Cubs’ Cactus League opener, at Los Angeles Angels
(2:05 p.m., Tempe)

Feb. 24: Cubs’ Cactus League home opener, vs. San Francisco Giants (2:05 p.m., HoHoKam Stadium)

March 4: Tito-Theo reunion game — Theo Epstein’s Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians, managed by Terry Francona, Epstein’s manager for two championships in Boston until both left the Red Sox amid fallout from the September 2011 collapse

March 7: Cubs vs. White Sox I (HoHoKam)

March 15: Cubs vs. White Sox II (Glendale)

March 28: Cubs break camp for pair of exhibitions in Houston

April 1: Opening Day in Pittsburgh



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