1. Can Rizzo continue to get better? Give Anthony Rizzo credit for arriving with loads of expectation and then delivering immediately. Not to spoil the fun, but he will struggle eventually and that might not be a bad thing. The quicker Rizzo can adapt to the ebbs and flows of a major league season the better.
2. What happens if Dempster and Garza get traded? As shocking as it is to say, things still might get worse before they get better. If Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza go, two guys from the group of Chris Volstad, Casey Coleman and Randy Wells will have to step up.
3. Will Barney be part of the rebuilding process? Darwin Barney doesn’t flash impressive speed or deceptive power, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a role in the future. Barney works as hard as anybody and gets the most out of his ability. And as he works on getting the most out of his offensive game, he has already shown he can play defense with the best of them. Productive hard workers who won’t break the bank are crucial when working on a budget for the future.
4. Can Soriano be traded, and what would be bring back? Unless the Cubs are prepared to eat something north of $45 million on Alfonso Soriano, he probably doesn’t get traded by the end of the month. And his sore knee probably limits him to American League suitors searching the market for a designated hitter anyway. His real chances of being dealt come in 2013 or 2014.
5. Will Marmol remain the closer? As long as he follows the coaching staff’s plan of relying on his fastball, his chances of staying in his role are improved. But throwing strikes is a must and his practice of walking multiple batters must be stopped. What we do know is that Marmol won’t be around when the rebuilding project picks up steam.
6. Is Valbuena the long-term answer at third base? Luis Valbuena has already done what Ian Stewart couldn’t, and that’s become an offensive threat in the latter half of the order. But his long-term prospects of being an everyday third baseman in the future are murky at best. The Cubs still expect Josh Vitters to emerge. Vitters will get his chance as soon as his defense matches what he is able to do on offense.
7. Can LaHair be a long-term answer in right field? Bryan LaHair is clearly out of position in right field. He can’t cover a lot of ground and doesn’t have a cannon arm. He is more suited for left field, but Soriano has that spot blocked. And because Rizzo is now the first baseman, it means that LaHair will remain a prime trade candidate. Riding out the season with LaHair in right field seems reasonable, but what’s going to happen when a team in need of production at first base offers the Cubs a nice package for him?
8. Will Samardzija’s ups and downs be a permanent fixture as a starter? Call Jeff Samardzija’s current roller coaster ride his learning process in becoming a starter. He recently learned that he can’t force a pitch into his repertoire as he tried to do with his curveball and ran into control issues. Every time Samardzija learns a lesson like that he becomes a better pitcher.
9. Will Brett Jackson come up this season? Jackson, with Vitters right behind him, is the next great Cubs prospect expected to burst upon the scene. But because of his strikeout issues, he only projects to a September call-up at this point. Injuries could change that, but the Cubs still need to see him have a better approach with his at-bats before he is given his big-league chance.
10. With the extra wild card, do the Cubs still have a chance? This is an emphatic no. The club left itself with too big of a hole and nobody expects them to climb out of it. But none of the struggles were unexpected. Therefore, the rebuilding project will continue. Simply reaching .500 would be the first goal, but if guys start getting traded that won’t happen either.