- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Are the Cubs better today than yesterday, before Hairston signed? Yes. Is he going to make you go out and buy obstructed view tickets? No.
Hairston, a Naperville native, would be an ideal pick-up for a contending team. He's played all three outfield positions and can come off the bench to provide some pop. Getting a second year on his contract and potentially more playing time undoubtedly contributed to Hairston's decision to sign with his hometown team. And maybe in that second year the Cubs actually do contend for a playoff spot and his value off the bench increases.
As is, it's doubtful anyone starting on Opening Day in the Cubs outfield in 2013 will be doing the same on the team that contends for a division championship. Of course, the Cubs are allowed to surprise the baseball world and contend this year, but even Cubs brass has said, "on paper," they "aren't a favorite" to do so.
So the new right field combination looks like Hairston from the right side and Nate Schierholtz from the left. Hairston's addition might leave a couple of outfielders on the outside looking in as the Cubs 40-man roster is going to need some tweaking to add Hairston and pitcher Carlos Villanueva, as soon as those signings become official. The odd men out -- at least from the big-league roster -- could include Dave Sappelt and Tony Campana.
Again, Hairston is more valuable than Sappelt or Campana but that's not saying much. Brent Lillibridge could be heard from as a non-roster invitee as well.
The Cubs offseason might be over besides those housecleaning moves to accommodate the 40-man roster. Team president Theo Epstein hinted at a position player move at the Cubs Convention but indicated work with the pitching staff might be done. Now that Hairston is on board the Cubs are about ready for spring training which is approaching fast.
Here is the bottom line: They will be better because their starting staff is better and deeper -- or at least better than what they had to end the season. Ryan Dempster's first half will be missed, but the hope is Edwin Jackson can replace those innings and a healthy Matt Garza can win some games.
The Cubs will struggle to score runs unless a full year with Anthony Rizzo in the middle of the lineup makes a big difference for those batting around him and Starlin Castro. But depth on the starting staff and the addition of Jackson, at least, gives them a better chance to survive even if there are some trades mid-season.
However, nothing the Cubs have done this offseason points to any newcomer or even holdover being added to the core of the team -- save Jackson and possibly Darwin Barney at second base. While projections for top prospects are fun, there is no sure thing at any outfield position, third base or catcher. The back end of the bullpen is still in flux -- or will be -- and while the rotation is deeper it's not a championship-caliber group right now.
The Cubs should be better but how much closer they are to contending remains to be seen.