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FIELDING The Cubs were middle of the pack in fielding, but will be strong on the infield, as Anthony Rizzo is Gold Glove-caliber, second baseman Darwin Barney won one in 2012—although he could lose his spot if he doesn’t hit more—and Castro, who committed the fewest errors (22) with the highest fielding percentage (.967) of his young career, at shortstop. Third base could be an issue with either Luis Valbuena or Mike Olt. The outfield is adequate, with strong-armed Schierholtz ranking fifth in assists (five) last season. Versatile free agent pickup Emilio Bonifacio is solid on the middle infield and in the outfield. Castillo isn’t the defender Dioner Navarro was but will get an opportunity to develop. STARTING PITCHING Chicago will count on the trio of Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, even though the Cubs shopped Samardzija who hit 200 innings and made more than 30 starts. Jackson was signed to a big four-year deal last winter but was 8-18 with an ERA around 5.00 in his 31 starts. Wood, the leading winner with nine, pitched 200 innings and led the team with 24 quality starts. The Cubs totalled 90 quality starts, sixth in the NL, and 17 more than 2012. Completing the rotation will be 31-year-old, eight-year veteran Jason Hammel, an off-season free agent signing, with Jake Arrieta, Carlos Villanueva and former Pirate James McDonald battling to be the fifth starter. RELIEF PITCHING With 26 blown saves, second-most in the NL, and a 4.04 ERA, thirdhighest, last season, the Cubs bullpen needed restructuring. Free agent Jose Veras who, at 32, was a superb set-up man for Detroit will try to do what Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol could not, effectively close. The well-traveled Veras, who will be with his eighth different team in eight years, had 21 saves in 25 opportunities last season with Houston then Detroit. Also back is last year’s workhorse, lefty Jeff Russell (a teamhigh 74 appearances last season) and righty Pedro Strop, acquired from Baltimore, who pitched to a 2.83 ERA in 37 appearances. Carryovers Hector Rondon and Blake Parker and newly acquired Wesley Wright will also battle for innings. MANAGING It’s Year Three of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer Era and while the Cubs haven’t shown any tangible signs of moving up, help is on the way. The restocked minor league system is bursting with talented prospects, some of whom may be on their way to Chicago this season. The hiring of Rick Renteria, 51, who recently served as bench coach for Bud Black in San Diego, where he worked for Hoyer, as the franchise’s 53rd manager caught some by surprise. But with his patience and teaching skill he could turn out to be a perfect fit. Anthony Rizzo THERON W. HENDERSON/GETTY IMAGES SPORT


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