Cubs, Red Sox and Astros look forward to 2013 and beyond

Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro represent the future of the Chicago Cubs. (Jennifer Stewart/US Presswire)

With the postseason within arm’s reach, many anticipate great match-ups. For the teams that miss out, they will undoubtedly turn to that famous refrain: “There’s always next season.”

The craziness of 2012 brought us game-changing rookies, a bundle of no-hitters and perfect games, an intense MVP race with one chasing the historic Triple Crown feat, a Giants hitter that was on pace to make history (just to find out it was all a sham), and we will see, for the first time, a second wild card team in each league make the playoffs. Looking to next season and beyond, there are three bottom-feeders that should look to rise from the depths of defeat to prove something they lacked this year.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to finish the season second to last in the NL Central. They’re all too familiar with this spot.

Cubs fans still praise the addition of Theo Epstein this past offseason as a step in the right direction. And if they hold on, which they always have, this move will pay off soon. Throughout this season, Epstein has spoken of great things to come in Chicago, and when Theo, although rarely, predicts anything, it usually happens. While the team he and GM Jed Hoyer fielded didn’t amount to much, the Epstoyer, Hoystein, Jedstein or however you want to nickname the duo, methodically started to piece together a future contender, all while flying under the radar.

Cuban phenom Jorge Soler was on the Cubs’ want list early on. Many teams wanted Soler, but in the end, the Cubs were able to snag him and sign him to a nine year $30 million contract. Soler is a five-tool player, who many believe would have been a top-five pick in the 2010 draft, if he had been eligible. He might not start 2013 on the roster, but he’ll be there soon enough.

Unloading Geovany Soto to Texas was a move that brought on mixed feelings, but this payroll space will give the Cubs room to either bring in a proven catcher in free agency, or we’ll see what Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger can do with a whole season behind the plate.

One of the most important goals on their season checklist was to re-sign shortstop Starlin Castro. On August 28, he and the Cubs agreed to a modest seven-year $60 million contract. This signing couldn’t have been more perfect. Castro isn’t yet a premiere shortstop in the NL, but is certainly on his way. The deal will keep Castro in Chicago through the 2019 season, which by that time he will be 29 years old. By then, the verdict will be out on whether he can be in the same sentence as Cubs great Ernie Banks.

Bryan LaHair, Anthony Rizzo and Josh Vitters are now essential parts of the team. These counterparts have been placed around Castro, who can get on base. Vitters and Rizzo were key call-ups this season who will only get better with experience.

On a final note, this might be a possible goodbye to 36-year-old Alfonso Soriano. There are signs here that point to a departure in the offseason. This $18 million of freedom will be nice. However, he still has two years left on his contract, and it’s hard to see any team wanting to pick up that burden.

Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine were all smiles last winter. Not so much now. (Elsa/Getty Images) )

Many speculate manager Bobby Valentine will depart in the offseason. GM Ben Cherington clarified the situation Thursday in an interview with WEEI, in which he spoke freely about the time the organization spent with their manager search last offseason. Cherington may have blurted out too much by stating he “would like to spend less time on it this offseason …” Later that afternoon, the Boston Globe reached him for a follow-up, and Cherington tried to retract his remarks. He said he didn’t mean to suggest that Valentine’s firing was imminent.

Don’t turn your backs on the stubborn old skipper too soon, but the writing is pretty much on the wall for this one. Ultimately, the hiring of Valentine was not a bad move by Boston. Their dismal 2011 campaign showed clear signs of an undisciplined clubhouse, which led to Terry Francona’s departure. Valentine’s tyrant style of managing was something that Boston might have needed. Maybe egos were too high and his takeover was a wake-up call to a possible sinking franchise.

The emergence of Will Middlebrooks was key in the Kevin Youkilis trade to the Chicago White Sox. It’s very likely the young third baseman will now end the year on the disabled list with a wrist injury. His move after the trade to an everyday third baseman was a look into the future for Boston, but no one could predict the moves that were impending that would shape this franchise even more.

After the trade deadline, many praised the Dodgers for the mega-deal that took place. However, the Red Sox should be the ultimate winners. They simply took the risk of starting over. Give Cherington some credit, he has some brass ones. They stripped well over $200 million from their payroll by unloading notables Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. With Crawford’s injuries and Beckett’s inconsistencies, the hardest to let go was probably Gonzalez. These departures could be all summed up as distractions, but it is safe to say Boston has opened up a plethora of options for the offseason.

Dustin Pedroia and a possible new manager will lead a new Red Sox team that will have a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury in 2013.

The future looks bright for prospect Carlos Correa and the Houston Astros. (Cliff Welch/Icon SMI)

Houston Astros

There wasn’t a lot of good that came out of the Astros’ season. Sure, they unloaded Carlos Lee and pitchers J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon and Wandy Rodriguez to give them some breathing room financially, but they will once again sit dead-last in the NL Central.

Houston’s light at the end of tunnel is their farm system. New scouting director Mark Elias and GM Jeff Luhnow will continue to bring their prospects along slowly to release the boom when time is appropriate. These prospects will make a difference in the lineup in 2013, 2014 and 2015:

Notables from the 2012 draft

1st Round (1): Carlos Correa, SS – The A-Rod prototype is the No. 2-rated prospect in the Astros organization. He’s progressing exceptionally well. It won’t be long until we see this 17-year-old gem in the bigs.

1st Round (41): Lance McCullers Jr., RHP – This supplemental pick is the son of former major league reliever Lance McCullers Sr. He throws a mid-90s range fastball that occasionally can touch 100. He’s also got a knack for going deep into late innings.

4th Round (129): Rio Ruiz, 3B – With his blood clot removal last March now behind him, Ruiz has started to show the club he still is a complete athlete. He was once a standout football player in Southern California. He’s a left-handed hitter, who has gathered comparisons to Eric Chavez.

Notable from the 2011 draft

1st Round (11): George Springer, CF – The Astros are very excited about their No. 3-ranked prospect. He could ultimately make the jump to the majors in 2013 or 2014. Springer is the quintessential five-tool player. His power at the plate is becoming wicked scary, and his call should come soon enough.

1st Round (46): Joe Musgrove, RHP – Originally drafted by the Blue Jays, he was traded to the Astros in a 10-player trade on July 20. Musgrove is a 6′-5″ work horse, who can devastate hitters with his power fastball. It’s a good chance he will see some time in the majors next season.

1st Round (57): Kevin Comer, RHP – Also originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, Comer was another player shipped to Houston in that 10-player trade — although his trade was finalized August 16. That’s right, he was the player to be named later. His ERA in the Astros farm system as been a bit high since his arrival, but these can be figured to just nerves. This should fade by next season.

Notables from the 2010 draft

1st Round (8): Delino DeShields Jr., CF – He, like Springer, is major league ready. His power hitting is called marginal by some and his arm strength isn’t ideal, but his range in the outfield is amazing. The Astros need help in the outfield, so if DeShields has a strong spring-training, he will be on the opening day roster.

Notables from the 2009 draft

8th Round (257): Jonathan Singleton, 1B – He originally was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies. He was traded to Houston in 2011 in a deal that sent former Astro Hunter Pence to Philadelphia. It’s hard to think he won’t get the called up in 2013. Singleton sat deeper in the draft than other highly touted Astro prospects, but he’s a class act with a big bat. Comparisons to Delmon Young and Derek Lee have been made. He’s not the most athletic, but his raw power at the plate can’t be overlooked. He will eventually be an everyday first baseman in Houston.

Heavy eyes are on right-handed pitcher Mark Appel as the second-consecutive number-one pick in the draft.

This past week, 40-year-old Washington Nationals third base coach Bo Porter was named Houston’s 17th manager in franchise history. Porter will be the youngest manger in Major League Baseball, and it will be his first time helming a team. Porter mentioned during his hiring news conference that the organization is “putting together a great leadership team …” This statement is completely true. Brett Wallace and J.D. Martinez now have the reigns of the team. They will be the guides for the rising prospects.

Some speculate Houston will go after the aging and aching Lance Berkman in the offseason, but with their payroll now freed up, they have so many more viable options that could help this ball club. Maybe a healthier veteran might help these prospects along.

Houston’s team is reminiscent of a prediction I made three years ago with the Washington Nationals. Their brilliant draft picks and smart free-agent signings helped them to where they are now — atop of the NL. Houston, like Washington not long ago, are not restocking to endure a few more nightmare seasons, they are preparing for a bright future.

The Cubs, Red Sox and Astros are just three teams who should perform much better than their 2012 seasons. Which bottom-feeders do you think are on the rise in 2013?

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