For fun, I threw together a napkin projection for the 2013 Cubs. I'm probably wrong here and there about the playing time -- for instance, I don't think Luis Valbuena will be a super sub, even though that's the bench MLB Depth Charts suggests -- but as a whole, I think the results are in the ballpark.
Which is a bit of bummer, because I'm forecasting 77 wins:
This projections system comes courtesy of Sky Kalkman and Beyond the Box Score. Last year, I used it to quite accurately predict the Marlins needed a several lucky breaks just to be .500 (naturally, those breaks broke the other way and they only won 69 games).
What kinds of breaks do the Cubs need to be a winning team? Anthony Rizzo making a bigger offensive leap than I'm predicting. Alfonso Soriano having another great season. Scott Baker pitching 30 games; Scott Feldman repeating his strong peripherals; Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija continuing their breakouts (Garza had a huge letdown year in 2012).
And, obviously, everyone stays healthy. Maybe Ian Stewart goes nuts and starts hitting homers like mad?
Obviously, the Cubs still have time to execute a few roster-rearranging trades. Not the least of which includes the possible trades of Soriano and Marmol, and both should net prospects. Carlos Marmol could even bring an MLB-ready prospect back, though likely one with a pretty low ceiling.
But that is the beauty of the MLB. The Cubs may be a 77 or 78 win team according to true talent (or projected talent), but true talent levels change, players break out, seasons go crazy, and anything can happen. And who knows, maybe we won't have to be waiting for next year's next year?
In 2008, the belief around the sabermetric blogosphere was that the Tampa Bay Rays were on the cusp of greatness, but still another year away. But Evan Longoria turned out to be great immediately; James Shields improved upon his strong sophomore season; and Matt Garza exceed expectations.
The Cubs, it is obvious now more than ever with Rizzo, Castro, and a cadre of near-MLB prospects, have stepped even closer to that crest, that precious turnaround season.
But don't expect it to be in 2013.