The 2012 Chicago Cubs are no longer alive, at least when it comes to mathematical playoff contention. Let us now eulogize them ...
What went right
Jeff Samardzija made a successful transition from reliever to starter in a year in which not many such transitions worked out. Cherished prospect Anthony Rizzo made his Cubs debut and did not disappoint. In keeping with the front office's rebuilding plan, they were able to flip a handful of veterans before and after the non-waiver trade deadline in exchange for prospects. Alfonso Soriano showed he's still got some thump at the plate, Darwin Barney turned in a Gold Glove-caliber season at second base, and the club signed Starlin Castro to what figures to be a team-friendly long-term contract.
What went wrong
The rest of it, pretty much. The Cubs were 10 games out of first place by May 23, and it got worse from there. As for specifics, the Cubs rank ahead of only the Astros in runs scored, and, in a related matter, they rank dead last in the NL in OBP. If you don't get on base, you don't score runs. The poor Cubs also ranked near the bottom of the league in rotation ERA, and the bullpen was even worse.
MVP: Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer - While the Cubs' brain trust hasn't lit the world afire, they have committed to the desperately needed rebuilding process and taken steps in that direction. The team will still pay almost $30 million to Soriano and Carlos Marmol next season, so they're not yet free from the clutches of previous regime. Still, Epstein and Hoyer have already netted the top young talent in the system (Rizzo), locked up the other top young talent in the system (Castro) and made a free-agent splash in the burgeoning Cuban market (Jorge Soler). It's a good start to a long process.
LVP: While you can point to any number of LVP types on the Cubs, let's go with their center fielders. Cubs CFers -- meaning, mostly, Tony Campana -- combined to hit a miserable .227/.293/.319 this season. That's … not good.
MLB free agents to be: RP Shawn Camp
Gameplan heading into the offseason
This is a team in need of triage, not spot-fixes, and that's why the Cubs won't contend in 2013. Continue trying to pawn off veterans; get creative with the draft budget; decide whether Matt Garza has a future on the North Side; and relish that no longer will you be paying Carlos Zambrano, Marlon Byrd and Carlos Silva. "Steady as she goes" should be the motto for Theo and company.
Ridiculously premature prediction for 2013
Incremental progress but not contention. And Soriano is finally traded, whether it be over the winter or during the 2013 season. The Cubs, though, will absorb much of his remaining contract.