I usually write a Sunday column, but took the day off yesterday for a number of reasons, including that we’ve beaten every Cubs story and non-story to death this winter. Yesterday felt more like spring, I had a good day health-wise, and by now, just like the rest of you, I’m ready to see how David Ross kicks off his first training camp as a Cubs manager.
There will be baseball. pic.twitter.com/Ec8aJIFFGr
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 1, 2020
This offseason has been as exhausting as any previously simply because the Cubs didn’t really do anything, and that’s all we’ve talked about for four months. They’ve replaced Nick Castellanos with Steven Souza Jr. and Pedro Strop with Jeremy Jeffress. They still need a fifth starter, which should come down to either Tyler Chatwood or Alec Mills, but it’s going to be a lot more fun watching Brailyn Marquez in the big league camp. He has no shot of making the team, but it will be nice to see how he pitches against major league hitters.
The team still has question marks in center field and at second base, but Ian Happ should be able to seize a starting opportunity and regular playing time in center. If Nico Hoerner makes it out of camp, he’ll probably be starting at the keystone.
Who will be the team’s first-ever 26th man? My money is on Hernán Pérez since he can play outfield or infield, unless the front office signs another free agent. If I had to choose my roster to head north right now, it would look like this:
- Starters: Kyle Schwarber, Happ, Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Hoerner, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras
- Bench: Victor Caratini, Souza, Jr., David Bote, Albert Almora Jr., Daniel Descalso, Pérez
- Rotation: Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, José Quintana, Jon Lester, Chatwood
- Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan, Dan Winkler, Brandon Morrow, Dillon Maples, Jeffress
That’s a pretty solid roster, though Mills, Duane Underwood Jr., Brad Wieck, and Ryan Tepera should challenge for bullpen spots. Is this a team capable of winning 91 games, which is what I think it will take to win the division? Sure it is, if they get vintage performances from Lester, Morrow, and Kimbrel. What’s missing? A bona fide leadoff hitter, but the Cubs have been searching for one for four seasons.
How can the Cubs win the NL Central? First, they will have to play much better on the road this season. Chicago was 33-48 away from Wrigley Field in 2019, second worst in the National League, and a similar effort this season could bury the Cubs in fourth place. They’ll also need to improve their play against sub-.500 teams. Last season the North Siders were 39-45 in those games.
A scarier monster lurks just beneath the surface, however. Discounting April and May, when they actually played like a playoff team, the Cubs were 54-56. And that includes a 16-12 August with just a +2 run differential. My feeling, though nobody will admit it, is that Joe Maddon lost this team last year. They were often poorly prepared, going 19-27 in one-run games and 7-17 in games decided by two runs. Combined with their road record and splits vs. inferior teams, it really looked like Maddon phoned it in and the players followed suit.
That the biggest change the team made is who will be leading it is not insignificant. By the end of the July it will be obvious if player changes are needed, too.
Cubs News & Notes
- Jed Hoyer maintains that the front office remains very active in talks with other teams, though he also admits that that doesn’t necessarily mean any trades are imminent.
- In an interview with Jesse Rogers of ESPN, Hoyer mentioned that he believes there is no animosity between Bryant and the team.
- Jim Bowden of the Athletic proposed a potential trade of Bryant to the Cardinals for Matthew Liberatore and Nolan Gorman, as well as potential scenarios in which the Cubs third baseman could be traded to one of eight other teams (subscriber-only content).
- There does seem to be some renewed chatter involving the Braves and Bryant.
- The Phillies may take a run at Bryant, too.
- Epstein is optimistic that the combination of Happ and Almora, Jr. will be the answer to the team’s long-standing center field deficiencies.
- Marquez could be a top-of-rotation starter whenever he joins the big league roster, most likely toward the end of the 2021 season.
- Minor league shortstop Zack Short has been working on his approach in an effort to offset power with more contact.
- Despite a recent flurry of activity by the Reds, the Cubs still lead the NL Central in projected WAR.
- I’m not a fan of the Cubs’ new specialty hats.
Three different NL folks today predicted Betts-to-L.A. is "inevitable." Consensus deal:Alex Verdugo, Inf Jeter Downs, pitcher, maybe A prospect. Think P is LH Caleb Ferguson, 95 MPH FB/CB guy, 113-39 K-BB in 93.1 IP, eventual starter. Got brushed off Gray
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) February 2, 2020
Rockies owner Dick Monfort is very bullish on his 2020 team, despite not making a single move to improve a team that finished 71-91 last year. “I had an analytical staff go through and interpolate those numbers,” Monfort said. “And so in 2020, we’ll win 94 games and lose 68.”
“Take it to the house, kid.” The NFL gets an A+ for yesterday’s game ball ad.
“Take it to the house, kid!”
This #NFL100 commercial is 🔥
— ESPN (@espn) February 3, 2020
They Said It
- “We have been [actively talking] all winter. The activity of our offseason isn’t indicative of how much we’ve been on the phone and have been working. The major free-agent market just wrapped up. There’s been a lot of activity. I expect that up to and into spring training. That’s going to continue. The trade market will continue to be an active place well into February.” – Jed Hoyer
- “For [Almora, Jr.], it’s more approach than swing. He had a pretty clean swing. His swing works. It’s just that freakish contact ability — the ability to put virtually any pitch in play — can work against you unless you have the right approach, because you’re putting early-count pitcher’s pitches into play, because you can. But with shifting and today’s defenses, that’s a hard way to get on base a lot.” – Theo Epstein
Monday Walk Up Song
Ain’t Even Done With the Night by John Mellencamp. Felt a little like spring yesterday didn’t it? I know enjoyed a day of short sleeve weather.