“I would argue that the current Cubs squad is a lot like The Godfather: Part III.” – Dan Szymborski, Fangraphs.
This winter brought unprecedented change to the Cubs organization. Things seemed pretty dim after Theo Epstein stepped down from his role as president of baseball operations, then fans watched successor Jed Hoyer non-tender Kyle Schwarber before trading Yu Darvish for Zach Davies and a handful of inexperienced prospects. Yet, the Cubs are still positioned nicely to defend their division championship.
- “Don’t ask me about my business.” – Michael Corleone
Only five players remain from the team’s 2016 World Series roster, so any talk of an ongoing championship window should be discarded. The 2021 squad has Hoyer’s thumbprint all over it. Other than Kyle Hendricks, the entire rotation has been revamped and the Cubs now have a No. 1 starter and a heckuva lot of fours and fives. Joc Pederson has replaced Schwarber and the team David Ross fields this year will need to leverage several small advantages to win games.
As tough as it’s been to find the method to Hoyer’s madness, it looks like he intends to win with hard-nosed, veteran-led, defensive baseball and a pitching staff that keeps the 108-seamer in the field of play. We can be upset that Hoyer didn’t swing for the fences this winter, but we can no longer say the man was only interested in cutting payroll. He has proven, at least based on projections, that he can retool his roster to remain competitive while still putting the necessary pieces in place for Chicago’s next youth movement.
- “The negotiator’s at my house playing pinochle with some of my men, and he’s happy. They’re letting him win.” – Pete Clemenza
Due to alleged biblical losses resulting from lack of attendance in 2020, Tom Ricketts put the clamps on payroll for the third straight winter. However, he was kind enough to give Hoyer some chump change as the hot stove season chugged home. All will be forgotten, at least temporarily, if the team wins this season.
The front office may be in a bit of a conundrum by the July 31 trade deadline if the North Siders are contending and Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant have yet to be extended. Will the Cubs be buyers or sellers? What will they need to go from contender to potential champions once the season reaches its home stretch?
- “The Senator called, he apologized for not coming but said that you would understand; also some of the judges. They’ve all sent gifts.” – Tom Hagen
The Rickettses in general have been strong supporters of Donald Trump and the GOP and the optics have been less than great. It will be interesting to see how the team strategizes politically if their allegiances start to hurt attendance or if the family continues to lose favor from the city’s largely Democratic contingent, especially with the resurgent White Sox set to restore goodwill and revitalize the Bridgeport community.
- “No more advice on how to patch things up, just help me win, please. All right?” – Sonny Corleone
Hoyer spoke with Bryant recently and revealed that his third baseman is in a good place right now. The former Rookie of the Year and league MVP has grown tired of criticism and trade rumors, but seems to be buying into the current plan. A trade may still occur if a “sweetheart-type offer” materializes, but I really don’t see the front office making any significant moves during camp.
“When you give assurances you can kind of tell them the status of conversations and try to be transparent about that,” Hoyer said last week.” But giving them complete assurances is probably impossible at any given time, given the fact a phone call can always come in.”
- “Our true enemy has yet to show his face.” – Michael Corleone
Other than the acquisitions of Nolan Arenado by the Cardinals and Kolten Wong by the Brewers, none of Chicago’s rivals have done anything to strengthen their teams. As such it may not even take 90 wins to earn the NL Central title this year. The Cubs are an 85-win team on paper and they could win 90 games if some of their starters perform just a little better than projections indicate, believe it or not. Of course, that’s assuming the team’s hitters meet their projections.
- “Tell [him] it was only business. I always liked him. Can you get me off the hook for old time’s sake?” – Salvatore Tessio
Jake Arrieta is back with the Cubs and the anticipated warmth of spring feels much more pronounced.
On a day that celebrates love 💕 I wanted to take a moment & acknowledge all the love & support the @Cubs fans have shown over the last few days 🙏🏼🥰😘 looking forward to singing with all of y’all again soon 🎶 pic.twitter.com/UUBsADXPqK
— Brittany Arrieta (@MrsArrieta49) February 14, 2021
Cubs News & Notes
- Former Cubs players seem to be traveling in packs this winter. Jon Lester joined Schwarber on the Nationals, and Victor Caratini went to the Padres with Darvish. Now Mike Montgomery has signed a minor league deal with the Mets, joining Albert Almora Jr. in Queens this season.
- In his previous tenure with the Cubs, Arrieta went from part of a trade package for Scott Feldman to one of the best pitchers in baseball.
- Chicago’s pitching staff seems set now and Arrieta is likely to slot third or fourth in the rotation.
- Hoyer still has some tough decisions to make with his pending free agents, either this spring or at the trade deadline.
- The front office is still looking to add some depth, prioritizing a left-handed hitting second baseman and a veteran reliever. Perhaps Hoyer is keeping a seat or two warm for Jason Kipnis and Jeremy Jeffress.
- Fans will likely tire of trade rumors involving the team’s big three and possibly Willson Contreras for most of the season.
- Keep an eye on the development of 18-year-old prospect Reggie Preciado, acquired in the Darvish trade. He’s a four-tool player, will likely shift to third base, and could be the eventual heir apparent to Bryant.
Odds & Sods
He looks a little like Bucky Barnes. pic.twitter.com/WqmBeOFpYy
— Michael Canter of Cubs Insider ✨ (@MEdwardCanter) February 12, 2021
Apropos of Nothing
The Cubs now have two Jakes. “You tell me what the heck you think is going on here, and I’ll tell you if you’re right.”
The Brewers could be a much better team than many are expecting, including their own fans.
Based on FanGraphs’ predictive measure of team strength without accounting for schedules, all five NL Central teams would project below .500 if they didn’t get to play all the other bad teams in their division.
Former MLB Network analyst and SportsNet LA reporter Alanna Rizzo said she faced unwelcome advances from former Dodger players. The organization declined to comment on the allegations.
A six-person panel with USA Today predicts the Dodgers will lead all of baseball with 105 wins this season. The Pirates are predicted to net 105 losses, making Pittsburgh the worst team in the league.
The NL East could be the toughest division in baseball this year.
There’s a paywall to access the linked content, but the headline clearly states the sobering realities of free agency: Dollars and years are disappearing from free agent contracts. Through February 9, the 2020-21 class of unencumbered players had signed only 22 multi-year deals. That’s the lowest in any winter since there were 17 in 1994, the offseason before the players’ last strike.
Sunday notes: The guaranteed dollars and contract years continue to steadily retreat for free agents. https://t.co/c6kY1HBtOj
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 15, 2021
Sliding Into Home
The results from my procedure last week came back disappointingly bad. I am going to have a section of tissue removed from my inner thigh that is about three inches in diameter and a growth in my upper chest will have to come out, too. The scheduler will call me tomorrow with the dates and all the pertinent information, so I may be taking some more time away soon. I’m in the negative on paid time off, so this is going to hurt a lot more than physically. We really need more affordable health care.
They Said It
- “The most important thing is being honest, you know, and telling them what those conversations are like and where things stand. So I think – we talk about this all the time – we never have any, you know, untouchables, I don’t think, in this game, and then I think that when you give assurances – you can kind of tell them the status of conversations and try to be transparent about that, but I think giving them complete assurances is impossible at any given time, just given the fact that a phone call can always come in.” – Jed Hoyer
- “Retool, re-whatever, I don’t know those terms. They’re not even on the radar for me. I don’t know what I’d categorize it as … but we’re going to go out there and try to win with the group we have, and I know Jed is committed to trying to win.” – David Ross
Monday Walk Up Song
Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd – “Baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business, and too much of a business to be called a sport.” – Philip K. Wrigley