This is going to be a long, drawn-out Cubs offseason preview/review and I wouldn’t be doing this correctly if I didn’t start it off with Theo. If anyone reading this isn’t thankful for Theo and what he brought to Chicago, feel free to stop watching sports because you don’t deserve to watch them. Theo brought a world series in 2016, three NL Central division titles, and five postseason appearances.
All of that, on top of ushering in the winningest era in Chicago Cubs baseball history. I’m not going to ramble much about Theo because we should just all be thankful for his service and wish him good luck in the future. He brought Cubs baseball back to relevance after a long time of losing and failure. That’s all I need to say, thanks Theo!
2020 Record: 34-26 NL Central Champs
Lost 2-0 to the Miami Marlins (Yikes) in the NL Wild Card Series
Departures Thus Far: RHP Ryan Tepera, OF Kyle Schwarber, LHP Kyle Ryan, 1B/OF Jose Martinez, RHP Dan Winkler, OF Albert Almora Jr., 2B Jason Kipnis, RHP Tyler Chatwood, LHP Jon Lester, OF Cameron Maybin, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, LHP Jose Quintana, OF Steven Souza Jr., OF Billy Hamilton, LHP Andrew Chafin, UTIL Hernan Perez, LHP Rex Brothers, RHP Kelvin Herrera, C Josh Phegley, RHP Brandon Morrow, UTIL Daniel Descalso, RHP Cody Allen, THEO.
Additions Thus Far: Claimed RHP Robert Stock, Rule 5 Draft RHP Gray Fenter, Claimed 2B, Max Schrock. A myriad of minor league contracts as well, there are too many to type out.
Cubs Offseason Preview – Departures/Additions
The list I typed out above is all of the departures so far in this offseason. Most notably, Kyle Schwarber was non-tendered along with Albert Almora Jr. Schwarber is somewhat of a shocking move to me for a few reasons. I had a feeling that he could be non-tendered but I didn’t think they would actually pull the trigger on it. He slashed .188/.308/.393 for a .701 OPS. There is no defending those numbers. That is horrendous, to say the least.
My rebuttal is; how much stock are we buying when it comes to a shortened season? He is a career .230/.336/.480 for a .816 OPS so he is a slightly above average player I would say. The narrative about his defense being on Marcell Ozuna’s level is lazy. He is a much-improved outfielder from where he was as a rookie and he is serviceable with a solid arm.
The Cubs would have owed him around $8 million dollars and they chose to not pay him. Now a lot of teams are choosing to cut payroll so that could have something to do with this move as well, but it is interesting. Albert Almora Jr. was also non-tendered and this was to no surprise. He came up in 2016 and gave a good boost off the bench in the postseason with his defense good baserunning.
He really didn’t provide much beyond that even with the next two seasons he hit .298 and .286 but didn’t provide any power and he wasn’t an on-base threat. He had a lot of chances to prove himself and show improvements. He played 132, 152, and 130 games in the 17,18, and 19 seasons, but he just couldn’t adjust to the pitching and he regressed every season at the plate.
The former first-rounder was sent to the alternate site in the middle of the season and never came back up. Jon Lester is on that list, but at his point in his career, he isn’t a guy that you are targeting to bring back for next season. He was excellent in his Cubs career but the last two seasons he has been very hittable.
There have been some rumblings about bringing him back on a one-year deal but I don’t see it happening. I could see Lester retiring after having a long probably hall of fame career.
Jose Quintana is the last name I will touch on and I am thankful that he is gone. The trade that Theo made for Quintana is my least favorite move he ever made during his Cubs tenure. He traded Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for the number four starter. He was a top of the rotation arm for the White Sox but was never that guy for the Cubs. The Cubs can go in a different direction with all of the free-agent options that are out there.
Cubs Offseason Preview – Additions
This is a short list with only three names on it. Robert Stock is a hard-throwing reliever (who isn’t in this era) that was claimed off waivers. That will be an option for the bullpen. They also claimed 2B Max Schrock from the Cardinals who is probably going to be this year’s, Jason Kipnis. He is a left-handed-hitting second baseman who can fight for a platoon job.
The most interesting addition so far is rule 5 draft pick Gray Fenter. First off, that is a perfect name for a pitcher. Fenter has started and pitched out of the bullpen, but he will most likely be a bullpen piece for Chicago if he sticks. He is a 24-year-old who has good numbers in the minor leagues but hasn’t pitched above A-ball.
He is a big strikeout guy but also struggles with walks (Ghost of Dillion Maples past). Rule 5 draft picks have to stay on the big league roster the whole year or they will be sent back to their original team (Orioles). For as lackluster of a bullpen as they had last year this is a low-risk move.
Cubs Offseason Preview – Outlook
This team is still very talented with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, and Javier Baez as the core. Plus Ian Happ is coming off of a big year and Jason Heyward just had his best year as a Cub. On the pitching side, you have Yu Darvish coming off of a big year and Kyle Hendricks in the rotation.
In the bullpen you have Rowan Wick who has been good the last two years plus high upside guys like Jason Adam and Duane Underwood Jr. Jason Adam (3.29 ERA) struck out 21 in 13.1 innings and Duane Underwood Jr. (5.66 ERA) struck out 27 in 20.2 innings.
The talent on this team is there and the NL Central isn’t very good, so this team can win again this year. The biggest worry for me is that Jed or the Ricketts go halfway into winning or a half rebuild. They have to do one or the other. They can’t sit in limbo and wait around for half a season, they need to figure it out this offseason and go for it.
I am going to take this in the direction as they are going to try to win this year so strap in for some out-of-the-box thinking.
Cubs Starting Pitching Preview
Currently the rotation looks like this:
- RHP Yu Darvish
- RHP Kyle Hendricks
- RHP Alec Mills
- RHP Adbert Alzolay
- Free-agent or RHP Rea/ RHP Miller/ RHP Abbott/ LHP Steele (Steele is more likely a bullpen piece)
I mentioned this will be out of the box thinking and this is going to be an “if the Cubs are trying to win approach,” so there is another disclaimer.
Yu and Kyle are a solid one-two punch plus Mills threw a no-no last year and has shown he can start in this league. He got cold at the end of the year but he showed some good signs. I would expect Adbert to break camp because he is out of options and was really good last year.
The walks were a little high, 13 in 21.1 innings pitched, but he looked more comfortable with the offspeed pitches and that led to 29 strikeouts. He will most likely have a spot locked down assuming he has a good spring.
So, four spots are somewhat locked in and I think the Cubs can get creative here while not spending a bunch of money. Taijuan Walker would be the first guy I would target to round out the rotation. I have always been a Taijuan Walker apologist and he has struggled with health a bit but he put together a nice year last year between Seattle and Toronto. He is only 28 years old and I think you could get him on 2 years and somewhere between a $15-$20 million dollar deal.
For a 28-year-old starting pitcher that is a no brainer for me. He would slot in as your number three starter and give the rotation some length. Another guy that you could get on a prove-it deal is Chris Archer. Everyone remembers the trade where Tampa fleeced the Pirates and after seeing Archer pitch with the Pirates, Tampa won that deal.
That being said Archer is going to be cheap, really cheap. They could get him on a 1 year deal for $2 or $3 million dollars and he is going to strike guys out. That slider still plays and it could give him a change of scenery because Pittsburgh is a dumpster fire right now.
Alex Wood is another guy that they could target and after his last two seasons, you could go get him on a minor league prove it deal. He is more of a ground ball pitcher which will play in windy Wrigley Field. He adds a left-handed option and could compete for a spot with the in-house options you have. I like Taijuan Walker the most out of those guys, but to win again this year it is time to get a little creative.
Cubs Bullpen Preview
Current Bullpen looks like this:
- CL RHP Craig Kimbrel
- SU RHP Rowan Wick
- SU RHPJason Adam
- MR RHP Duane Underwood Jr.
- MR LHP Brad Wieck
- MR RHP Stock/ RHP Mekkes/ RHP Norwood/ RHP Clark/ or free agent
- MR Left-handed option here LHP Steele/ LHP Short/ LHP Vasto/ LHP Carraway/ LHP Patterson or free agent
- LR RHP Gray Fenter
So, the bullpen was really bad last year and if you look at the names listed above, I can only assume you aren’t excited. To me, Wick, Adam, Underwood Jr. can be fun. I mentioned earlier what I thought of these guys. This is a make or break year for Underwood because he is out of options, but I liked some things I saw from him last year.
The big thing for Underwood is his curveball, he has a good fastball and a solid changeup but the curveball was inconsistent last year. If he can get in the pitch lab and make some adjustments on that pitch, it could be big for him.
If I am the Cubs, trade Kimbrel. It won’t be easy to do but I didn’t love when they signed him and after seeing him pitch I would be fine if he didn’t wear a Cubs uniform next year.
Looking at the spots, the lefties are rough. I hope Justin Steele breaks camp in the pen because there isn’t a lot of depth behind him. Brad Wieck has the big curveball and big fastball but I don’t think his stuff plays in Wrigley as he is more of a flyball pitcher.
I would like to see them maybe go after a Sean Doolittle who is going to be cheap after a bad year in Washington or bring back Mike Montgomery, but I am not going to dive into specific targets for relievers because this would turn into a book. For me, they need strike throwers and guys that can keep the ball in the park. Get ground balls to Baez and go hit.
If Dakota Mekkes can show something in spring training he could be interesting. He is a big guy who throws a heavy sinker (ground ball city). For the lefties as I mentioned, Justin Steele is my favorite to break camp and he got a call this past season, but he never pitched.
Burl Carraway was a guy out of Dallas Baptist who was drafted in the second round by the Cubs this past season and I LOVE his stuff. Really spinny fastball and curveball that leads to big strikeout numbers. I would like to see him pitch in Chicago this season. The bullpen needs more competition, I like some of the in-house guys, but go sign guys to cheap contracts minor league contracts and add some depth and some competition.
Make Duane Underwood and Jason Adam build off last season by bringing in some veteran guys. Also, go trade Kimbrel to the Pirates because they don’t know how to trade (I know they would never take his money but I can dream).
Cubs Bats Preview
Lineup looks like this:
- CF S Ian Happ
- 3B R Kris Bryant
- 1B L Anthony Rizzo
- C R Willson Contreras
- SS R Javier Baez
- RF L Jason Heyward
- LF R David Bote
- 2B R Nico Hoerner
This team needs to make more contact. Yes, I know, guys are going to strikeout, but do you remember when Dexter Fowler hit leadoff? You go, we go. Get on base, put the baseball in play, and make stuff happen. That is all I want. Therefore go sign Tommy La Stella.
Bring back 3AM because that guy hits and that is all he does. Nico isn’t ready to start every day. He showed that last season, sign a guy that only struck out 5.3% of his at-bats last year. He has been here before and he was good here. Go get him and add some contact to your lineup. He slides in at second base and have Nico be the utility guy. Plus this lineup needs more lefties.
Remember out of the box here, go get Jurickson Profar to play left and anywhere else because he will also sell popcorn in between innings. He is coming off a nice year with the Padres and he also is not a big strikeout guy (15.1% last year). He is a switch hitter that can run into 20 bombs, makes a lot of contact, and plays all over the field.
Beyond that I don’t see a whole lot more you can add to this already solid lineup. It is just time for them to show up again. They could use another bench bat but this has already been pretty long so I will wrap it up here. This lineup is star-studded, but they have to act like they are if they want to win one more time.