After waiting 108 years for a World Series win, let us Cubs fans savor the 2016 Cubs World Series win. Okay, that’s long enough, where do the Cubs go from here? Here are my thoughts:
Starting pitching: Last year the Cubs starting rotation was the best in baseball. Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Jason Hammel were all solid and healthy. The Cubs have already cut ties with Jason Hammel. The in-house replacement would seem to be Mike Montgomery. Montgomery has more upside than Jason Hammel and seems to be one of the few guys on the Cubs staff that Joe Maddon had a modicum of confidence in. Jake Arrieta is a free agent after this season and while the Cubs may sign him to a long-term deal, I doubt it. Jake was good last year, but there was a definite regression from 2015. I look for the Cubs to kick the tires on a front of the rotation pitcher. Chris Archer would be a logical target. Archer had a rough season in 2016, posting a record of 9-19 with an ERA of 4.02. Archer did have a better second half, so he’s trending the right direction. Plus, the Rays would seem to be a good potential trading partner for the Cubs because of Rays needs. They basically need bats and the Cubs have plenty of those. In addition, Archer has said that the Rays need to spend more money to be competitive. Though he’s stating the obvious, management might like it when one of the faces of the franchise dares to state the truth.
Relief pitching: Here’s an area that will undergo a lot of change. After acquiring Aroldis Chapman before the trade deadline, Joe Maddon rode him into the ground during the World Series. While the Cubs may bring him back, I think he’ll find greener pastures elsewhere. Hector Rondon had done a good job as the Cubs closer before they had picked up Chapman, but was never the same after a stint on the DL. Pedro Strop was also good as the Cubs primary setup guy but suffered a late-season knee injury and Maddon seemed to lack faith in him after he returned. Carl Edwards Jr. has the stuff to be a good closer and strangely enough, Maddon wasn’t too afraid to use him in some spots. Edwards should play a more prominent role with next season’s club. Travis Wood was a Swiss army knife in the Cubs pen last year, but could very well be gone to free agency next season. Former Royals closer, Greg Holland is coming back from Tommy John surgery and the Cubs are reportedly interested. I look for them to take a flyer on him. Worst case scenario, the Cubs go into the season with Rondon or Edwards as their closer and then add to the pen at the trade deadline.
Catching: While Grandpa Ross was a great clubhouse presence, he was also an asset behind the plate. He’ll be missed in both areas. I’m curious to see how Jon Lester fairs, sans his personal catcher, next year. Willson Contreras will see the bulk of the action behind the plate. He has all the necessary tools to be a star. I do wish he didn’t see the need to go out to the mound after every other pitch. Miguel Montero will be back. I look for him to catch around 50 games. After a terrible start at the plate, Montero improved in the second half of the season. The biggest concern I have about Montero is his throwing arm. There were times last season when he seemed to need a relay man to get the ball to second base.
Infield: The Cubs have the best young infield I’ve ever seen. Anthony Rizzo looks to be an All-Star candidate for the next 5-10 years and may have a borderline Hall of Fame career. The fact he led the Cubs to their first World Series win in 108 years won’t hurt his Hall of Fame chances. The third baseman, Kris Bryant, looks to be a real Hall of Fame candidate after only two seasons. Bryant is obviously a great hitter with tremendous power but is also an extraordinary base runner. He’s also a surprisingly good third baseman and can play multiple positions. He’s already an MVP and the needle is pointing upward for him. Shortstop, Addison Russell, was compared to Barry Larkin a little earlier in his career, but I think that comparison is a little off. He can be as effective as Larkin was, but will probably be more of a homer/RBI guy than Larkin ,with Larkin hitting for a higher average and being more of a force on the bases. Defensively, I’d take Russell. At second, Javy Baez is the flashiest player on a tremendous team. Baez is the most spectacular defensive second baseman I’ve ever seen. Ryne Sandberg was the steadiest, but Baez is more spectacular. The fact that Baez seemed to regress at the plate during the World Series is a matter of concern but, I suspect he’ll continue to progress next season. Ben Zobrist will fill in some at second, but his range is declining noticeably. Of course, that’s magnified when contrasted with the range of Baez. Tommy LaStella is a decent left-handed contact hitter and fill-in at second or third but becomes exposed with extended playing time. Look for the Cubs to add another utility man to the roster, especially one who can play shortstop.
Outfield: Here’s an area where a logjam will need to be cleared up. Left field has three candidates, Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist and Jorge Soler. All are offensive first players. I’ve heard rumblings that Schawarber would be good trade bait to an American League team because of his limited versatility and mobility. The problem with that is, not only does Schwarber swing a big stick, he does it when the stage is the biggest. He reminds of the Blackhawks Patrick Kane. They’re both at the best in big moments. Zobrist is a professorial hitter whose range in the infield and outfield is lessening but doesn’t figure to be traded because he brings so much to the table. I still think Soler will be an offensive force, but he figures to be the odd man out in a trade for pitching. Center fielder, Dexter Fowler, is likely to be gone to free agency next season. Albert Almora Jr. is the in-house option to replace Fowler. Almora is a downgrade offensively, but an upgrade with the glove. Right field will probably be manned by Jason Heyward again next season. It’s hard to imagine Heyward won’t improve with the bat next season. Off course, it was hard to imagine he’d be that bad last year. One possible option is to move Heyward to center field to get a more productive bat in right. The Cubs have questions in the outfield, but there is no shortage of possible solutions.
Summary: It would be a shock if this team didn’t make the playoffs next year. In addition to the young players on this year’s major league roster, there is more talent on the horizon. Some of it may be used to pick up more major league talent. It’s nice when there is more attention paid to the major league team than the farm system.