May. 30, 2016
World Series Champions Chicago Cubs Preview
With the fourth team in the National League Central, and the last team that I will be doing an entire team in a single post (I'm doing position-by-position on the Milwaukee Brewers), was also the last one standing in November. The defending Champion Chicago Cubs are that team, and they appear to have the look of a repeat champion. Teams all around the league in both conferences have improved, but outside of losing Dexter Fowler, the Cubs are the same. The Cubs still have a solid farm system, not top of the world anymore, and the big league club is young and controllable.
PROJECTED ROTATION: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Brett Anderson
This rotation has three guys who have and/or are capable of winning a Cy Young award, with Hendricks and Lester being the most dominant in 2016. Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young in 2015, and he was "struggling" with a 3.10 ERA and an 18-8 record, so you tell me if you agree. John Lackey has been an ace before and he has been a quality pitcher in Los Angeles, Boston and St. Louis prior to coming to the Cubs. Brett Anderson is a much cheaper addition than Jason Hammel to add to the rotation, but he won't be in the rotation come October, when it counts. Mike Montgomery, who I think is better served in the bullpen, is also in contention for a spot in the rotation.
BULLPEN: Wade Davis (CL), Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards, Koji Uehara, Justin Grimm, Brian Duensing
After losing closer Aroldis Chapman back to the Yankees, the Cubs acquired Wade Davis from the 2015 World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals. He is one of the more renowned closers in the game and should serve them fine, and bringing in former closer Koji Uehara helps the bullpen as well. Hector Rondon was the closer prior to the Chapman acquisition, and he will be the setup man. Strop had the best season of any Cubs relievers last season that still remain on the team, while Grimm and Edwards have been around a while and should have a spot secure. Montgomery will be here as a situational pitcher, and Brian Duensing has the edge for the last spot over non-roster invitees Manny Parra, Jim Henderson and Zac Rosscup.
CATCHERS: Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero
There's a third catcher on the depth chart here, but with the outfield losing depth this offseason, Kyle Schwarber will spend most of his time in left. Willson Contreras is also a left fielder in Joe Maddon's mind, but I think they have to keep one of them at the catcher position. Miguel Montero is one of the best backups in baseball, and had shown All-Star potential and still has a heck of a bat if he figures out his struggles. Victor Catarini is also on the 40-man roster, and non-roster invitee Carlos Corporan will be vying for a spot as well.
INFIELDERS: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Tommy La Stella
When you look at the stats of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, it's crazy how identical they appear to be. Same batting average, one has 39 HR and 102 RBI, the other has 32 HR and 109 RBI. Both are cornerstones for the franchise and should be around for a while, along with shortstop Addison Russell. He struggled with batting average and still drove in 95 runs, so imagine him hitting .300 like he is capable of and you might have the best shortstop in baseball. Ben Zobrist can play everywhere, along with Javier Baez, and both are going to be regulars in the lineup. Tommy La Stella is another versatile piece on the depth chart, and is fighting with Jon Jay for the last position player spot.
OUTFIELDERS: Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Matt Szczur
The problem with losing Dexter Fowler is you not only lose your centerfielder, but you lose your leadoff hitter as well. Number three prospect Albert Almora Jr. is the favorite to take over that place, and unless there is some move in the works for another Fowler-type player, he likely will be the starter. It's not the end of the world, especially if he performs as well as the rookies before him. Kyle Schwarber is in left, but that position will have three-four starters per seven games out there. Jason Heyward is making too much money to be benched, and frankly the depth isn't there. He underperformed last season, and if he plays as well as he is paid to play, this lineup is even more dangerous. Matt Szczur was solid last season, and I think he is better for this team than Jon Jay, who is the main competition. Number two prospect Eloy Jimenez is not far away either, and expect an appearance late in the season.
LINEUP: Almora (CF), Schwarber (LF), Bryant (3B), Rizzo (1B), Zobrist (2B), Russell (SS), Contreras (C), Heyward (RF)
I'm debating on having Heyward lead off instead of Almora, and that could conceivably happen if Almora doesn't hit like he is ready for it. That group of six in the 2-7 spots though is the best in baseball, and Javier Baez is the best bench player in baseball. The top four of the rotation is as good as anybody's, and Wade Davis is a high level closer (although he's not quite as flashy as Chapman). The growth of the young players I believe will counter losing Fowler, and keep this team at about the same level. They are World Series favorites until the Dodgers, Nationals or Cardinals prove everybody wrong. I think 100 wins is a good plus/minus here.