Now that their season is officially (and sadly) over, it's time to examine the roster deficiencies and outline what the Cubs needs are going into the 2018 season. It may be too soon, with the Cubs fresh off a disappointing but expected loss to the Dodgers Thursday night, but looking forward helps to reduce the pain.
Look, there's a lot to be proud of when it comes to the teams' accomplishments over the past three seasons, and there is much to look forward to given the relative youth of the core of its roster.
Yet make no mistake, there are holes, and they were exposed in the first half of the season, as well as in the playoffs. Hell, as FanGraphs says, "The dynasty talk is on hold. The 2017 season showed this core needs some more help."
So let's take a look at what the Cubs biggest needs are as Theo Epstein and his team try to get the Cubs back to the promised land in 2018.
This is a no-brainer. With Jake Arrieta likely leaving via free agency, and John Lackey apparently retiring, the Cubs need at least one starter, and possibly two. With several needs, plus players like Kris Bryant entering arbitration, I'm expecting that the Hoystein brothers only attempt to sign (or trade for) one big name starter this offseason.
With an aging Jon Lester under control for several more seasons, it's a lock that he will return as the pseudo-ace of the rotation. Meanwhile, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks are the other sure things, leaving two openings.
However, I feel that in order to save money, the Cubs will go out and get only one starter, and use either Mike Montgomery or a young starter to take the fifth spot in the rotation. I'd rather have two, but I'm guessing only one free agent signs here, and the other either comes from within or via trade.
If they pursue a starter via trade, they may need to trade someone off of the 25-man roster, something that they didn't want to do this season but now admit may be necessary. When asked if that was possible, Epstein replied “probably” and that the Cubs are “exploring all avenues.”
But if they go the free agency route, who are among the candidates?
Now, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that they bring Arrieta back. But if his demands exceed three or four years, then it's goodbye Jake. If he garners offers for five or more years the only Jake the Cubs will want is Jake from State Farm.
One name that makes sense to me is Lance Lynn. He's a decent starter, plus they would be pulling him away from arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals, so they'd be killing two birds with one stone.
Lynn went 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA and 153 Ks in 186.1 innings pitched. He's been durable—he's started 29 or more game every year he's been a regular in the majors. He turns 31 in May, so they'd probably be paying for some years of decline, but that's often the way it goes.
Alex Cobb is another free agent, and he pitched for Maddon in Tampa Bay. He could be a good fit this offseason.
Now if they want to go out and make a bigger splash, they could try to sign Yu Darvish. When healthy, Darvish has some of the nastiest stuff in baseball, as the Cubs found out in the NLCS. Darvish will go for big, big bucks and at least 7 years most likely, however, so I consider this very unlikely.
Darvish turned 31 in August, but has had injury issues, which cost him the 2015 season. 2017 was the first season Darvish has thrown more than 145 innings since 2013, so it would be a gamble, and a very costly one at that.
If they want to go out and acquire young, controllable talent on the trade market, Javier Baez or Ian Happ could become expendable. They probably can't move Jason Heyward or Ben Zobrist unfortunately, so there isn't room for all these guys anyway.
The most obvious place where the Cubs need to focus attention on is the closer, especially if they don't bring back Wade Davis. But throughout the entire relief roster, walks killed this team, and that got even worse during the postseason. Epstein admitted as much on the Bernstein & Goff Show on WSCR, saying “It’s sort of systemic across the board. So we have to find a way to address that going forward, and we will. Some of it is obviously personnel based, and it will be important for us to bring in some reliable strike throwers going forward out of the pen."
In other words, it's part personnel, but it may also be due to how they instruct their pitchers to throw the ball and attack hitters in certain situations. Justin Wilson was a strike thrower before he came to the Cubs in that late season trade with Detroit, but as soon as he joined the team he was terrible.
It does sound as if he is still in their plans for next season, as are Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery, even though both looked awful in the playoffs. They were good in the regular season, however, so I believe they're here to stay, along with Pedro Strop. But that leaves room for a couple of relievers to be added either through trade or free agency.
As Fangraphs writes, "In the bullpen, everyone had flaws. Wade Davis, Carl Edwards Jr., and Pedro Strop were the reliable ones, and they combined for a 12% walk rate, foreshadowing the inability of anyone in Chicago’s bullpen to throw strikes in October. Hector Rondon and Koji Uehara threw strikes but gave up dingers. Mike Montgomery stopped missing bats, and Justin Wilson just fell apart after being acquired to shore up a shaky relief corps."
As for the closer, I don't see them bringing Davis back, simply because he will likely garner four or five year offers as a free agent, and the Cubs haven't been the kind of team to give a closer that kind of commitment, knowing the risk of arm injury combined with the fickle nature of closer's success patterns.
If they had any illusions of sticking Edwards into that role, I don't think that will happen after seeing how he wilted under pressure in the postseason. Perhaps a trade is in order. Dellin Betances could become available, with the Yankees trying to cut payroll and having Aroldis Chapman in the fold.
I'm calling this a leadoff hitter, but really, it could be any position in the order—what I'm looking for is a high on-base, contact hitter with speed. That kind of hitter would likely slot into the leadoff spot, but the main point is that they have guys who swing for the fences, and miss the sort of hitter that Dexter Fowler was.
This will likely come through trade. The Marlins may make Christian Yelich available, but the Cubs outfield is already full, and Epstein more or less promised that Albert Almora would get more playing time next season. He had a .369 OBP, which matched his career number. He will be 26 next season, so that's a plus as well.
But fixing the offense is going to be tough because most of the core is young and set in stone. Guys like Bryant and Rizzo simply have to pick up their game and start producing with runners in scoring position, especially Bryant.
I'm going to throw an extra one in here, the backup catcher. Sure, they could go with Victor Caratini, but I want a veteran to help Wilson Contreras. A guy like the Twins' Chris Gimenez doesn't hit much, but he's a leader and his personality is very much in the mold of a David Ross.
The Cubs could use a veteran to help with game plans and help to settle the young Cubs down. It's easy to forget, but the core of the team is still pretty young.
Now, this one isn't that big of a deal, so I certainly wouldn't allow this persuit to get in the way of the other things listed in this article, but it's kind of important. It seems like the Cubs got down at times, lacked enthusiasm and energy. Gimenez is someone who is high energy all the time, but in a positive way.
A year ago, it looked like the Cubs would be set for a long time, but now it's clear that they legitimate holes to fill and don't have the high-level prospects to use to fill them. But if any front office is up to the task, it is this one. I just hope that Tom Ricketts allows them to spend the money it will take to get this team back to prominence.
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