The Cubs season is over for a variety of reasons. Mostly because the Dodgers scored just so many more runs than they did.
There's some truth in all those...well, except the beer one...I refuse to believe anything bad about Lagunitas. The Cubs were exhausted all season after playing close to 200 games in 2016 and having a shorter than usual offseason. The Nats series took a toll on the Cubs physically, mentally and emotionally (on me too), all while the Dodgers were sitting home resting and setting up their rotation. But in reality, the Dodgers were just a better team and the Cubs bats started the offseason early.
And now that the 2017 season is over, the Cubs front office will examine the team and its pieces to determine what they need to address for next season. Obviously big changes are coming, especially on the pitching staff. The Cubs need at least two new starters for 2018, possibly a new closer and upgrades across the bullpen. After seeing the kind of weapons the Dodgers, Yankees and Indians were trotting out of their pens, I'd expect multiple new relievers in next season's dance routines.
Offensively, the lineup will probably look largely the same, but there will be some changes to the depth chart. With the farm system largely tapped out of top prospects, could this finally be the season the Cubs trade from their stockpile of young hitters on the major league roster? When asked about the possibility of trading one of his young bats, Theo Epstein responded " think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable".
Assuming Jason Heyward's contract is immovable (and it probably is), it's difficult to see both Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ on the 2018 roster. And if they both are, it could mean that one of Javier Baez and Addison Russell are not.
Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune looked at the Cubs roster and made predictions on who will be returning next season. Spoiler alert: Gonzalez predicts Schwarber will be traded for pitching this winter.
Much like the 2015 NLCS, this season's playoffs showed a Cubs roster that could use more contact and fewer swing-and-miss types. Unfortunately the Cubs addressed that issue two winters ago by signing Heyward and Ben Zobrist, both of whom are still under contract for multiple seasons and neither of whom was making much good contact in October.
Zobrist in particular never looked like the same hitter this season, but he realizes it and is ready to attack his offseason. "I've never been more excited for an offseason," Zobrist said. "Not to get to it quickly, but I'm motivated to start ASAP."
It is widely expected that free agent Jake Arrieta will not be returning and the Arrieta family has already moved out of their home in Chicago and put it on the market the day after the Cubs season ended. The Cubs will also face a tough decision on free agent closer Wade Davis who had an almost flawless regular season, but also plays a position the Cubs front office does not like to pay premium for.
Outfielder Jon Jay is also a free agent following a season in which he assumed a bigger role than expected, provided leadership in the locker room and seemed to become a favorite of Maddon. With Albert Almora Jr. likely (hopefully) earning a bigger role, Jay may not be a priority for the Cubs, but that could change if the team does trade one of their young outfielders for pitching. For his pary, Jay is saying all the right things about wanting to return. “I love it here,’’ Jay said. ‘‘I cannot deny that. I absolutely love it here. We’ll see what happens. But right now, I enjoy being with this group no matter what happens."
So changes are coming...that is part of the game. The core will obviously remain similar, but there will be some new pieces. That doesn't mean this season was a failure, it just means that the front office will try a new formula.
And this season was not a failure even if the Cubs failed to repeat. That's not unusual. They are the 16th consecutive champion not to repeat, but they were only one of four teams in that stretch to win a playoff series the following season.
You may see reports that the Cubs' window is already closing or that this isn't the potential dynasty many predicted last winter. But we don't know what the 2018 Cubs will look like yet, but they will almost certainly begin the year as the favorite to win the NL Central once again.
Cubs are Having Fun Already
— pedro strop (@pstrop46) October 20, 2017
Expanding and Rearranging
One of the biggest topics of the week was the "building consensus" for expansion and realignment that was referenced by Baseball America's Tracy Ringolsby. This would include two new franchises and according to commissioner Rob Manfred, "a team in the West" would be part of expansion. Portland is believed to be the frontrunner for the new team in the west, while Montreal is considered the favorite for the other new franchise.
Expansion to 32 teams would then lead to realigning away from the current three division format. In Ringolsby's article, he details a proposal that does away with the current league formats (which would undoubtedly be a sticking point for traditionalists) in favor of four divisions with eight teams apiece. Each of the four division winners would advance to the playoffs with the next eight teams with the best records playing in four separate wild card games.
There have been proposals across the internet for eight divisions of four teams, much like the NFL, and even scrapping the divisions entirely for two 16-team leagues. The goal of realignment is to reduce the amount of travel, especially across multiple time zones, while also maximizing regional rivalries.
Another sticking point would be that the season is likely to be reduced to 156 games which would again anger the purists who may believe it impacts single season records, but it would give players more days off, including possibly one day per week.
Of course the goal of expansion is to make money as new franchises could cost in excess of $1B which would give each existing owner approximately $65M for voting yes.
My opinion that you didn't ask for is that expansion is going to happen because there is a financial incentive for it to happen. My dream scenario would be to drop a team back in Brooklyn, but there is a less than zero chance the Mets and Yankees allow that to happen. I also don't see the need to add another team in the West as the Mariners, Angels, Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks, A's and Rockies form a perfect eight team division, with only Colorado falling outside the Pacific Time Zone. This also allows those teams to keep their current traditional rivalries and allows the other three divisions to be grouped more geographically. In the current model, the Twins somehow fall in the North division, but could take the Rockies spot in the Midwest where they belong if both expansion franchises are located in the eastern portion of the country.
The Current League
The N.L. East is already turning into the focal point of MLB's unemployment line. The Mets already fired Terry Collins and are looking to replace him with hitting coach Kevin Long and Mariners third basecoach Manny Acta as the leading candidates. The Marlins are under new ownership and have already laid off several members of their front office. The Phillies search has been mostly quiet since reassigning former manager Pete Mackanin within the organization, though they interviewed former Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale this week, but may have their eyes set on Orioles' skipper Buck Showalter. And the newest job opening is in Washington where the Nationals announced on Friday that Dusty Baker would not return next season as manager amid reports that his players found him to be too "old school".
Nationals second baseman and favorite of Cubs fans Daniel Murphy underwent surgery this week to repair cartilage damage in his right knee and will begin the rehab process immediately.
Cardinals SP Lance Lynn will have plenty of suitors on the free agent market, but it remains to be seen if he can get the 5 years, $110M contract he is reportedly seeking. The 30 year-old right-hander isn't likely to get that much from St. Louis, but he is going to get paid plenty by some team.
A pair of Red Sox underwent surgery this week with DH Hanley Ramirez undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder while pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez had surgery on his right knee. Ramirez is expected to be ready in time for the start of next season, while Rodriguez may miss the first few weeks of April. Boston is still waiting for second baseman Dustin Pedroia to make a decision on whether or not to have a second surgery on his left knee which would likely cause him to miss much of the 2018 regular season.
The Giancarlo Stanton trade market will dominate much of the rumor mill this winter, but whispers in the Marlins clubhouse are that the Red Sox are expected to push hard for Stanton to replace the power they lost this season following the retirement of David Ortiz. Boston has plenty of young talent and prospects to make a deal with Miami and the financial resources to take on a big chunk of Stanton's remaining contract.
Some Rivalries Never Stop
Dear @Twitter. Please give Jon 280 characters.
Kershaw = 16 starts, 8 QS
Bumgarner = 8 starts, 7 QShttps://t.co/KfUCrFGct2
— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiantsFans) October 20, 2017
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