A Framework for the Off-Season

Real fake baseball is fully back. It is still over a month away from having any meaning, but it is yet another marker to the true start of the year. There is little drama around this as there are few position battles to be determined, and everyone is aware of the trickiness of projecting spring successes into regular season production.

There is little to discuss seriously at this point. The Cubs roster is nearly set in stone barring injury. There is also little hope for another Dexter Fowler surprise, but that chance is not zero until Jake Arrieta signs I suppose. I find my thoughts are drifting to a perhaps overly contentious off-season that still drags on with a few difference makers and quality role players still available for just money. I was frequently frustrated by the Cubs apparent willingness to rely on players bouncing back instead of acquiring elite talent like Yu Darvish. If you forget I was an early advocate of offering Darvish a 6 year deal, and it seemed like many thought that the Cubs were wise to avoid any long term deal this off-season. The argument has been rendered largely moot, but I can’t help but think about those debates at this time of year.

I, personally, regret how personal those arguments became at times, and I think there is a lot of common ground to be found. As Cubs fans, we all want the Cubs to be as good as possible for as long as possible. The goal in all of our minds is to see as many titles as possible. There is just a healthy debate to be had about what the best way to accomplish that. The front office also has more information available to them than we do at home. They are brilliant and ruthless in trying to accomplish the goal, but it’d be pretty boring if we allowed that belief to say that their actions are inscrutable.

I’ve come to realize that are certain beliefs I have about the current situation of the Cubs and baseball that are either entirely unprovable or beyond my ability of analysis to prove. I think I have reasonable evidence to support each of them, but I am not going to try to convince that they are right on their own merit. Instead I am going to posit that they help explain how reasonable people can look at the same evidence and come to vastly different conclusions.

The Playoffs are not as random as we thought
The playoffs are a crapshoot. This has been a long held baseball truism, at least when finally people were willing to let go of the notion that the playoffs revealed something deeper about the character of the players involved. The wildcard era certainly helped make this case with 6 wildcard teams winning the ultimate prize, and for wildcard teams to win the World Series in three consecutive years from 2002-2004. We are also aware that baseball allows for a lot of random occurrences in a short series. The best team in baseball gets beat by the worst team in baseball with more regularity than any other sport, but I wonder if we have gone too far with this theory.

An appeal to authority is a logical fallacy, but we do all agree that the front office is smart. It should not be controversial that the front office is working with far more information than we are. The front office actions to end the World Series drought in 2016 show that the front office certainly thinks there are things that can be done to meaningfully improve the odds once in the postseason, and that it is worthwhile to pursue that “extra 2%” instead of a belief that it is closer to a coinflip. If getting into the postseason was enough, then there wouldn’t have been the attempts to overhaul the lineup with Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward in the offseason prior to 2016. They certainly wouldn’t have parted with a top prospect and then some for an elite closer for the postseason with the division title all but assured.

The contention I have that is currently unprovable is that the playoffs are less random now than the first wildcard era. One is the fact that there is a severe penalty for not winning a division at this point in time. Wildcard winners made the World Series regularly and won it all with regularity with its introduction in the 1995 season. Since the play-in game being instituted in 2012, the wildcard winner has made the World Series just two times, and that was in 2014. It took a historically great bullpen and defense to face one of the greatest individual postseason pitching performances to overcome the new wildcard penalty. Beyond that, team that have won the division with fluky performances like the Texas Rangers in 2016 and their ridiculously good luck in one run games were bounced quickly in the postseason. The World Series winners the past two seasons were 100 win teams, and the 94 win Cleveland Indians were the lowest regular season win total to make the World Series in those year. I think there is a logical explanation for this as talent has become more stratified and teams are more and more implementing the Ricky Bobby “if you ain't first, you’re last” strategy. Simply just winning a division is no longer enough to have a legitimate chance to win the World Series.

2021 is looming

The larger point of contention is the Cubs ability to maintain this window beyond 2021. There is a general fear of a large amount of so-called “dead money” the Cubs might owe in 2022. That seems like a silly fear to me given how little we know what 2022 will look like. The date is an important for the Cubs in three ways. One it is when the most important parts of the Cubs core will be eligible for free agency for the first time. It is also when the current CBA expires and given the current climate the odds of baseball being played on time in 2022 is not 100%. The situation the Cubs will find themselves with a new TV deal already in place and a likely contentious CBA negotiated could easily be dramatically different than the constraints they are working on now. The largest issue is that the front office may or may not be in place beyond that date. Theo Epstein will certainly be able to run the Cubs for as long as he likes, but he cited his belief of 10 years being the shelf length of executives in explaining his decision to leave Boston for Chicago 6 years ago.

The reality is that the Cubs having to pay market price for a 32 year old Anthony Rizzo, 30 year old Kris Bryant, 29 year old Kyle Schwarber, and 28 year old Addison Russell is far different and more complicated path to competitiveness than the current situation. It could be a vastly different front office making those decisions with a potentially far hasher CBA, like the front office found themselves in when they took over the Cubs and the avenues to acquire amateur talent was severely curtailed. It could also be better a situation, but keeping “powder dry” for the unknown eventualities of 2022 seems silly when weighed against the fact that the Cubs peak years of the core occur prior to that date.

Developing pitching is only way to extend the window
A final difference in beliefs is the need for the Cubs to develop pitching. Everyone agrees that the Cubs will need to start to develop pitching, and that they cannot rely on buying pitching as they have for the previous 3 years as the core becomes expensive. But I think people underestimate its importance when they claim that a bigger deterrent to the Cubs future success is having to pay a poorly performing veteran $20 plus million than parting with potentially the next Zack Godley.

The front office is incredibly open about its philosophy. They explained their reasoning for favoring bats at the top of the draft early on as being both about safety and availability. College bats are the safest bets in the incredibly risky baseball amateur draft, but the front office was also clear that to get a Kris Bryant level bat you had to take him in the top few picks. Sure you can get lucky with a generational hitter like Albert Pujols slipping to the 13th round, but there is no consistency in that approach. Pitching on the other hand historically can be found throughout the draft. The only way for the Cubs to land the next Kris Bryant is to be bad enough to draft him.

However, if the Cubs next wave of pitching prospects develop in a bountiful wave than the Cubs will have greater ability to weather whatever 2022 brings. The way to increase the odds of that happening is by having the greatest number of pitching prospects. If you have to part with those arms to maintain your teams chances in the interim then you have damaged the long term chances of the franchises far more. Signing Darvish now means that you are less likely to have to put Adbert Alzolay or Oscar de la Cruz into a package for a rental pitcher. Having Darvish is a far bigger win for the franchise long term in 2022 than having to guess which one of the Cubs next wave of prospects is that rare arm capable of pitching 200 innings in the big leagues.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, we all want the Cubs to be as successful as possible. The Cubs approach of tearing it down to the studs and building from there worked. It worked because the Cubs were able to exploit every avenue of talent acquisition, and the Cubs were able to do that again this offseason spending at the top of the market in their third of the previous four off-seasons. I disagree with the notion that the Cubs have an equal or better chance to win in 2021 and beyond than they do right now. I disagree that the Cubs can’t meaningfully improve their odds of winning it all in 2018-2019 with particular moves. You don’t have to agree, but I hope we can at least see that I (and others) weren’t merely Veruca Salt when we clamored for the Cubs to add a top pitcher (or more) this off-season.

Comments

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  • A couple of observations for 2022-24. In my opinion they will have to resign Rizzo, Bryant, Contreras and Russell or Baez. They will also have to keep either Almora or Happ. As far as Schwarber and Hendrick it would be great to keep them both. If there are replacements within the organization then they may have to go. By 2022 i believe only Darvish and possibly Hendricks will be under contract. So the cubs almost must have 2 starters from within the organization. That might be a difficult assignment.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    My top four keepers for 2022 and beyond, as of now, are Rizzo, Contreras, Baez, and Schwarber. Not that I wouldn't want to have Russell, Bryant, Happ, ans Almora almost as much. If I'm added a fifth player, it would be Happ. Obviously I'm partial to left side thumpers and defense.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    The FO is very good at developing position players. So what if they get all of Nelson Velazquez, Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Jonathan Sierra and Fernando Kelli to all hit their ceilings? They are all teenagers now and will be 22 to 23 years old in 2022. They may look better for the team going forward than Russell, Almora, Happ,Contreras, and Schwarber. Now the team probably would want to keep some the current core as experienced vets but you would want to make those decisions then and not now.

  • In reply to John57:

    Well, don't hold me to it. It's how it looks imo today.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I agree today I would want to keep as many of our young core as we can. But what to really want to do is enjoy/savor this year. It is shaping up very well. I will think about 2022 in four years. It is the FO's job to think about it now.

  • In reply to John57:

    You're right on the money. There will be "wailing and gnashing of teeth" when the FO elects to go with younger, controlled talent instead of resigning all of the aging fan favorites, freeing up payroll to address team needs at the time. I agree that those are decisions to be made then, not now.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    To me decisions made now WILL affect the decisions at that time. To say, "We'll worry about 2022 in 2022" is setting us up to lose a lot of really talented players and be stuck with albatross contracts.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Of course the Cubs have to make decisions based on needs today and in the future. I don't see the point of arguing whether, for example, Russell should be resigned. It all will depend on his performance AND the availability of younger, controlled talent in the system. If a replacement, possibly better than Russell, is ready for MLB, Russell may well be traded for more prospects or something needed by the team at that time. That same scenario can apply to ANY of the current Cubs core.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    It is true that the Cubs may decide to part ways with any of the young core for any number of reasons (personal conflicts, poor play, an unbelievable trade package, cost to re-sign, etc.). Right now there is nothing like the talent to "replace" these guys in the minor leagues. And if the Cubs continue to go the the NLCS the odds of getting that kind of talent is fairly small. I have been thinking about, and talking about, trading some of our "contract year guys" to try to get some replenishment for the farm system. That needs to be considered. I am getting used to Darvish's contract, but it is still a tough one to swallow for me.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    And "better to trade a year too early than a year too late".

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Schwarber??? His pro career will be kicking up daisies down at AAA by May,that's if he does break camp with the big team. My guy out there in Ariz has watched Schwarbs for over a week now and he said that the power isn't there along with the great bat speed Schwarber once had..

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    Your "guy" in Ariz needs to stick to delivering pizzas.

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    Does your guy use a seeing eye dog?

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    I know that Greg is very much a punching bag on this board because of his often negative and hyperbolic comments, but I am not willing to dismiss this post out of hand. I have not seen any video of Schwarbs against live pitching. I have only the box scores of the spring games to go on, and there is not much there to refute Greg's claim. Does anyone have any other first-hand info that can support or refute Greg's claim that Schwarb's body transformation has sapped him of his bat speed and power?

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    I’m sure he’ll still have plenty of power. I want to know if he’s solved the shift.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    The man has eight spring-training ABs. Making a statement, based on such a small sample size, that Schwarber will be in AAA by May is much closer to trolling than it is to any reasonable analysis his "guy" might have provided. Gimenez has the same number of ABs and is hitting .500, but nobody is predicting he'll replace Willson (who is only hitting a paltry .429). Happ, however, is another story - he's HOF bound for sure with an OPS of 2.000!

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Greg's contact has apparently watched Schwarber for a week and reported a lack a bat speed and power. My point is that this observation should not necessarily be cast aside as trolling, simply because Greg has extrapolated the observation to the conclusion that Schwarber will be in AAA by May. All I am asking, is if someone else has seen Schwarber against live pitching this spring, and, if so, are the reported observations correct. I know much better than to draw conclusions from 8 spring training 8 ABs. However, if Schwarb's 8 ABs were like Happ's 8 ABs, this whole conversation would be a moot point, wouldn't it?

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    In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Personally I have had some good communications with Greg and have read some that I considered "trolling." But I am less apt to brush off his views than many on this board. Sometimes he is a contrarian voice preventing us from becoming too much of an echo chamber.

    Spring Training stats are meaningless, or close to it. Not just because of sample size (as you know) but also because you never know what the other guy was doing. Maybe the batter was working on taking it the other way. Maybe the pitcher was working on a new pitch/arm slot/delivery. Or maybe just "trying to get his work in." It is also possible that Schwarber was working on something else knowing that his "power" will be there when he wants it. It would be interesting if someone else corroborated his "source" in that it would give us something else to talk about.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Joel, I echo your statements. I am convinced Greg's loyalties are in the right place (e.g., he is not a Cardinals fan trolling a Cubs board). His "sky is falling" rhetoric can easily be misinterpreted, though.

    It would be nice to have some corroboration, as you, to have something else to talk about. If someone can corroborate, that might be worrying indeed.

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Norway, there are some people on here that I will take their word as gospel on some topics. I am not going to get into names but if one of them says "Schwarber's lost bat speed" I am going to be worried immediately. But those are few and far between. Anyone else I always want someone else to corroborate it. This board has some of the most knowledgeable posters I have ever found. But most, if not all of us, are amateur enthusiasts.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Yep.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    But I'll still be reading the box scores looking for Schwarber's first XBH...

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Have not seen him against live pitching, but the body transformation is real (and obvious), and batting practice is solid.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    To say his career will be pushing up daisies and he will be in AAA by may seems like trolling to me.

    When the FO is talking about your everyday rightfielder and the manager is talking about you as a leadoff option. Do you not realize how horrible you would have to be in spring training and in April to end up in AAA by May?

    To say he looks over matched or he doesn't have it us one thing (time will tell on that). But to announce his career is over thats ridiculous.

    I always try and judge a player by results and strength of character and so far so good on both for Schwarber.

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    In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    The other issue in all of this is just how stacked the Cubs are. The outfield is currently Heyward, Schwarber, Happ, and Almora. One has to lose playing time. If Schwarber doesn't hit, Happ-Almora-Heyward is definitely the best defensive alignment, so he may slowly lose playing time. (Infield is also interesting; if Russell and Baez continue to struggle with OBP, you might look to make a change there and Happ at 2B/Baez at SS is possible even if defense takes a huge hit.)

    I think he could choose better language. There's simply no way to predict accurately whether he'll be in AAA "kicking up daisies" by May, but there's also reason for concern.

  • I believe in the FO. You can't beat brains in management. They will make the best(though not perfect) decisions. Hopefully when Theo has had enough parades, some subset of his team will be able to continue on.

  • Nice article. Really liked the bonus that came with signing Darvish (keeping prospects). Also nice is that this front office signing him instead of one of the others does not cost us a draft pick. We need to keep scouting, signing, and drafting well to stay competitive.

  • I have a pair of spring training tickets for the March 9th Cubs/Angels game at Sloan Park. They ae 12 rows behind the Cubs dugout, in the shade. Reserved parking is included. Contact me at rhertel@aol.com

  • I don't think I'd plan on having Darvish around in 2022. His front-loaded contract with options allows him to try the market again. Depending on what Arrieta and, next year, Kershaw and others sign for, it's hard to imagine Darvish staying put for $18 million. That's the "middle ground" between those that advocated a 6-year contract and those that were concerned about tying up payroll for that many years.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    That is my problem with "opt-outs." The team gets the worst of both worlds. If the player plays really well he leaves. If he fails to live up to his contract he will stay because his "market value" is lower than his contract. While there is reason to believe that his assessment at the opt-out will be that he is better off dipping his foot into FA again we have to also consider that he probably didn't have as much fun as February wore on and he didn't have a team yet. And it is not an insignificant possibility that as a 32 year-old he may not necessarily be worth more than $81M over 4 years. If people think he will be worth that in a couple of years why didn't he sign in December/early January? We can't simply ignore his $22M/year in the first two years after the opt-out.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    One way that Opt outs might make sense is for players with a pretty high floor either due to very good defense or a "good enough" hit tool to at least be an above-average MLB player. A signing team trades future control, but if the player does well, they get the short term years at a relative bargain - this is true by definition because an opting out player is getting a higher salary somewhere else. If the player doesn't excel, hopefully the still have a high enough floor that the team still gets some value out of them even if the bet on the higher performance doesn't pay off. I think this whole scenario actually fits Jason Heyward quite well. Yes, we're paying a lot for a 2 WAR player, and haven't seen the 6 War player yet, but enough potential is there that it's worth the risk, and the off years aren't hurting the Cubs as badly someone with a much lower floor would (e.g. Bradley, Fukudome, Soriano).

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    In reply to discubobulated:

    I am one who insists that the Heyward signing made all the sense in the world. It didn't work out. But that doesn't mean it was a bad decision. Just a decision that didn't work out.

    Opt outs have their place and they are an interesting wrinkle that is becoming more common. But they always make me nervous.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Of course signing Heyward was a bad decision. Signing a .260 hitting corner outfielder with no power for $184M is a bad decision. I never understood why they did it.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    The four years before the Cubs signed him he had 21.1 fWAR. He was averaging 5.25 WAR per year all before his age 26 season. With 1 WAR being worth 8 million he was "worth" 42 million a season. The contract pays him 23 million a year. Also he filled a need the Cubs had then, poor outfield defense. Some could say it was a good move. It has not worked out due to injuries but any big contract has that risk. I understand why they did it.

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    In reply to John57:

    Not to mention most guys don't fall off a cliff at Jason Heyward's age.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    He hurt his wrist and played through it. I don't count bad years when the player is hurt, do you?

  • In reply to John57:

    He had 2 fluke good years before the Cubs signed him. This WAR being worth $8-9M a year is not a good metric. If it is does that mean Mike Trout should be making $80-90M a year? I stand by that it was a bad decision. But, I will say "The Speech" was worth $184M.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I think WAR is a good metric. Do you have a better one? And I don't think the Cubs win the WS in 2016 even without "The Speech" without Heyward. He solidified a very shakey OF defense.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I think WAR is also a good metric. But to say it is worth $8-9M a WAR is not always the case. Heyward is just not worth $184M in my opinion. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    We can argue Heyward til the cows come home, there were people at the time who didn't like the signing after all, but "two fluke years" isn't accurate. He had averaged 5.2 WAR over the 4 years prior to singing with the Cubs and had a 4.5 WAR average over his entire 6 year career to that point. At 25 years old it was absolutely understandable to project that he would improve, not fall off the map. The question at the time of his signing was whether defense was enough to outweigh a subpar SLG in a power position like RF. The Cubs guessed yes and they were wrong. I will always maintain that their decision was defensible.

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    To me budgets are a zero-sum game. Every dollar of contract spent on a player in a given year is a dollar that is NOT available to pay another, possibly better, player. If there is plenty of room in the budget then it won't be a problem. This is why I am not worried about Zobrist. I think he will bounce back if he gets healthy and could be a 2 fWAR player. And I don't think having him on the roster is costing the Cubs signing much better talent. Maybe I am in the minority on that. If Darvish's contract ended in 2020 I would be over the moon excited about it. But I think in a few years there will start to not be room in the budget. To me the drop off if we lose out on re-signing one of our core players is far greater than the upgrade of Darvish over someone else we could get for a lot less money.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Joel, I like the Darvish signing, particularly with the current FA options. I don't know who we would be able to get "for a lot less money"'. He solidifies us throughout the system, and at no const other than $.

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    In reply to wthomson:

    All I have to do is find a 1fWAR pitcher to sign for $1-2M AAV (most likely 1 year as it is uncommon to sign a 4/$8M contract for a starting pitcher). My point is that while the deal might be a pretty good one for the life of the contract if Darvish goes down hill his contract will quickly become a problem.

  • Thanks Mike, this is a well written and constructed article. You are correct that we sometimes get a little too passionate about our stubborn beliefs of what is the best route to maintain and build upon the success of 2015-2017. With this only being the 2nd year into the new CBA, it will be interesting to see how all teams evolve as the penalties for exceeding the luxury tax are fully realized or not realized. Like all analytics, some smart person in some front office will be able to exploit an inefficiency before others. Maybe it is staying comfortably below the tax threshold or maybe it is blowing past it and paying the tax. Who knows, maybe the strategy of trading for IFA signing money is the way to go or a complete waste of player assets. I completely agree with the iten you highlighted is the teams with the best regular season records and best healthy talent appear to have the best chances to win the WS.

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    Great article and comments too. I do believe that the Yu signing is bigger than just having a new pitcher. My feeling is that he is going to have a very impressive year and post season--he was used a lot in last year's playoffs and that was because he was overworked. It does push back the necessity of rushing our young pitchers and also pushes Chatwood back to the 5th starter and remember how Hendricks was our "5" starter a few years ago. Chatwood could be very good, more so than we know now.
    Our core is still so young, the oldest is 28! Also, in a few years we'll have the Cubs network up and that will be giving us a lot of money to use for FAs, IFAs, more scouts to look at more places and sign those players.
    Later this month--Opening Day and on to the next WS title!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I maintain that Yu's trouble in the WS was more an indictment of the Dodgers' coaching staff than of Darvish. If the Astros could see that he was tipping pitches, there's no reason the Dodgers couldn't see it too, especially after he had experienced the same problem back in Texas. I think we'll be pleased with Darvish as a Cub.

  • Really good stuff, Mike. You raise some excellent points. Like you I was one of the people that felt they had to get a TOR starter this offseason and when it became clear that the trade ship had sailed it became Darvish, Arrieta or bust. Theo said yesterday on the Score that they never got close on a trade for a starter (read Archer) from Tampa Bay and the scuttlbutt is that the Rays really have never gotten to a place of realism for Archer with any team. If it's true that Milwaukee offered the Yelich package plus Hader or Woodruff for Archer and they turned it down cold then no one really had a chance at him in the first place. So again that left us with Arrieta or Darvish and I preferred the latter. I was actually pretty impressed at the deal, I really thought he'd get in the $150 mil range. Of course I've been teased around here for wanting a pitcher for 2018 going all the way back to before the 2016 season but I never wavered in the fact that they needed another pitcher, a top arm, to continue in this window.

    All that said I never have really cared about 2022 or about resigning our guys. Frankly I'm of the belief that you need to start trading some of them for younger talent, hopefully after one more WS. I don't want to be Philadelphia or Detroit and I don't think Theo and company will be here after 2021 so I would like to see whoever comes in start from strength not weakness so we don't have to start all over again. For now though I'm all about 2018-2020 where I think this team can win another title and right now this year seems to be the best bet for it. I think the Dodgers will take a step back this year, but next year with money to spend and guys like Verdugo, Urias and Buehler ready to compete I think they're poised to go on some kind of run. In 2018 I like our chances and maybe one of the next two years something happens that allows another chance.

    As to your last point about maybe the playoffs not being as random as we thought, I think you might be right. To me it all comes down to positioning, you really don't want to be the weakest of the Division winners, and starting rotation. Right now, as long as the bats improve, I'd feel comfortable against just about any rotation of the contenders except Washington and even there we'd stand a chance. Add Arrieta and I'll get nervous again but for now I think we can hold our own. You do have to be a well built, deep team to make it there though and this team has those things. With the pitching reasonably fixed I'm about now, we can all worry about the post-Theo era much later.

  • In reply to TC154:

    And keep in mind that the WS winner has to play an additional 10% of the season to win (average of 16 games)--all very high leverage innings against the very best opposition. To do this successfully, you need pitching (and position player) depth. It's liking trying to sprint the last quarter mile of a marathon, which I can say from personal experience is very difficult (and in my case, impossible!).

  • I'll chime in on your first hypothesis that winning the playoffs is not a complete crapshoot. I wholeheartedly agree. The only people in the league who steadfastly believe this are those who have never won it all.

    I'd add this corollary. If you place all playoff teams in one of two groups. Group A consists only of those teams that have won it before (teams in which most players on that team won previously with the same team). Group B is all of the rest of the playoff teams.

    The corollary would then be:
    The odds of a team in Group A winning the World Series is much higher than any team in Group B.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I don't disagree in principle but then Houston was an outlier. They had only won a WC game two years prior and missed the playoffs in 2016. I think you have "changing of the guard" years, so to speak where teams rise up into that elite category and it's not necessarily based on prior performance. The Wild Card game is tricky though because it is essentially random. Minnesota was clearly the answer to "which of these things are not like the others" in the WC game last year but yet anyone can win one game which is why I hate the second Wild Card.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Yeah, Houston is definitely an outlier. The odds are definitely not impossible for Group B teams, just tougher. Also, for last year Group A consisted of the Cubs and ..... maybe the Red Sox? No Group A teams even making the World Series helped the Astros out, just as it helped out the Cubs in 2016, although the Cubs did have to knock off the Giants in the NLDS.

    It is just a theory, but I would definitely like the chances of a Group A team in the WS against a Group B team.

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    In reply to HefCA:

    While the playoffs may not be completely random ("flip-a-coin") I do think that random acts play a bigger part in the playoffs than they do the regular season. In the playoffs one bad game by a really good player can doom a team. A freak play can change everything. Think how many "surprise" heroes--and "goats" for that matter--there have been in MLB playoff history. Obviously it is possible that we "remember the exceptions," but I think the results of a given game or short series can be distorted. For instance, I think that in 2015 the Pirates had as good or better team than the Cubs. But the Cubs had 1 player that the Pirates couldn't match. If it were a 3-game series I don't know that the Cubs win the series. Over 162 games the best teams tend to rise to the top with the exception of some "flukes" but those "flukes" are often exposed in the playoffs (such as the Rangers in 2016). But in a short series anything can happen IMO.

    But it is a fun theory to discuss. Just out of curiosity have you done any historical research and looked at how many WS winners a given WS team had maybe giving double credit to "winning the WS with the current team in the last 5 years" or something like that to weight things?

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I'd take the better team. That's why the 2016 Cubs won. They were better than everyone else. Same with the 2017 Astros.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    And Houston acquired Verlander, who made all of the difference.

  • People look at the wrong things. The postseason is decided by the quality of the scouting as much as the talents of the players.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    Intriguing. I'm not sure I'd balance them equally because I don't think a team with a distinct talent advantage is likely to beaten by scouting alone. I think some of their players would have to play above their projected abilities. Now last year I think Houston was clearly the more talented team, and also probably the team with better data including metrics and physical scouting and yet the Dodgers could have easily won that series. No question that scouting is a huge part of it though.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    The playoffs are decided by getting on base and quality pitching.

    A crazy thought why not sign Arrieta for 4 years (through 2022) while payroll is low compared to 2023. We could trade guys like Smiley and Chatwood for prospects or deadline deals. Arrieta would cost 10-15 million more per year than Chatwood. Why not? Hendrick, Lester, Quintana, Darvish and Arrieta sounds pretty exciting.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    I don't think the FO really wanted Jake at Jake's price. First they offered contracts to Chatwood and Cobb. Chatwood accepted and Cobb did not. Then they realized they could afford Darvish and put Cobb on hold. If Darvish went somewhere else they probably would have gone back to Cobb. Jake and Boras IMO were just asking for too much money.

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    In reply to John57:

    I thought I read a report that the Cubs offered Jake a contract and he refused and within 24-hours the news came out about the Darvish signing. It sounded to me like they might have had the skeleton of an agreement with Darvish and then offered Jake a deal even more team friendly as a "take-it-or-leave-it" proposition to see if he would bite. He didn't. So they fleshed out the deal with Darvish and moved on.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    That story has been debunked.

  • In reply to John57:

    "too much money" and too much time.

  • Of course I don't mean as much, literally. But the scouting is the tipping point.

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    In reply to wastrel:

    Scouting is a tool that a team can use. And if one team has a clear and definite advantage in this area it can mean the difference. I remember reading in Tom Verducci's book about the Cubs that the Indians scouts noted that when Ross caught for Chapman he called NOTHING but fastballs. And that little tidbit proved valuable in Game 7 (though, it should be noted, not decisive).

    I am inherently opposed to any "This is the tipping point/critical feature" for a championship team. Whether it is Scouting, bullpen (2016 playoffs), an un-godly durable pitcher (2014 playoffs), etc. To me it seems like it is usually based on a quick look at something the most recent team excels at and an assumption that that was "why they won."

    Pithy as it sounds I believe "The team with the most playoff wins will win the championship." I don't mean that to be snarky. But to point out that anything more fine than that is likely to lead us on a wild goose chase. Once you get to the playoffs unless one of the teams is truly a "sheep in wolf's clothing" all the teams are really good. I think that the differences in talent are decreasing among the top teams as they get better and better at evaluating talent and managing their budgets accordingly. So, trying to make unbelievable strengths is likely to cost too much. To me the best option for setting up a playoff team is setting up a team with as few weaknesses as possible. Have some guys from each side of the plate that have power. Have some guys who can make contact with high velocity fastballs. Have some guys who can hit off-speed stuff. Have plenty of depth on defense. Have a strong bullpen. Or, failing that, at least 2-3 guys that the manager can trust...and throw them until their arms fall off. Have a solid, if not spectacular, group of starters. Have top notch scouting to gain information that might be critical to defeating your opponent. Hand that team to a manager who can mitigate and minimize the weaknesses there are, and, in a close game/series, hope that you catch a break. For years the "formula" was seen as "get 3 solid starters and maybe a 4th guy that isn't terrible and you are set." Then it moved on to other things.

    There is something to the "extra 2%." But that can easily be drowned out by luck/chance/randomness.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    "To me, the best option for setting up a playoff team is setting up a team with as few weaknesses as possible." Absolutely agree.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    It is tempting to "add to the top." And who doesn't want another "AS level performer" on the roster. But that gets expensive. And replacing a bad player with a good one, or even, merely, a better one, can be hugely valuable and may have the same net affect on the W-L record as adding someone much more expensive to the top. Let's say that Montgomery could be a 2fWAR player as a starting pitcher. And Darvish is settling in at a 3-4 fWAR player. So the advantage of Darvish over Montgomery, on this, admittedly, extremely over-simplified scale, is about 2 wins. But if we could get an improvement in another spot worth 2 wins (maybe Zobrist becomes a 2.5 fWAR player, or maybe Heyward becomes a 3 fWAR player). Or maybe we get someone else to replace one of our "lesser" players.

    I think it was Michael E. who pointed it out to me first that saying we can trade Russell because Baez can play 2B will have another unintended consequence. The Cubs are extremely lucky to have a very good MLB caliber SS willing and able to man 2B. This means that if Russell gets hurt or needs a day off their "back up SS" is a very good player in his own right. We don't have a roster spot "sunk" in someone like Mike Freeman, Jonathan Herrera, or Menunori Kawaski. Surely these players are OK, likely friendly guys with loads of personality. But not having to have them on the roster can mean we have someone like TLS who can "roll out of bed at 3 AM and get a hit" to paraphrase Joe Maddon. If we trade Russell and slide Baez over we would likely simply have to fill his roster spot with a back up SS whose play is well below that of Baez/Russell. And finding a capable 2B is far easier/cheaper than finding an equally capable SS.

    Obviously I am partial, but I like how the Cubs are set up. They are set up in a way that Maddon can probably use better than any other manager. There is a TON of versatility. Very few players (probably only Rizzo) can play only 1 position. Even Schwarber has been put in RF. The ability to be 2-3 deep at every position, including SS and C, without having 2-3 guys who are really only able to play 1 position is a huge advantage to give to Maddon. Especially with his desire to carry a 13-man pitching staff.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    This really pays off in the playoffs. Crapshoot or not, there are so many things that can impact performance in a short series. Illness and injury, of course, but even mental issues like a guy concerned about the health of a family member or having an argument with his wife can influence play just enough to lose a vital game. Having the depth to make changes on the fly without losing talent is invaluable.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    Those things can absolutely have an effect on a player's ability to perform.

    My favorite example of how "depth" can play a role in the post-season, and this is just an example and not "proof," was the famous 9th inning of Game 4 in SFG in the 2016 NLDS. Baseball reference puts it this way:
    "Will Smith replaces Sergio Romo pitching and batting 9th
    Chris Coghlan pinch hits for Addison Russell (SS) batting 5th
    Willson Contreras pinch hits for Chris Coghlan batting 5th"

    Yes, it was great games-manship by Maddon but it was made possible because the Cubs LF (Zobrist) could play 2B. Further, their 2B (Baez) could play SS. And Coghlan could play LF. But then when the Giants countered by putting in a lefty (and burning another pitcher), Maddon could put Contreras out there and put him in LF if he had to. If your LF isn't also a natural 2B, or if our C can't really play a plausible LF, this wouldn't have worked.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    ...and have a rested team. I my mind that is a huge factor that is often overlooked. It is easy to continue to "go with your best / dance with the one who brung you" and other hoary morsels of wisdom, but every player, no matter how talented, has limits to their performance. Wise FO's and managers (like the Cubs have) know those limits.

  • I definitely was a skeptic. But when you look at the total cost of the deal ($125m) and how it’s structured (decreasing in value in the later years) it looks pretty darn good.

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    In reply to Cubswin09:

    If it were 6 years at $21M every year I would not like this deal. But it isn't structured that way. Saving a couple million per year at the end if he DOES stay makes it a little more palatable to me.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I guess this is something I don't quite understand. For the purposes of the luxury tax the only thing that matters is the AAV so that $21 mil counts for EVERY year of the deal, in other words a lower salary at the end only matters to the bean counters not in terms of baseball operations so there is zero baseball benefit to the structure. Where is the advantage?

  • In reply to TC154:

    Just as an aside, to a small market team that will never sniff the tax threshold there is an obvious advantage, just not to a team that will forever be right at the tax number.

  • In reply to TC154:

    The advantage is that Darvish has the option - and the incentive - to opt out after two years. If he does so, doesn't that negate any impact on the luxury tax?

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    It would because I think that same $21 mil would apply although I'm not sure of that. The opt out though seems to benefit the player more than the club though. If the player is producing he probably leaves and if he's not he likely stays. That said I don't think the Cubs would be particularly sad for the opportunity to get younger at the position in two years.

  • In reply to TC154:

    The luxury tax is part of it. But for me, if the Cubs pay Darvish $25m this year (when he is really good) and $17m at the end of the contract (which is the same amount they paid Lackey) it frees up money to spend on other players in the later years when he's likely not as good. So they won't be paying a 36 year old player $25m, which is what I was worried about.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    If your under the tax threshold it frees up money, if you're over you would end up paying the same penalties. If the Cubs are a team that may only cross the threshold in times of particularly need I guess that makes sense. For teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox who would appear likely to stay over the threshold for two or three year chunks at a time the structure of the deal would be meaningless from a point of view of acquiring talent.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Not sure I agree. The JD Martinez contract with the BoSox is an extreme example of paying heavily for a player in the first two years and less in the later years. If they were only interested in average salary over the term of the contract, there would be no need to structure in that way. My guess is they want to avoid paying a lot in later years when he is likely not as good. I don't know where Arrieta will sign, but I'm guessing the salary will be structured so the pay a lot in the first couple of years and less later.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    And, He’s also more tradeable at $18-19 million than he is at $20-22 million...

    I think it’s a win/win unless he gets hurt for a large period of time.

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    In reply to TC154:

    I didn't realize that the league uses AAV when calculating Luxury Tax Payroll (for lack of a better term). I thought that they looked at the actual payroll. But that they "average out" signing bonuses over the life of the contract rather than putting them all on the first year, even if that is when the bonus is paid.

    If that's true, then, thanks a lot. Now I don't like the deal anymore. The Cubs will have the cash to pay everyone if they want to. But the luxury tax is designed to make ever-increasing payrolls unappealing to teams.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I like the deal no matter how it's structured. I was not expecting the price of pitching to go down so dramatically. I fully expected both Arrieta and Darvish to get somewhere between $26-$30 mil AAV, i just thought the years would be affected by current trends. Basically Darvish got 20% more in dollars than Jeff Samardzija, who I consider fairly paid, and for as much as I like Shark a lot better than most I think Darvish's impact is a lot more than 20% over his. It was only about two years ago when people were predicting $40 mil AAVs for top starters in the near future and now it's no sure thing that even Kershaw will get that next year.

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    In reply to TC154:

    I thought they would get that too. And I still think that is too much to pay them. To me there are a small number of players that are worth more than $20M dollars. At some point we start getting to diminishing returns. As I said somewhere else, looking at his Fangraphs history he looks to be settling in at a very good 3-4 fWAR player. But that is only a couple fWAR better than the Cubs got from Montgomery last year pitching mainly out of the bullpen. Might the Cubs have been better served putting those resources elsewhere? To me that is a very real possibility. For you it may be less of a possibility ("There's nothing like a TOR starter"). To me I am more worried about plugging holes and making the team as a whole as low on weaknesses as possible.

    Change of topic. I was actually thinking about you when I saw that the Cubs signed Darvish. You have long and consistently expressed the need for pitching and I suspected you would be one of the most excited on the board.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Clearly the Darvish signing made me happy. Even with Darvish I would still think victories in a playoff series opener on the road against the likes of Scherzer or Kershaw might be hard to come by but Darvish does give a fighting chance where i wouldn't feel that way with a Hendricks or a Quintana in that spot. The one thing I like about this deep rotation though is that maybe they won't have to open on the road. If Washington signs Arieta the equation changes but right now I like our rotation top to bottom better than any other in the NL, maybe Arizona's is close but it's definitely solid and deep. Maybe that means this team wins 95-96 games whereas prior to DArvish I was having a hard time making a case for 92. The one thing I think you guys know about me is that I think the game is all about pitching, with hitting coming second. I want to win games where the team scores two runs. Clearly you can't do that all the time but I don't like depending on bats to win particularly early in teh season and in the playoffs when it's cold. I had a hard time getting excited last season, I never really worried about the team but I also never expected them to repeat so all I was looking for was solid baseball. This year I'm jacked and ready for this team to win again. Cannot wait for opening day.

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    In reply to TC154:

    Just out of curiosity, why don't you trust Hendricks or Quintana?

  • In reply to TC154:

    First Quintana is one of my favorite pitchers so it's not that I don't trust him, and Hendricks is obviously a winner but I wouldn't want either one of them opening a playoff series. With 7.80 and 7.73 lifetime K/9 respectively I don't think they have the type of game to anchor a playoff rotation. Ideally, to me, you want your 1 & 2 guys to be K monsters but very few teams can pull that off.

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    Theo's contract is interesting. The 10 Years thing easily could have been a bit of BS to cover just how ugly his departure was. But it also could be true and would explain why he only signed a 5 year extension. It's possible that Hoyer and McLeod both get promotions if Theo leaves, so it might not be the end of the world.

    There's actually a midpoint on 2022, too. You sign Harper next year, extend Bryant, and maybe one of Addy and Schwarber, then rely on your system to fill in the other holes.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    it was BS. Theo was butting heads with Luciano and he got the opportunity to be President of a team -- a position he very well could hold for 20 years. I'm thinking his kids will be in school here and I could see the Epsteins wanting to stay put. Maybe its wishful thinking but maybe not. But, heck, I'm just looking to the 2018 season and super excited cause I really do think it could be the best Cubs team ever.

    117!

  • In reply to TTP:

    I think 2018 has a chance to be a very good year too. I would like to have the best record in the NL so Was and LA have to play each other before they get to the Cubs.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'm glad you mentioned Harper because even if the Cubs are lucky enough to win the Harper sweepstakes I don't think extends the window on its own. This offseason has shown more and more that opt-outs are a reality of MLB contracts (and one of the few player friendly features left). If Harper signs here, there is no doubt in my mind that there will at least be one opt out after the 2021 season. That would keep him here as long as Bryant is here and it would allow him to enter the market again prior to his age 30 season, which is a big deal as we've seen in the past few years.

    For me, the only way this thing keeps rolling is either by being bad at some point in this window or they actually develop some pitching so they have to stop buying their bullpen and rotation.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    This is what I was trying to get at, with much less clarity than your effort. If Harper signs with the Cubs, do they need all of Heyward, Happ and Schwarber? Seems like a big name would be freed up that could then be used to acquire pitching, especially if used for prospects rather than to fill a hole in the bullpen. The Yankees (ugh!) really profited from letting free agents walk and taking the comp picks, plus trading some veterans for young talent, too.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    Assuming that the Cubs have at least 3 major league caliber outfielders in 6 months (Almora is in the equation, too), I'd say the logical move if they sign Harper is to cover 50% or more of Heyward's contract and try to trade him.

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    At this point I would rather have Chatwoood than Jake. I think he has as brighter future and Jake is on the downside of his career.

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    The Cubs signed Danny Hultzen yesterday. Another pitcher coming back from injury. He was the 2nd pick in the 2011 draft so he was considered a TOR pitcher--now that was almost 7 years ago, but with him and Shae Simmons and Drew Smyly--all pitchers who are rehabbing and are still in their 20's. Again, Theo is trying everything he can to build a staff and is willing to wait a year or two to do that.
    As we get closer to the season I am getting more and more excited. We have a great starting 8 position players with everyone except Schwarber (and maybe Happ but not Almora) a potential GG candidate. Our defense fell off last year but there is too much talent to do so again. For all his offensive faults we have a superior RF in Heyward and I really believe that we wouldn't have won the WS without him, and that's without his extra inning speech. I see us winning 95 games this year and I think we will surprise a number of people--they are so taken with the power of the Yankees or Houston or the Dodgers but we're right there and with better pitching and defense and a potentially great offense too.
    Go Cubs!!

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I am just hoping 1 of those 3 can be a useful piece in 2019 or 2020. All 3 have promise and could be late bloomers (forced due to injury but still) and could be very valuable relievers, or even trade pieces if they show they can be MLB starters. Or even open the possibility of a trade of Chatwood if he has a good year.

    We know some of the young pitching prospects are coming so it would be great to bridge the gap w 1 of these 3.

    Honestly if this team is 90% as healthy as 2016 and the defense is 95% of what it was in 2016, I see this team winning a 100 games.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I know this is not the way to judge starting pitchers anymore, but w good health, I can easily see 4 of our starters winning 15+ games. Maybe 2 or 3 could cross the 20 win plateau w good run support and a little luck.

    Would anyone be surprised if everyone made 30 starts to see Yu and Hendricks w 15-18 wins? Along w Quintana w 14-16 wins and Lester win 13-15 wins and Chatwood w 10+ ?

  • I would much prefer to have everybody under 30 starts. That would mean that the Cubs have had an excellent regular season and a well rested playoff roster.

  • I think Mike was quite sage to wish to add Darvish. It wasn't the only approach the Cubs evaluated, but it wasn't a bad Plan B. The Cubs options were to either (a) trade a young bat (or two) for a young TOR arm, (b) sign Darvish to create a rotation of essentially four No. 2 starters and Chatwood, or (c) sign Cobb and use the regular season to let Chatwood and Cobb fight for the privilege to get playoff starts as the No. 4.

    It is impossible to evaluate the (a) option as we don't know what the trade possibilities were. (I personally praying -- without any inside info -- they might be able to pry a rehabbing Michael Fulmer from the Tigers). But between options (b) and (c), Michael's preference for Darvish was obviously superior -- especially once the AAV came down. Plus the team still has about $12M left for perhaps two mid-season acquisitions for the bullpen, or perhaps half of a Josh Donaldson or Machado contract if the offense falters.

    The Cubs didn't address their stated offense needs. Instead they decided to preserve some mid-season flexibility and see if an extra year of maturity by their young players, Heyward having extra opt-out-year motivation, and adding Chili Davis as a snake charmer will change the fortunes of the offense in the playoffs. Can't fault them for this approach. The mid-season trade deadline gives one time, and nothings worse in a trade than creating false urgency.

  • Dabynsky, I wanted to get back to you because I also witnessed your angst and demands on Twitter and by all means you are correct. I have now taken the perspective of not being a vicarious GM by proxy fan. My father used to be the vicarious Manager in the dugout by proxy fan and now simply want to be the informed observer. Cubs are in a extraordinary moment to compete at the best level for this year and if all things stay healthy next. Getting in the WS 2 of 3 years (ala SF Giants recently) and if they can get in there consecutively than this is on the verge of a dynasty team. Thing is what I am amazed is that they put this roster and have engineered reserve resources for the mid season.

    As for the change in the WC this makes sense. A hot team can run out of gas by the Division Series ala Cubs in '15. So winning the division is essential now if you want to play the best odds. It also is suggesting that winning the division as early as possible to align the club for the long playoff run.

    All spot on, as I sit on my sunny patio soaking in the Vitamin D at 70 degree's listening to Pat and Ron broadcast another ST game. They are playing well this spring.

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