Throughout my 40+ years of fandom, I've carried some unusual quirks. I used my favorite Billy Buck baseball card as a bookmark and slept with my glove that Ivan DeJesus signed just for me under my pillow. I sat in my underwear with 2000 baseball cards looking for that guy who hit 1.000 with more than 1 AB (I can't recall finding one), and will never, ever forget my marvel at seeing the number 52 under the HR column of Mr. George Foster. That was an amazing feat for that era, and I should say something here about PED's, but I want to keep it clean.
And I would sing. I even wrote my own fight songs, composing tunes of Cubs' seasons past, present, and future.
"The Cubs done great in '78.
And they're doing fine in '79."
I suppose I was ever the optimist, even back in that lean period. And quite the prognosticator as well...
"Hit the floor in '84."
I guess the reason I'm thinking this is to convince myself yet again that I will always love baseball and my Chicago Cubs. Always. Whether down 9-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth, 5 games out with only 6 to play, or 1 game away from elimination with 3 to go (and the last 2 in Cleveland), we have a chance. We got this! That wind might be blowing out.
I've forced myself to adopt this mindset heading into the 2020 season. I've grown and matured, but that little boy sitting in his underwear atop his mountain of baseball cards will never leave me. At least I hope not.
With these warm, fuzzy feelings in mind, I'll try my best to take an optimistic look at the 2020 roster and season. I'm old-school in many ways, and I've always kept a roster hand-written on paper. I write the sure things in ink and pencil in the unknowns in, well, pencil. I honestly just started to compose my latest incarnation and realized I may need a bigger pencil. I've also always had a template: 1B down to C, 5 SP's, and a bench and bullpen that has necessarily changed in structure over the years. I'm still learning to refer to the DL as the IL, listing players as "UT" rather than "IF" or "OF", and the 26th man has totally screwed up the homemade spreadsheets I had perfected over all these decades.
Notice any frustration? I do, and get off my lawn! I suppose most of this is because of the uncertainty I have filling out even a partial roster at this point. Who's here, and who isn't? Normally, by this time of year, I have a pretty good idea of where we stand and what we need. Now? I need a bigger pencil.
I think the way to go here is to speak of the players we know to be a sure thing, and present them in the most positive light possible. Maybe talk of the players we think will be here, and present them in the most positive light possible. Even mention the players who may not be around any more, and present them in the most positive light possible.
In order to truly get into this blissful state of Cubs nirvana, I may have to strip down to my underwear, revert to 9-year-old me, and bathe myself in baseball cards. I'll spare you the video feed, but *I will have to occasionally speak in my adult voice.
• Starting out at 1B, I had to reach for my seldom-used ink pen to write in Anthony Rizzo. I also needed to ink in his standard season slash line of .290/.390/.510, with 30 bombs and 100 driven in. Oh, and the annual Gold Glove award. Can he do this for another 8 years, will it be with the Cubs, and do we debate the HOF? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's hope for a healthy and "normal" 2020.
• Who's on second? Some combination of David Bote, Daniel Descalso, and Tony Kemp, for now, with maybe a hint of Robel Garcia. Not very inspiring, which is why I've predicted Nico "Suave" Hoerner wins the job out of spring training. In an ideal world, Nico would get a little more seasoning to work on his pitch selection at AAA, and if we are seriously taking a slow approach to the 2020 season, this might be the way to go.
Overall, I think Nico gets the majority of the playing time, and puts up a Ryno-lite .285/.355/.470 line and begins to gel with his soon-to-be long-term MI mate.
*Then I think of the rookie struggles, and the screaming for the next 3 years that Nico wasn't quite yet Suave.
• Speaking of which, El Mago. What else can we say, except consistency, please? I'm as big a fan as there is, so I won't quit now. I think he will tone it down a bit, mature with his hitting approach, and finish 4th in the NL MVP race. He'll lose some flash, but grow as a player. El Grande Mago? El Mago Grande? Pardon my French, I only speak American.
*To heck with my immature, conservative, childish mind! Adult me says Javy wins not only the MVP and the Platinum Glove, but also the Cy Young and a Nobel Peace Prize.
• I don't know what to make of the hot corner. Kris Bryant? Even sitting here in my underwear, this hurts too much to talk about. Next...
• I think Kyle Schwarber is going to break out in a big way in LF. We were all enamoured with Nicky 2bags in the last couple months of 2019, with good reason, but Schwarber was with him every step of the way.
Schwarber is finally coming into his own as an elite LH bat. From August 2019 on, he mashed to a 163 wRC+, and improved that impressive number to a ridiculous 177 in September. SSS, yes, but I counter with recency bias. All the peripherals are there to support sustainability, and I firmly believe that Boss Ross (TM ?) will tap into his psyche and comfort level.
That sweet LH swing will continue to charm, especially when going oppo.
• CF: Can we sign John Fogerty?
*Do I really have to do lyrics on this?
At this point, I'm penciling in Ian Happ. I have high hopes for Happ, considering his improvements following his demotion for performance and focus reasons. The K rate is coming down, the BB rate remains acceptable, and he has upside. I think he still has untapped power, but the adjustments he needs to make against top-flight pitching may negate some of that.
I suppose he can be serviceable, but dang, I LIKE DEFENSE, and don't enjoy the idea of breaking out a thought I've stated here a thousand times before: the only numbers that truly matter in baseball are the ones under the "R" column at the end of the game. There are many ways to get there, and run prevention is paramount.
Speaking of defense, Albert Almora. I wouldn't call him a bust, because I never saw that much in him, but disappointing is fair. I've always thought his glove could be buried in a deep lineup, but we haven't developed into the offensive juggernaut we once envisioned. Simply put, Almora has been arguably the worst offensive player in all of MLB for over a year now. He is at a crossroads, and I wish him the best.
*I really like Almora. I love a baseball rat. I've read many interviews and have listened to him speak several times. During some of these interviews, my ears have tweaked a little bit. Hmmm...
• I hope RF belongs to Jason Heyward, for his sake and for ours. I've predicted a big, break-out season for my BFF, and I think Boss Ross can coax it out if him.
J-Hey has been on a steady run of improvement, bolstering his putrid wRC+ of 72 in 2016 to 89 in '17, 99 in '18, and an above-average 101 in 2019. I expect and predict a wRC+ of at least 120 in 2020, as well as a return to an elite-level RF defense, if we can play him there.
*Just to add my adult voice, *cough* Maddon *cough*, I also predict the amount of J-Hey lead-off AB's in the entire 2020 season adds up to a grand total of 0. Zero. Nada.
I don't think he has been healthy or comfortable (let alone both) since his signing. Without digging too deeply into the numbers, something stands out to me. Pitchers are becoming more and more reluctant to throw him a fastball. The rate of fastballs he has faced has fallen quite dramatically (65.2% in '16, 61.4% in '17, 55.4% in '18, and 53.4% in 2019). This tells me he has been hurt, has been prone to being overpowered. I don't think he will be this year.
• C: Another one of those areas when I have to holster my trusty pen for the uncertainty of graphite.
In any sane baseball world, Willson Contreras would be inked as our starting catcher. But we don't appear to be in any type of sanity. Willson could be dealt, but as of now, I expect him back.
I will offer my opinion, however unpopular it may be. I think we should trade him. I may be wrong, but I see a player at his peak value. I love the bat, I love the passion, and I love the fire. It is my belief that he has maxed out. I could be wrong and I plan on being here for many more years, so I'll own it.
I love passionate players, and Willson is certainly that. I love tools, because above all else that's what counts, and Willson has a shop full. But I also greatly value mental skills, as I know that baseball is different than any other sport. I've always been able to follow that journey with the players that embrace it, and I've kinda soured on the guys that left me flat. I see a player in Willson Contreras who is involved in a highly mental game and is limited to his physical skills.
Victor Caratini, of course. I'm trying hard to put everyone in their best light for the sake of the team and our sanity, but even I have my limits. Something about a guy who can wear the tools of ignorance, catch a ball, swing a bat, and lead a team to a World Series Championship.
I meant to do this as a full-roster piece. I don't think now that I should. I'm risking going into novel territory, and I haven't even got to the pitching yet.
I think I'll end with the offensive side here. I'm gonna go back and throw in some nifty-looking stats to make me appear more competent and to attempt to make myself believe what I just wrote. Always the optimist!
Maybe that's for the best. For all our woes, the current group of throwers from the mound may be the most concerning.
I'll leave that for the next step. Coming soon. To prepare for that delve into the abyss, and to present it a positive light, I might have to pull out a trick from my childhood. The underwear may have to come off, so that my nonsensical rantings aren't as blatent and obscene as my physical appearance. It worked back then...
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