Welcome to a new decade, Denizens! I believe this coming decade will be the greatest in the long history of our beloved franchise. What a ride the last one was! From the lowest of lows to the ultimate fulfillment, that was quite the roller-coaster. My emotions ran the gamut, and I have the mental scars and immense feelings of pride to prove it. I'm sure you do as well.
We enter the 2020's with more than a bit of uncertainty. This lost feeling can be unsettling, and that is understandable. I've always embraced it. It makes me feel alive, like anything is possible. Sometimes that's all you have when things look bleak.
I've seen all the "bold prediction" stories making the rounds, so I figured we could take a swing at it. There ain't much else actually happening. Some of what I've seen labeled as "bold" is quite tame, like KB being traded or Javy extended, and others like Morrow leading the Cubs in saves in 2020 simply ludicrous (though certainly bold). Just to set parameters, I'll define "bold" as less than a 20% chance within mainstream thinking, but more than zero.
I've purposely not read any of these pieces in the last couple days in an attempt to be original; a palette cleanser, so to speak. These are all mine, for better or for worse. If my math is right, if I hit on one I'm at the Mendoza line. Two, and I'm in the Hall of Fame with my new peer Teddy Ballgame. Let's do this...
1: Tyler Chatwood will be the 2nd most valuable SP in 2020*
I have some reservations with this prediction. Prior to the 2017 season, I predicted Javy would have a top-15 MVP finish. At the time his role was still undetermined, and I soon realized that for this vision to become reality something bad would have to happen to KB/Rizzo/Russell for him to accumulate the playing time necessary to secure those vote totals. I walked that statement back in fear of jinxing another key contributor to our team, and ended up being off by only one year and 13 spots, regardless.
To be clear, I make this prediction not on any hopes of misfortune to the rest of the staff, but on my belief in Chatwood. I've been laying out my thoughts here for over five years, and I have to admit my initial assessment of Chatwood may have been my biggest fail. I was a believer before we signed him. I got caught up in spin rates and tunneling and other thought processes I didn't fully understand. I was wrong, and I've learned.
I still believe in Tyler. I respect him for facing failure but not letting it get him down. He never complained or felt sorry for himself. He put his head down and went to work. I think that attitude, along with his stuff, a new pitching structure, and a looming free agent contract will bring out the best in him.
*I'm basing 2nd most valuable SP on season totals with the Cubs. It's very possible he is dealt at the deadline.
2: Jason Heyward has his best season with the Cubs
OK, this may not seem bold at first. What I think makes it bold is the amount of progress he makes, and the amount of improvement he shows. I'm not talking the incremental gains we've seen, I'm talking BIG GAINS. I'm talking down-ballot MVP gains.
Heyward is a very introspective person, very hard on himself. Like Yu, he needs to feel comfortable in order to thrive. Injuries, contract pressure, and occupational uncertainty have hindered his time on the North Side. Depending on what happens in CF, he may finally be free of some of these burdens in 2020.
Jason has always said he is not comfortable as a lead-off hitter. He has said it does not fit him, that he thinks too much. The numbers certainly bear that out. His overall line of .251/.343/.429 (101 wRC+) in 2019 improves to .286/.373/.471 (119 wRC+) when not batting lead-off, and the lines improve even more if he can be protected from the best lefties. I know some fans will say everyone's numbers will improve with cherry-picking and the L/R splits indicate a platoon player, and I won't disagree. But I will say that I don't believe Heyward was used to the best of his abilities under Maddon, and I think Ross will fix that. Ross understands Heyward.
Add in the fact that Heyward's defensive numbers suffered greatly in CF as oppose to his natural RF, and the added stress that may have caused, I think freeing J-Hey from the lead-off spot and the positional uncertainty (if we can do that) will lead him to a career year. I think Grandpa Rossy will unleash the beast.
3: Nico Hoerner begins the season as our starting 2B, and wins ROY
I said bold, right? I'm even struggling with this one, but I'll try...
I've actually seen this elsewhere, but I disagree with why. Others have predicted that Nico Suave hits 30 bombs and/or drives in 100. That's ridiculous. He won't. The reason he starts the year as our 2B is out of pure necessity. He is better than anything else we got.
Another moment of reflection: in early/mid 2017, I called for Ian Happ to be brought up. At the time, he wasn't ready, but I got into heated debates about prospect development vs. big-club victories. I said to heck with his progress, he can help our team win. He was brought up, two days later, to everyone's (except mine) surprise. Whether or not that was a good call is certainly up for debate.
Nico's a different animal. I see him as Darwin Barney with more tools. Nothing is going to break this dude. He's not Robinson Cano or Roberto Alomar, nor do I want him to be. He is what we need at this moment, and he will soon be a clubhouse leader.
I think he puts up a line of somewhere around .285/.355/.470. The boldest part of this prediction is how he gets ROY votes with that line on a team that may finish in 3rd or 4th place.
That's why it's BOLD!
Every other rookie stinks? I don't know. Play along...
4: Javy Baez already has an extension
You know me, I have to have me some Javy.
I'll try to keep this brief. Between my desires and Javy's Instagram post and our future existence as a viable MLB team, this has to happen.
In all seriousness, there is talk that Javy has been extended, it just can't be announced due to league rules. This could all be BS, of course, but I choose to believe it. I would expect that the details lie in the AAV and the 2020 payroll, and how this extension is structured. Most people say it is an agreement on the 2020 arb figures, with the extension kicking in later. Sounds good to me.
Announced prior to the Cubs Convention? I don't know the rules. But Javy said "Gracias. Thanks."
That's all I need to know to be bold.
And now, the big, bold prediction I've been hinting about and the one I will surely take heat for:
5: Theo Epstein will not be back for 2021
Much like Joe Maddon, I have never been anti-Theo. I thank them for every hope, every win, and the ultimate satisfaction this team brought to me and the other millions of Cubs fans. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! You are forever a Cubs legend.
But just like Maddon, Theo's time has run it's course. Even more like Maddon, this feeling may be mutual. Theo has always said ten years is the maximum time to spend in one place. Ownership surely has taken notice.
There is no denying the franchise is in decline. Theo, through his own public statements, is almost done. He has hinted at his future ambitions: agency, ownership, even political office. Good luck to you, Theo. And again, thanks!
When an educated fan takes a broad view of this situation, I don't see how you can't see the end. The lack of infrastructure and development has led to a bloated payroll and a barren system. Ownership, who I assume plans to be here longer than the management, has stepped in to force a complete overhaul of the system. And cut off the monetary spigot because of wanton spending.
We are left with a paralyzed organization. This is not good for anyone involved. I believe the only reason Theo and Co. are still in the organization is because we didn't want to totally blow it up in front of the TV negotiations. That would have been bad.
Theo can't spend money, in fact has to cut salary, and has been forced to except a complete and involuntary makeover over the entire infrastructure he built. Theo cannot be happy, and I don't blame him.
These are professionals, and I expect him to do the right thing. I have heard tin-hat conspiracies that he will sabotage the team on his way out. He will not. He has integrity, and he has a future to look forward to.
I think I should end this now. I've tried to remain positive, but this train of thought gets me off a little. I'll expand my thoughts in the comments if you wish.
Again, if I hit on 1 of 5 I'm borderline. 2 of 5 I'm fishing with Teddy. I expect some to call me an idiot, that's what these whole posts are about. We'd love to hear your thoughts and predictions.
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