Hello, Cubs Den! You may not recognize the name in the author byline, but I've followed this blog for a bit and made a few comments a while ago. I hope you can accept me into your community.
What an offseason it has, or more specifically has not, been. As fans we get wrapped up in what went wrong, what needs to be fixed, and then we debate the moves that have been made to address these issues. Usually. For the second year in a row, the status quo seems to be the modus operandi, although we still have a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report. I do expect deals to be made before then, and very possibly at least one of the "holy s**t!" variety.
This article would be easier to do in a few weeks, after the dust has settled and we knew the club for sure, but I've seen enough to form a reasonable theory of what the plan is. It's possible we roll into 2020 with what we have, but I don't see that happening. It's more likely KB, Quintana, and/or others aren't with us on opening day. I don't think it makes much difference at this point in terms of the bigger plan. There seems to be a narrative if we pay attention.
As fans, we get caught up in the "now". What have you done for me lately? That's a legitimate stance to take, especially when you have skin in the game. We have been blessed with an incredible run of prosperity, so much so that it may cloud the long view. It wasn't long ago that we were looking at things through a multi-year lens. Anticipating the waves of incoming talent and googling future payroll projections. Trying to piece together what the future, and a good team, might look like.
Now we've lived that future, and it's time to choose a path. I will vehemently argue that we shouldn't be at this particular fork in the road, that we should have passed the keys to a sober driver following the 2016 bash, but here we are. We have to deal with it. It's time to take a broader view of where we stand, and I think that is best done by breaking it down into more digestible portions.
"YA RUN WHAT YA BRUNG"
This is actually old, backwoods drag racing slang meaning no major ad-lib modifications and no juice right before the money race, so maybe our FO are closet moonshine-running quarter-milers. They sure have acted like it. For the second straight year, it looks like we're going with what we've got. What we've got is a talented, yet flawed, offense and an even more questionable pitching staff. I find it hard to be excited, even when looking at the best-case scenario.
I suppose we know what we have, and we hope on what might be. Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez, oh my! Can Jason Heyward step up in the box, and could Ian Happ take the next step? I certainly hope so. It is possible, and it seems that this is what the FO is counting on. I'm still not comfortable with the depth built around them (or even within them), but this is what we brung.
Then I look at the pitching, and I'd be lying if I didn't say it hurts. Kyle Hendricks will likely do Hendricks things, and Yu Darvish could be an ace, based on the second half of last year. Or not. Jon Lester could continue to beat back Father Time, or he could succumb. Jose Quintana could be an innings-eating #4-5, and that's all I expect him to be, at best. Then we have to pull out of an already-weak pen to secure a #5 in Tyler Chatwood or Alec Mills. Ugh!
That pen, currently anchored by Craig Kimbrel. I've watched Kimbrel closely since he came up with the Braves, so I may be biased. Last season was a mess for him professionally and competitively. I expect him to regress to his typical dominant self and save many games, possibly even some important ones. We have to be there at the end, right?
After Kimbrel, we have many question marks, but I also see opportunity. As we stand, I see Chatwood and Mills in competition for the #5 spot, though that slot is interchangeable throughout the season. Relative newcomers Rowan Wick and Kyle Ryan seem to have the edge as high-leverage arms, and holdovers Brad Wieck, James Norwood, Dillon Maples, Dakota Mekkes, and others offer both upside and roster flexibility. Barring injury, I'd be surprised if Adbert Alzolay doesn't make an impact at the big-league level in 2020.
We've all been dismayed and possibly made jokes about the Cubs inactivity this offseason, but there is no denying the fact we have added a boatload of potential bullpen options. We've taken flyers on familiar faces such as Brandon Morrow and Danny Hultzen, and added numerous arms to put to the test in an increasingly impressive pitch lab. Rex Brothers, Trevor Megill, Jharel Cotton, Dan Winkler, and Casey Sadler are among a long list of impressive arms the Cubs have added hoping to unlock and catch the proverbial "lightning in a bottle" in the always-fickle game of bullpen roulette. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy seems excited with all the new toys:
"One thing in this organization that we have had a lack of," Hottovy said, "is young interesting arms that have plus stuff and maybe just haven't done it yet. Now, I feel I look around this room, and we have 10 of those guys, and guys with really interesting pitch characteristics, interesting pitch mix."
It looks like this is what we'll be running with in 2020, with the very real possibility that there could be a substantial subtraction or two before opening day. So what's this good for? Realistically, I'd say a touch above .500. Schwarber could take that next step towards elite offensive status and Happ could ride his coattails, and along with everything else breaking right, we could win 90. Just as plausible, however, is a couple guys disappointing due to injury or regression, especially in the starting rotation, and we plummet to a fourth-place finish and a "W" flag longing to see the light of day.
THE TAXMAN COMETH
The popular narrative among Cubs fans this offseason has been that the lack of significant additions is due to the Ricketts being "cheap". I don't buy that. They have shown the willingness to run a top-3 payroll, and I think we are 4th as of today. It isn't a matter of austerity. It is part of a normal cycle working within the current CBA, with a strong influence of recent contractual failures.
I've been very hard on the FO, but I don't mean to give ownership a free pass. I just don't agree with the "cheap" thing. I'd bet my last beer the Ricketts would love to be sitting on two or more Championships during this window and happily doling out a $300M payroll, and all the monetary penalties that go along with it. But that hasn't happened.
Instead, we will likely reset the CBT penalties by staying under the $208M threshold this offseason. All the large-market teams do this periodically to avoid the most serious penalties, which can include the loss of IFA $ and draft picks for repeat offenders. Under the current CBA rules, the worst penalties are reserved for those organizations that repeatedly exceed the spending limits AND subsequently sign a top free agent with the qualifying offer attached. That's when the pain gets real, and why the current system was designed to deter teams from "buying" superiority.
With the release of Joe Maddon, the hiring of Boss Ross, and the complete makeover of the organization's scouting, drafting, and development infrastructure, it makes sense that this is shaping up to be a transitional year. We have the talent, at least on the offensive side, to be competitive. I'm a pitching and defense fan, so I'm less enthused. But hey, who knows? Baseball.
I will say this: we currently stand around $215M in payroll going into 2020. I haven't seen details on the Souza deal, but that will tick it up. We will not stand right at the edge. There is no reason to go over the threshold by a few million and compound our penalties going forward. That would be professional malfeasance by the FO. FIRE EVERYONE!
There is the very slight chance the trade market doesn't pan out for a worthwhile deal for KB or Quintana, the management sees a weak NL Central, and we spend a few dollars to plug holes with legitimate major-leaguers. There's also the chance that pigs fly.
I see no way that we do not cut salary to get under the $208M threshold for 2020, and that means someone is gone. I expect that someone to be KB when his grievance is finally settled, or possibly Quintana. I suppose other moves are possible, but unlikely.
WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR
By far the most likely scenario is the Cubs go into 2020 with high hopes, minus a key piece or two, and play out our hand. We reset our penalties and go all out, or close to it, heading into next offseason and beyond. There are free agents to be had, from Mookie Betts, George Springer, Andrelton Simmons, and Trevor Bauer next year to Fransisco Lindor (among other current fan favorites I don't care to mention) headlining a stellar class in 2021-2022. As our current club control expires on many of our core players, so does the current CBA. Who knows what the next one will look like.
From a purely financial standpoint, we will be shedding some big contracts. Lester and Quintana are likely gone post-2020, if not before, and other contracts come off the books. On the bright side, the much-maligned Cubs' pitching development will soon begin to bear fruit. I expect Adbert Alzolay to make a significant impact in 2020, and he, Cory Abbott, and heralded prospect Brailyn Marquez should compete for spots in the 2021 rotation.
The uncertainty heading into the new CBA negotiations will be tempered with this wave of pitching, along with the solidifying presence of Nico "Suave" Hoerner and the impending emergence of potential impact players in Brennen Davis and Miguel Amaya. Things look bright, just not at the moment.
Have I mentioned that we will have a new FO by then?
There is a lot to be anxious about this offseason with the lack of, well, anything. I do expect a move or three before pitchers and catchers report, most likely the day KB's grievance is settled. In the words of the (in)famous Hawk Harrelson: "He Gone!". I'd love to see Bryant's entire HOF career play out in the Friendly Confines, but that doesn't appear to be likely.
And I don't blame the Ricketts.
By the way:
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