Cubs Will Look to Fortify the Roster to Compete in 2015

Cubs Will Look to Fortify the Roster to Compete in 2015
Cubs Will Likely Target A's Ace Jon Lester This Winter (Photo: Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

As the season winds down, with the World Series getting set to begin, the most anticipated off-season of the Epstein/ Hoyer era is just around the corner.  Next season will be the first that the Cubs make a conscious and concerted effort to win, with the expressed goal being to win the NL Central.  While Epstein has also said that 2015 will not be the pinnacle of the rebuild, it will be a year where they do intend to field a competitive team.

The groundwork for fielding that competitive team was laid during the 2014 season.  In many respects, the Cubs were more competitive than their 73-89 record suggests.  After June 1, the Cubs were a very respectable 53-56.  While that is not very impressive on its face, that record includes the period after trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, who were the team’s best pitchers over the first two months of the season.  It also includes adding a number of prospects to the line-up, including Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, and Jorge Soler.  It also includes prolonged periods without Starlin Castro, who missed much of the last month of the season with a high ankle sprain, and Anthony Rizzo, who missed time with a lower back strain.  The overall record also does not indicate what the true issues were with the team.  The Cubs had a record of 72-61 (.541 winning percentage) when they scored 2 or more runs, which is mere percentage points behind the Wild Card teams in the NL, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.  That record inflates to 54-21 (.720 winning percentage) when they scored 4 or more runs.  The MLB average for team runs per game in 2014 was 4.07.  The Cubs, for reference, scored 3.79 runs per game.  Pitching was not an issue.  When the pitching staff was given run support, the Cubs won games.

With those pieces of information in mind, there are some things the Cubs will need to do to be more consistent on offense.  The first is to work with the rookies from 2014.  Javier Baez and Jorge Soler should be mainstays at second base and in right field in 2015 from Opening Day.  Soler was excellent in the small sample size he got with the big league club in September.  Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara both displayed some of the potential that made them highly touted prospects, but they also showed some of the things common in young players.  Their growth and continued development will be counted on to be a major contributor to an improved offense in 2015.  The eventual call-up of Kris Bryant will also be counted on to improve the offense.  While he may be sent to Iowa out of camp to pick up an extra year of control, he will be up for most of the season.

As far as pieces that are not already in the organization, the Cubs will likely look to left-handed hitting options in the outfield.  Players like Denard Span are ideal fits for what the Cubs will probably be looking for this winter.  While Span may not be available because he has a $9M club option with the Nationals, he is an ideal fit.  He is a left-handed, top of the line-up hitter.  Other outfielders who would make sense for the Cubs include Gerardo Parra, who is a non-tender candidate with the Brewers.  Parra is also left-handed, and while his offense is not his strength, he doesn’t strike out very much, which will be a nice addition to a line-up that figures to strike out more than most.  He is also an outstanding defensive outfielder.  If he’s available, he is probably a player the Cubs take a look at.  Royals outfielder Norichika Aoki is another reserve outfielder who can step in and play across the outfield and offer some value to the top of the line-up.  In this line of players, it would not be a surprise to see the Cubs reach back out to Emilio Bonifacio, who is also set to become a free agent this winter.  It would be a surprise to see them add a bigger name.  Players who provide top of the line-up ability, above average or better defense, and solid veteran presences in the clubhouse are going to be the targets in the outfield.

The Cubs will also look to address the catcher position.  If Jed Hoyer is to believed, the starter would appear to probably be Welington Castillo again next season.  While there remains a chance that the Cubs pursue Russell Martin, smart money probably lies in them adding another low cost veteran who is either a coming free agent or someone who is non-tendered or released this winter.  A trade is possible, but the same type of player would probably be the target.  It is very difficult to envision the team parting with significant prospects or taking on a significant salary for a part time catcher, such as Miguel Montero.

While the youth around the field is developing, the plan is to fortify the pitching staff even further.  Theo Epstein has said that, ideally, the plan for the rotation is to add a front-line starter and another pitcher who fits into the rotation, probably third or fourth.  The front-line starters are pretty easy to identify.  Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields are going to be the best available.  The early favorite has to be Lester, because of his Red Sox ties to the front office, in addition to not having a qualifying offer attached to him after being traded this summer.  He’s going to command a heavy contract, but the Cubs will have money to spend.  They can afford him, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t push hard to get him.  Scherzer is another player who is going to command a heavy price, and the Cubs will likely check in on him, too.  He would cost the Cubs a second round pick, but that is collateral damage to the money they would have to spend to get him.  James Shields would cost the same draft pick, but will likely cost significantly less money than Lester or Scherzer.  There is a scenario where it is possible the Cubs go after one of Lester or Scherzer and Shields, but it seems unlikely.  More likely candidates that the Cubs pursue this winter include Brandon McCarthy, Jason Hammel, Francisco Liriano, and Justin Masterson.  Those are players who likely fit into shorter, less expensive contracts that fit the “not selling out” model Epstein discussed for this off-season.

We have arrived at the point we’ve been waiting for since Theo Epstein was brought over from Boston.  Even though this off-season is not going to be like the splashy winter before the 2007 season, it will be one that dictates the immediate competitive value of the Cubs.  This team is stocked tightly with very talented young players in the field and in the bullpen.  The rotation has some very nice pieces to build around, like Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks.  This winter is going to be about complimenting those pieces.  Fortifying the starting rotation while the young hitters grow is going to be the priority this winter, while the hitters that get added are veteran players who have a solid work ethic and can show the young players how to prepare to play at the MLB level everyday.  Fortunately for us, as a fan base, we love those players…maybe a little bit too much.  In the end, this off-season is about adding players who will bring consistency to the club.  That consistency, along with the growth of the young players, can make 2015 the most competitive season the Cubs have had since 2008.

 

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  • I certainly can't agree that pitching was not the issue in the second half of 2014. Jackson and Wood didn't go into the toilet for lack of run support. The Cubs lucked out on Arietta, but that's about all they have for a rotation.

    On the other hand, I discussed with Rice that the Cubs have (or will have by May 15) all of the position pieces, except for LF or C, depending on where Schwarber ends up.

    But does Theo have the money for the three FO pitchers you mentioned, because he is going to need the equivalent of at least that.

  • In reply to jack:

    The money is there per this previous blog...

    http://www.chicagonow.com/world-series-dreaming/2014/07/cubs-free-agency-speculation/

    The fun thing is that even with your trepidation about the pitching and even with all that financial flexibility, they DON'T HAVE TO spend everything. There are a lot of directions the Cubs can go. So spending on only one pitcher this offseason doesn't mean they're not being serious considering who else comes on the market for 2015-2016.

  • In reply to Rice Cube:

    The headline was "2015."

    McCarthy, Liariano, Hammel again, and Masterson are not going to make them competitive in 2015.

    As far as the money, only Ricketts knows if it really exists.

  • In reply to jack:

    Being competitive means that they have a chance of winning the division or at least getting into the wild card chase. I think sneaking some extra wins via improved performances will go towards that. 73 wins in 2014, need about 85-90 next year, so there are any number of ways that can grab 12ish wins without having to blow the bank, especially if Ricketts has no money since we can't see his books ;-)

  • Lets first get to 500........then we work on winning a playoff spot.

  • Between now and the Cubs Convention, the Cubs have to make a major move, or there will be lots of booing........unless we hear Kerry Wood coming back to pitch.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Doesn't Kerry Wood still have Kerry Wood injury?

    BTW, the famous surgery Tommy John had has apparently been renamed "Patrick Mannelly's Father-in-law Surgery," at least on 670 between 9 and 1.

    However, the impression I received is that anyone who is going to pay for the Cubs Convention isn't going to boo, even if Edwin Jackson is the keynote speaker (as opposed to someone on Cubs Den just saying to banish him).

  • In reply to jack:

    Banish who?

    Also, if they paid the money, they can do whatever they want within reason. That doesn't mean that others can't treat that fan with disdain because he boos.

  • In reply to Rice Cube:

    The only antecedent in the sentence is "Edwin Jackson," unless we are going to go all legal composition and say "the aforesaid Jackson."

    But the main point is that nobody is going to pay big bucks to go to the Cubs Convention to boo, as opposed to worship at the shrine of Theo and his plan.

  • In reply to jack:

    They boo if they want. They booed Alfonso Soriano and I'm sure they'll find someone else to boo. Fans gonna fan.

  • In reply to Rice Cube:

    At the convention?

  • Oh yeah. Very silly, but they paid for the ticket.

  • What do you think about adding Panda to play third and shifting Bryant to left.. Or as an alternative add Heyward in 2016 for left while Bryant mans third.
    2016
    Alacantra cf
    Schwarber catcher
    Bryant 3b
    Rizzo. 1b
    Solar. Rf
    Heyward LF
    Castro ss
    Baez or Russell 2b

  • In reply to Trey Mcfreakin Nut:

    I think you avoid Panda at 3B given his body type and the fact that he'll become pretty expensive in short order, and the money should be prioritized towards pitching.

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