Last week, the Milwaukee Brewers lit up the Hot Stove and made the National League even more intriguing. Acquiring Marlins’ outfielder Christian Yelich and signing the Royals’ Lorenzo Cain, to go alongside Domingo Santana, the Brew Crew have put in place a dynamite outfield, not to mention the presence of Ryan Braun.
After winning 86 games last season, one can’t help but envision Milwaukee playing in the postseason in 2018. In order to prevent that from transpiring and being surpassed in the division, president Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs have to make a move (or two) to reassure their dominance in the NL Central.
Yes, the Cubs just made it back to the NLCS for the third consecutive season and won the NL Central for the second straight year. But as currently constructed, they’re not a lock to win the division.
While manager Joe Maddon and the Cubs do have the luxury of having one of MLB’s most potent lineups — which features the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ –, as well as Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana at the top of their rotation, their roster has its holes at the moment.
With their ace, Jake Arrieta, and outfielder Jon Jay up for grabs on the free agent market and closer Wade Davis already off to the Colorado Rockies, the Cubs, on paper, would not be as much of a threat going into Training Camp as they’ve been in recent memory. Fortunately for Chicago, in what’s one of the slowest moving free agent periods in MLB history, many big fish remain on the open market — including their own free agents; it’s matter of the Cubs actually going forth with making a big move.
If and when Arrieta signs elsewhere, the Cubs could shift their attention to a number of free agent righties. One name that’s been linked, at will, to the Cubs is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yu Darvish. While he’s endured immense struggles in the postseason (surrendering eight earned runs in just 3.1 innings pitched in the 2017 World Series and giving up four home runs in a 2016 NLDS outing), the righty has pitched to a 3.42 ERA over the duration of his career and has posted three 200+ strikeouts seasons.
When Darvish has his command, he’s one of the more overpowering righties the game has to offer. If his price tag continues to fall, the Cubs could swoop in and sign Darvish to be their number two or three arm. Plus, they signed catcher Chris Gimenez — who was a preferred catcher of Darvish when he was on the Texas Rangers.
Other starting pitching options for the Cubs include the Tampa Bay Rays’ Alex Cobb and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Lance Lynn. Cobb (who’s pitched to a 3.50 ERA over the duration of his career) and Lynn (who’s pitched to a 3.38 ERA over the duration of his career) are both groundball pitchers and consistent. In addition to their attributes on the hill, both righties will likely come in at a significantly lower rate than Darvish and Arrieta.
When it comes to bolstering their bullpen and replacing Davis, Epstein has two premier options. One option is to sign Colorado Rockies’ closer Greg Holland. Converting 41-of-45 saves in 2017, Holland notched the NL Comeback Player of the Year award and re-invented himself as one of the more efficient closers in baseball. The other option for the Cubs is to acquire the Rays’ Alex Colome via trade.
Colome, the hard-throwing righty, hits the high 90s on his fastball and converted the most saves in MLB last season (47). The All-Star righty likely won’t come cheap based on him being under team control through 2020, but he would be Chicago’s instant solution in the ninth inning.
The Brewers have established a formidable outfield. With Yelich and Cain now in the fold alongside Santana, as well as Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and Braun, they have a lethal lineup in place for 2018. At the same time, their rotation is quietly one of the better units in baseball. Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson were key in the Brewers, as a whole, pitching to the ninth best ERA in MLB in 2017 (4.00). To add onto their offensive firepower and rotation’s production, the Brewers have signed reliever Matt Albers — who pitched to a 1.62 ERA in 61 innings pitched in 2017 — to a two-year deal and according to Robert Murray of FanRag Sports are “in discussions” and “very much in the mix” for Darvish.
Like the Brewers, the Cardinals have also pulled off a major trade this offseason. Acquiring Marlins’ left fielder Marcell Ozuna, they’ve added one of the better up and coming star hitters in MLB (Ozuna hit .312 in 2017, to go along with 37 home runs and 124 runs batted in) and have also been on the hunt for more upgrades. The Cubs? They’ve been relatively quiet.
The Cubs are the proven product and most successful team in the NL Central over the last three years, but they’re not a lock to win the division next season even with reinforcements. The Brewers have improved and pulled off the moves to legitimately be considered the frontrunner to win the division. And if they add Darvish, their chances will only skyrocket.
Whether it be retaining Arrieta, signing another starter, or finding a closer, the Cubs have to make a move. Sitting around and watching Milwaukee win the offseason while the Cardinals continue to work the phones is only making the competition in the division more fierce — which the Cubs do not want.