After winning 97 games and falling four games short of winning their first pennant since 1945, the Chicago Cubs have shown this offseason that they are not content with just making it to the playoffs in 2016. They are trying to capture a World Series championship that has eluded them for over a century.
This past week, the Cubs, after persuading former St. Louis Cardinals starter, John Lackey, to join them on the North Side and signing the versatile Ben Zobrist, they convinced mega free agent Jason Heyward to ditch his Cardinal red for Cubs blue to help them try to win it all in 2016. Of course when a team is offering you eight years and a 184 million reasons over that time span to play with them, it makes the choice a little bit easier.
Now that the Cubs have filled out their rotation, added one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball, and have arguably the best utility man in the game, what is the next move the Cubs brain trust should make?
Looking at the Cubs’ current roster there are not many holes left to fill. There are, though, still a few places that they could use an upgrade. The bullpen is the biggest area of concern.
Last year they did feature the eighth best bullpen in baseball, but went through quiet a few arms. Phil Coke, Fernando Rodney, Tommy Hunter, and failed starters Edwin Jackson and Trevor Cahill all spent time pitching in relief for Joe Maddon. Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm were the most consistent arms for the Cubs, but it wouldn’t hurt to add some depth around them.
Cahill was recently signed for another year, while Strop, Rondon and Grimm will all be back as well. But one more dominate arm at the back end of the bullpen could be what puts them over the top.
Looking at the free agent pool, most of the top-tier relievers are gone. There are some potential diamonds in the rough. Tyler Clippard and Jason Frasor are a couple of names that come to mind. Of course with the amount of organizational depth the Cubs feature, they could easily make a trade for a top arm if they choose.
Looking elsewhere, centerfield is another area of concern. Wait. What? The Cubs just spent $184 million on one. Well, not necessarily. Heyward has only logged 233 innings in centerfield over his career and did post positive results in UZR and DRS during his short stints in center. But why would the Cubs want to move Heyward from right where he has won three Gold Gloves, ranks among the top 10 in assists, putouts and has saved more runs than any outfielder in baseball over the last four years?
The Cubs have plenty of options in free agency if they wanted to make a platoon out in center. They could bring back Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson, or make a bid for free agent center fielders such as Drew Stubbs, Rajai Davis or Denard Span. Offense isn’t really a top priority for this signing, defense is. As stated before, Heyward is as good as it gets in right. With Kyle Schwarber still learning how to play left field, it is imperative that the Cubs feature a good defensive center fielder to help make up for the lack of range and defensive ability Schwarber features.
Last but not least, it might not hurt to add one more starter. Being able to pencil in the reigning Cy Young Jake Arrieta, and the outstanding southpaw Jon Lester, is a great way to start any pitching staff. The addition of Lackey has added even more depth to a strong top of the rotation for the Cubs. Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks were good back-end-of-the-rotation guys, but one more proven starter could help the Cubs in two ways.
With the addition of another starter, the Cubs could use Hendricks as a swing man. He could be the answer to help add some depth to the bullpen while being able to help fill in the rotation if a starter gets hurt or they need someone to start on short notice.
The Cubs have gone from a team that could be good in the future, to a team that might be the best in the National League. With their recent acquisitions and their young, controlled core, the Cubs fans might not have to wait till next year anymore.