This is something baseball fans, who can become emotionally attached very easily, come to hate. Several of the 2015 Cubs, guys who were – if not delivering huge home runs, or throwing lights-out baseball from the mound – part of the overall feel and makeup of the team.
The most significant departure of 2016 is no doubt shortstop turned second baseman Starlin Castro, who was traded to the New York Yankees. Cubs fans had a love-hate relationship with Castro in 2015, where he showed streaks of brilliance, but was prone to errors, and was inconsistent early on at the plate. He performed well after the switch to second base, but was moved in a series of trades that allowed super utility man Ben Zobrist to be signed, and RHP Adam Warren to be added to the bullpen.
Last year’s leadoff man and sheriff of center field, Dexter Fowler, declined his qualifying offer and hit free agency, leaving a gap both at the top of the lineup and out beyond second base and shortstop. Fowler was an on-base machine, a switch-hitter, stole 23 bases, and was Joe Maddon’s catalyst. “You go, we go,” Maddon said.
Another familiar face in the outfield who contributed constantly, and will be missed is Chris Denorfia. Both Fowler and Denorfia remain unsigned free agents, in Fowler’s case largely due to being tied to the sacrifice of a draft pick. Wherever they end up, I know Cubs fans wish them well.
Jonathan Herrera, who stepped in at a variety of infield positions while raising team spirits with his head-rubbing antics, will be missing in 2016. Also gone are late season acquisitions Fernando Rodney and Tommy Hunter, who saw some action in late relief, Jason Motte, who was a prominent part of the high-energy “feel” of the team in 2015, Dan Haren, who retired after coming to the team at last year’s trade deadline to finish out his final season, and starting pitchers James Russell and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Overall, this is a group that provided a lot to a young team. Several of these losses would be bad if they were just that – losses. If we make addressing those losses the first “grade,” let’s look at how the Cubs front office handled it. We’ll call departures a pass, on a pass-fail basis until we see how it plays out in acquisitions.