The Chicago Cubs have become America’s team over the past season. After winning 98 games a season ago and making it to the National League Championship Series, Joe Maddon’s team seemed to be the top destination for many free agents this winter. The Cubs imported Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, Jason Heyward, and surprisingly re-upped with Dexter Fowler after many thought that the outfielder had a three-year deal with the Orioles earlier in the week.
Many publications are making the North Siders as the favorites to win the World Series, with USA Today predicting them to finish the regular season with 101 wins. While, like everybody else, I would love to see the Cubs win the World Series for the first time since 1908, people need to calm down when it comes to this team in 2016.
My first reason for this is what happened in the NLCS against the New York Mets. The Cubs never had a lead once in the four game series, and their offense that everybody loves is to blame. This lineup led all of baseball a season ago with 1,519 strikeouts.
They did bring in Zobrist, who rarely strikes out and will help the team in that department. But everybody loves Kris Bryant (199 strikeouts, second in baseball) and Addison Russell (149, eighteenth). Dexter Fowler was a nice addition as he is an actual center fielder. But he also struck out 154 times, eleventh in baseball. That is three guys who finished in the top twenty in all of baseball in strikeouts a season ago. Put that lineup against a Mets pitching staff that feasts on this approach and the Cubs frankly never had a chance.
Another reason is that recently, the team that “won” the offseason are generally not very successful. Just last season, the Cubs just need to look to their south to find the White Sox, who added Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson. They finished 76-86 and came in fourth place. The Boston Red Sox threw $90+ million at Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval only to watch them both perform at below replacement levels and finished in last place at 78-84. The San Diego Padres added Craig Kimbrel, James Shields, Matt Kemp and Wil Myers. The team finished 74-88. Neither team came close to a postseason scenario. In baseball, the team that everybody considers to be the “favorite” just never meets their expectations.
The Cubs also need to play guys in the proper position. Bringing Fowler back helps their case here because Heyward shifts back to right field, where he is at his best and could actually be worth $184 million over 10 years (most baseball players are not worth what they are paid). He would not have been as good playing center field and Fowler is still a strong defender up the middle.
But as long as Kyle Schwarber is playing left field so they can “get his bat in the lineup,” just no. They have enough “bats” in their lineup. Schwarber is not an outfielder. They need to develop him as a catcher, where he belongs and has the most value. Let somebody who can play left field play left field. Schwarber was a liability in the NLCS and frankly looked lost in the outfield. The best teams do not throw guys out of position to get bats in the lineup and it especially seems to haunt teams in short postseason series (Daniel Murphy). Teams that have become perennial October threats in recent years (Royals, Cardinals, Giants, Pirates) take pride in their defense as well as a balanced offensive approach. This is where the Cubs want to be, and they need to let Schwarber develop behind the plate, no matter how ready his bat may be. Riding the Indiana product in left will likely prove to be a liability.
Jake Arrieta had one of the best half-seasons of all-time. Heck, it may have been the best. There is no chance he does that again. Throughout his career prior to 2015, he was 34-32 with an ERA of 4.48 and an ERA+ of 90. An ERA+ of 100 is league average. He has basically been a below average starting pitcher prior to last season. Yes, players all progress at their own rates and sometimes it takes one season for something to click and have it all come together. But I do not anticipate another season with an ERA+ higher than the number of innings that he throws. I also think Jon Lester has seen his best days behind him and that will be a contract they come to regret sooner rather than later. I do not expect John Lackey to be the same pitcher outside of St. Louis. There is something about that place where pitchers just take it to another level. Kyle Hendricks had an ERA last year of near 4.00, and Jason Hammel has a career ERA of 4.50. Neither of them are anything special. Hector Rondon is a solid closer, but that really all I see out of this bullpen. I really do not think this is a very good pitching staff, which people seem to be overlooking because everybody loves the all-or-nothing offense so much.
More likely than not, this will eventually be the team that shatters the curse of the billy goat (ironically named Murphy) and sees the Cubs win their first World Championship in over a century. The Cubs were so good a season ago and made so many moves this offseason that I think their expectations are going to be insanely high that it will be nearly impossible for them to be met. Unless they win the World Series, which they won’t, 2016 will be considered to be a failure by many.
So go easy on that Cubs Kool-Aid because it will likely be a disappointing 2016 for what seems to be “America’s new team.”