Tuesday, 24 October:
Brace yourself, Cub fans. Change is coming.
This comes from no less than team President Theo Epstein, who has weighed in on this subject. He said there ‘comes a time when you have to tap your depth’. Translation:
There will be new faces in Wrigley Field next year. The conventional wisdom, much of it pushed by a fairly clueless local media, is that the Cubs will just add all sorts of pitching -their current obsession is Chris Archer- while keeping the players who represent the ‘core’.
They seem very eager to trade Ian Happ, less so on Kyle Schwarber.
However, while the slugging Schwarber, a man really without a position will be dealt, Ian Happ would be far less likely. Now, barring the ‘blockbuster’ trade, where all bets are off, going man for man, Happ would more likely survive.
So, too might Albert Almora, Jr.
Cubsquest will go over the list of those most likely to stay. Let’s start with the easy ones.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are going nowhere. Simply put, you can’t replace them with anything better, so why even go there? Bryant will move from third base, it could be as soon as next season but it will occur. Rizzo is one of the finest defensive first baseman in the game and a solid run producer.
They will continue to be the face of the team.
However, the team has a major problem, and it isn’t just an aging pitching staff or thin bullpen. It’s actually more systemic. The chain of right handed swing and miss types. Starting with their franchise player, Kris Bryant.
He struck out 128 times this year. That is a marked improvement, and with his 95 walks he is entering the truly elite ranks with a .946 OPS. But he has swing and miss in his game. Since he isn’t going anywhere, the list now narrows to Willson Contreras.
Contreras, who Cubsquest isn’t as bullish on defensively as his local media fanbase, has developed into a solid offensive presence. But his 377 at bats contained 98 strikeouts. 45 walks showed a developing patience, but he is still somewhat contact challenged.
The Cub brass seem to be all in on him as a catcher; even if his erratic defense cost them games both down the stretch and in the postseason. He, too, is going nowhere.
Number three would be Albert Almora, Jr. He’s ranked higher here over the remaining right handers because he is the most complete baseball player on the team. He has a legitimate four tool repertoire- like the rest of the team he doesn’t have exceptional speed- but his defense is so superb, and his improvement in other aspects of the game so dramatic, that they may very well build around him in center.
He did strike out 53 times in 399 at bats, which while not prolific, is substantial. But he did hit .298, and was one of the best guys in the post season.
It would take a very special deal to pry him loose. He is ‘not likely’ to be moved.
Then you have Javier Baez. Easily the most controversial player on the team, he has both amazing upside and abysmal downside. On defense, he has re-written what second base play should look like. Just his tags alone make a highlight reel.
He can also play short, and there are those who think he will eventually move to third. Perhaps.
But his sheer versatility as a player makes his 144 whiffs in 469 at bats acceptible, so he, too, will most likely be kept. This leaves the most obvious move.
Addison Russell. Russell, who is a terrific athlete and a fine defensive shortstop, he is the proverbial ‘bridge too far’. A low average hitter anyway (.240 career), his 91 K’s in only 352 at bats makes him THE most likely of the ‘swing and miss’ types to be dealt.
Russell, who has 30+ home run potential, is cheap and young would be a tantalizing piece in any deal. The Cubs don’t even really have to get a shortstop in return, or at least not a starter. Baez can play there until they solve the issue.
To sum it up, the team cannot put five right handed swing and miss types in a row out there and hope to win consistently. They didn’t this season, as opponents stacked their rotations to make sure Chicago faced their best right handed hurlers.
It wasn’t until they became more balanced playing the clutch left handed bat of Alex Avila down the stretch that they won consistently. So, while they need to address the pitching issue, it’s the offense that is a major concern.
Expect it to be addressed…
Pitching, and the Jake Arrieta/Wade Davis conundrum.