Its November. Its chilly outside. What better time to talk about baseball. And next season we might be privileged enough to see something very rare indeed. The Chicago Cubs…as a contender(i’ll pause a moment to let you finish laughing).
Now that you got that out of your system let me explain. Do I expect the Cubs to we a legitimate World Series contender? No. But they might be a lot closer than most think. Let’s look at their current core. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are both proven all stars and both young as Rizzo is 25 and Castro is 24. Rizzo is a power hitter who is capable of 30-40 homers a season while batting above .280 and Castro is a prototypical 2 hole hitter who bats close to .300 and chips in 15-20 more home runs. Couple them with some vetran guys who can get on base like Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano in the outfield. Along with the all stars and the vets the Cubs have stock piled a host of top prospects. Javier Baez and Jorge Soler both saw time in the big leagues last season and both showed flashes 0f the skill that has them so highly regarded. Baez, 21, showed off his power hitting 9 home runs in his limited appearances. He needs to bring his sub par average up but the Cubs expect it to rise with more experience. Soler, 22, showed a ton of promise in right field in 24 games last season batting .292 with 5 homers. So what does a team with 4 of the top young players in baseball add? How about a 3rd base prospect who might be the piece that Chicago needs to have the best infield in the game. Last year in double and triple A, Kris Bryant batted .325 with 43 homers. When he gets the the call up next year the Cubs are looking at an infield of Rizzo, Baez, Castro, and Bryant. Not to mention they have a top shortstop prospect in Addison Russell. I think most teams would be ok with that.
The big question with the Cubs will be pitching. Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Travis Wood are all solid starters but the Cubs lack the ace they need. Here’s where it gets interesting. There are a few top pitchers hitting the free agent market this season and the Cubs have money. James Shields and Max Scherzer are both proven aces and while it is possible the Cubbies could land one of them, there is another name rumored around Wrigley Field. Jon Lester. Lester is another proven pitcher like Shields and Scherzer but unlike the other big fish in the market, Lester has history with Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein from their days in Boston. The Cubs appear to be the early favorites to land Lester and that would round out what would be a formidable starting rotation to go along with a bull pin that was serviceable last season. So the players appear to be there(especially in they land Lester) so what did Epstein do last week? Bring in a big time manager to call the shots. Joe Maddon is the man who made the Rays relevant, turning them from a joke of a franchise to a contender and an appearance in the 2008 World Series. So the pieces seem to all be there. It could just be a matter of putting them all together.
If their young guys develop the way Major League scouts expect and they are able to bring in an arm to the front of their rotation, the ” Lovable Losers” won’t be losing too much longer.