After a choke of an ending to the Chicago Cubs 2019 season, a popular question is going to be how to right the ship. Do the Cubs need to find the proverbial missing piece to get back on top? Or is a more serious overhaul needed? There are needs on offense, defense, the bullpen, and even the starting rotation. We'll begin to tackle this question today.
What should the overall plan be for the Cubs this offseason?
Rebuild the offense with a couple of key players. Nick Castellanos transformed the Cubs lineup at times with a ridiculous amount of extra-base hits in the middle of the lineup. I thought the Cubs lineup was pretty good, but BSN showed us what the true potential can be. The lineup also needs a legitimate leadoff hitter. Unfortunately, it's been a black hole at times, with Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, among others seeing their stats plummet after being given shots to lead off. I'd love to see a contact hitter with a little power and disruptive speed, but am not sure that player is available. The middle infield is a need potentially unless you think Hoerner's 100% ready.
The rotation is fairly set already, with Quintana, Lester, Hendricks, and Darvish. I'd like to move on from Cole Hamels, unless an offseason of rest can fix his mechanics and he's willing to signs a 1 year 10 million or less deal. Otherwise, a competition between Chatwood, Mills, and some other option could be enough. It seems like it is tough to get a reliable starting pitcher from the free-agent market, and I'm not sure a Gerrit Cole would be worth the money. Lester's a year older and his days of leading the rotation appear to be done. But I still bring him back almost exclusively because of the attitude.
The bullpen...Honestly, I have no idea. You are committed to Craig Kimbrel at closer, but part of me wants to trade him just to start over from this year's disaster. Relief Pitchers have a short shelf life, but Kimbrel was a legend not that long ago. We can speculate how the late signing and no spring training hurt him, but I can't just write off a 6.53 ERA and 4 HR/9 because he was unable to get himself prepared to pitch this season. So, unfortunately, the Cubs need to be in the market for another closer. You can't put all faith in Kimbrel being the guy next year. Besides him, I think the Cubs found a lot of spare parts they can bring back next year for a decent start to the pen: Kintzler, Wick, Wieck, Ryan, and Phelps. Plus Mills, Maples, and Norwood showed flashes as AAA depth. It makes me sad to say, but I think Strop is done. Cishek I'm back and forth on, as his mileage is dangerous to rely on going forward.
I'm making big changes because if you just change up the bit players then you're left with essentially the same lineup as the last 4 years and that's not working.
Step 1: Re-sign Castellanos
Step 2 <Extreme The Show voice>Trade Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Quintana, and Brailyn Marquez for Francisco Lindor and Brad Hand.</Extreme The Show voice>
Step 3: Re-sign Kintzler
Step: Re-sign Strop and Holland to team-friendly deals
Step 4: Sign lower-tier FA SP like Goo, Pineda or even MadBum or Kluber (if he becomes FA) to fill Q's slot.
Step 5: Let NerdAlert and Secret Boyfriend fight for the 5 spot.
Step 6: Sign Zo and Starlin Castro as backups.
Step 7: Profit, WS.
Rizzo, Castellanos, KB, Lindor, Baez, Schwarber, Heyward, Caratini Yu, SadKyle, Lester, FA SP, NerdWood winner. Kimbrell (CP), Hand (SU), Wick (SU), Kintzler, Wieck, Ryan, and last spot goes to the winner of (Strop, Holland, Underwood, Norwood, and NerdWood) 'loser'.
Realistic? Maybe not, but you asked.
First, let's talk about what we have. Right now, the position player core sits at Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras, Schwarber and yes, Russell. We can't act like Addison doesn't exist, as much as we might like to. This offseason, though, he must go. Keeping him on the team was a mistake even if you only look at it from a baseball perspective--a .237/.308/.699 slash line isn't going to play at 2B. Sure, the Descalso signing was an epic failure, but non-tendering Russell and finding another middle infielder to complement Baez would've been a much better use of those funds, and that's not even considering the distraction factor he brought to the squad. Non-tendering or trading Russell needs to be a priority move. If you think you're looking for a stop-gap until Nico Hoerner is ready, then perhaps trying to pick up someone like Scooter Gennett on a friendly deal would be the way to go (unless Zo wants to come back. Come back, Zo!).
As for the problem in the outfield, if I'm Thed I try my best to get creative and find a way to make a deal for Mookie Betts. Even if it means moving Willson Contreras plus a few prospects to the Red Sox, I'd get it done. Why? Mookie would solve so many problems in the Cubs line-up. He's a premier off-speed pitch hitter--he can handle sliders better than almost anyone in MLB, which is a huge weak spot for the current group. He'd also solve that lead-off problem and allow the GLHOAT to move back down in the order. And while I adore Willy, catcher is probably the one position where the Cubs have ample depth in the system, and Caratini has shown he is a starting-caliber backstop with a legit bat. Even better if you can move Heyward and re-sign Castellanos, moving Mookie to CF. Then your line-up becomes Betts, Schwarber, Castellanos, Sparkles, Rizzo, Baez, Caratini, Hoerner (or Gennett/Zo). That's pretty, my friends.
Finally, there's the pitching. If there's one big money spend I'm making, it's trying to get Gerrit Cole. A Cole/Darvish/Hendricks front three would be pretty stinking dominant. Then I might be willing to pick up Quintana's option, then deal him, Happ, and/or Almora for bullpen help. The starting unit would round out with Lester and either Mills or Chatty.
Round this out with David Bote, Tony Kemp, and a few more bench depth adds (Brett Gardner, maybe?), and a veteran backup catcher (Mike wants Avila back, I heard), and we just might be getting somewhere.
I think the Cubs are just a few moves away from dominating the NL Central again and the moves they need to make aren't the biggest. First, Addison Russell can be shot into the sun. Second, I do think we see the team finally trade from the positional player core that they have developed. Third, there are some free agents that I would like to see them sign. Here is my order of things I think will happen.
Things that should have already happened: Russell is long gone from Wrigley.
1: See if they can trade Heyward. He has proven to be about average with the bat the past two seasons but he is now 30 years old which means his defense will most likely start to decline. I think the Cubs can package him with a Happ or Caratini and get something in decent value back without having to take on a hefty contract in exchange. Perhaps getting a CF who can leadoff or a big arm for the bullpen would be my hope.
2: As far as signing free agents go. Castellanos should be at the top of the list. Schwarber/Almora or Heyward return player/ Castellanos should give the Cubs enough offense without sacrificing too much defensively.
3: I don't think we see the Cubs spend big for another starting pitcher. Either they roll with what they have for the rotation with Chatwood as the fifth starter or they sign a guy like Wade Miley or Gio Gonzalez.
4: Fix the bullpen. Kimbrel, Wick, Wieck, and Ryan are the only guys I want to keep heading into next year (Kintzler may as well if the Cubs can't sign these other players). Chris Martin is numero uno on my list. Strikes guys out, throws fast, and doesn't walk many. Number 2 is Daniel Hudson as he is much like Martin although his advanced metrics show some signs of regression. Either way though he shouldn't cost too much. The third bullpen piece I would want to see the Cubs try and sign is Will Smith. He dominated lefties and did alright against righties.
Regardless on who the Cubs sign for the bullpen, it should definitely be an improved area compared to what we saw here in 2019.