Anthony Rizzo, a leader and the voice of the locker room for the Chicago Cubs. Everyone rushes to get his take after a big win, a roster-altering trade, and of course, losing the NL Wild Card game.
“We’ve really flipped this culture here with the Chicago Cubs organization, said the Cubs first baseman. We fell short this year. It’s been a roller coaster for this team, it’s been a roller coaster for the fans and the city of Chicago. They’ve stayed behind us.”
Cubs fans have stayed behind this team. Did you hear the crowd Tuesday night? Electric the entire evening. The support for the Cubs will never go away. But expectations are higher than ever. Despite having one of the most talented rosters in major league baseball, they scored just two runs in 22 innings at Wrigley Field to close out the season. The bats went dead and fans left Wrigley Field for the final time this calendar year.
So what’s next? First off, Joe Maddon is not going anywhere. It was reported today by Jesse Rodgers of ESPN.com and confirmed by Theo Epstein that the Cubs will retain Maddon for the 2019 season. This should not come as a surprise. Maddon led the Cubs to a World Series Title, their first in 108 years while winning 92 or more games each year in Chicago. He’s the best of the best when it comes to managers in baseball and despite some controversial managerial moves, his resume speaks for itself.
Who else is out there anyway? Joe Girardi is the first name that everyone thinks about but why change course? The players love Maddon and he’s proven he can make it to the big stage consistently. With all the injuries this season, it’s a credit to Maddon for being able to accomplish what he did. Not all teams can be in the hunt for first in their division when you lose a starter (Yu Darvish) and one of your best players (Kris Bryant) for a long stretch of the season. But Maddon made it work and put the Cubs in the position to go to the NLDS, the players just did not do their part.
This is the golden age of Cubs baseball. When you talk about Rizzo, Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jon Lester, Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks, it’s a team that was built to win multiple titles and be one of the best teams in the league every year. And since Jon Lester and Joe Maddon got here in 2015, the Cubs have been that. They won the series in 2016 and have been to the NCLS twice outside ’16. They finished with the second-best record in the NL this year and 9th in the league in runs. It’s a fun time to be a Cubs fan and they will be back in the playoffs next season. Bryant will be healthy. Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow will be ready to go for the start of Spring Training in February. And for the rest of the squad, hopefully, they come back rested and with an edge. This team is too good to be sitting at home watching the postseason. They need to be in it every year making history and that will be the expectation held by every Cubs fan going forward.
The core is in place, but if the Cubs want to be a contender next season, they will need to addresses a couple things.
Free agent class: The Cubs have multiple players on the roster they have to decide on. Cole Hamels should be at the top of the list. I think it’s safe to say Hamels performed way better than everyone expected. He was lights out, posting a 2.36 ERA in 12 appearances with the Cubs after being acquired at the trade deadline. He looked liked his old-self and he would be a great 4/5 starter for the Cubs next season. The Tyler Chatwood experiment did not work out and Hamels proved he’s still go it. I expect him back.
Next, Jesse Chavez said after the wild-card loss that if he is not back next season with the Cubs, then he will retire. That speaks volumes to how much players enjoy being in the Cubs organization. The 34-year-old posted a remarkable 1.15 ERA in 32 appearances with the Cubs. He became one of the most relied on pitchers out of the bullpen for Maddon and had plenty of big moments. I’m sure the Cubs and Chavez could reach a deal because he would be a huge piece for the bullpen next season.
The Cub killer Daniel Murphy looked good in Cubbie blue. After years of hate, we found ourselves being the biggest fans of the 33-year-old veteran. Murphy contributed right away, hitting .297 with six home runs and 13 RBI’s. The longtime New York Met may be a liability in the field but there is no denying his power. I’d love to have Murphy back. I would not think he would be a starter on opening day, but that is one powerful weapon to have on the bench.
Lastly, Justin Wilson is scheduled to be a free agent. His time in Chicago is probably over. There were some bright spots but it really did not work out. He had a rough 2017 after being acquired from Detroit but settled down in 2018. But his inconsistencies probably lost him a bullpen spot. The 31-year-old lefty will sign with someone but count the Cubs out.
Who to chase?: There are two superstars hitting the market this offseason in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Generational talents and the ability to take a lineup from great to elite. It’s almost a guarantee that the Cubs will be linked to both of these players in the coming months. When you have the opportunity to grab a player of this caliber, you are going to pitch your franchise to them.
It’s hard to pick which one I would want. Both bring an extraordinary presence at the plate and power beyond belief. Harper would be a corner outfielder for years to come and Machado would compliment Baez and possibly the best middle infield in baseball. Then there is the financial aspect. Can the Cubs afford to make Harper a $400 million dollar man? Will Tom Ricketts approve? It’s hard to say.
I would want Machado to solidify the infield but Harper would make for a nasty middle of the batting order. Any chance we get both? HA, do not even think about it.
Then you look at the current roster. Are guys like Albert Almora Jr. and Kyle Schwarber going to be available for a trade? The Cubs could use a dominant, team-controlled reliever and Schwarber and Almora Jr. are intriguing names. Schwarber hit 26 home runs this season and Almora Jr. can be your starting center fielder with his fantastic defensive abilities and a career .289 average. If the Cubs were to land Harper, then Schwarber and Almora Jr. would definitely be shopped.
The Cubs are in a good spot. We know their core is built to contend every season and they have the ability to add another star to it. Their bullpen fell apart but their group next season could consist of Drew Smyly, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Jesse Chavez, Pedro Strop, Brandon Morrow, and Brian Duensing. Not bad. And a starting staff of Lester, Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Darvish, and Hamels could be one of the best in baseball.
See you next season Cub fans. Over and out.