Based on Joe Maddon’s comments and reports heard on ESPN 100 last week, the Chicago Cubs are not in on Bryce Harper. Maddon, when asked about the prized free agent, quickly shut down the possibility of Harper joining the Cubs saying ” it’s not going to happen.” In addition, Jim Bowden from SiriusXM’s “Inside Pitch” was on with with David Kaplan Wednesday morning and said that the Cubs were never engaged with Harper and the club will not be making a big splash in free agency. So with that being said, it looks like the Cubs current roster is what Theo Epstien and Jed Hoyer are going to roll with.
I think we forget that the Cubs won 95 games last year with just one win from Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow missing the stretch run of the season, and Kris Bryant missing 50 games. And the fact that they still managed 95 wins was a success in itself. But with the group of guys the Cubs have, we expected more. The Cubs are in the middle of a championship window and it’s full speed ahead for the 2019 season.
The Windy City Chronicle staff answers the tough questions about the Chicago Cubs.
Who did you want this offseason, outside of Manny Machado/Bryce Harper, that the Cubs did not sign?
Thomas Gibbons: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado would have been excellent additions. Talk about beefing up your lineup. But the Cubs have a tight payroll as it is and all signs point to the team making no more major moves this offseason. Outside of those two, I had my eyes set on Andrew Miller or Zach Britton as the Cubs could have used a bump in the bullpen. But the more I think about it, I’m ready to roll with this group.
Johnny Hatelak: Given the remainder of this free agent class is not where it once was, there aren’t a whole lot of guys I covet outside of Bryce Harper & Manny Machado. Zach Britton was way overpaid. So I would’ve passed on him too. Apparently, the Cubs aren’t in the printing money stage yet like the Yankees. Now, there is time to sign guys still so we’ll see. I want bullpen help. At least one more vet with a positive track record of success in high leverage situations. Craig Kimbrel is the guy for me. At 30 years old I’d front load the crap out of the contract and guarantee no more than 3 years. Still hoping he joins the Cubs. Imagine a backend of Pedro Strop, Brandon Morrow and Kimbrel with Carl Edwards Jr. as your fourth option. Cody Allen wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.
Alex Patt: I think it is best to address bullpen and backup catcher via free agency since Harper and Machado seem out. Martin Maldonado or former Cub Rene Rivera would be excellent options at backup catcher. Maldonado is one of the best defensive backstops in baseball and has played in 100+ games the past few years, showing he can take a bulk off Willy’s back. In terms of relievers: Tony Sipp, Dan Jennings, and Ryan Madson are all guys that I think are worth looking into who are left on the board.
Jovanny Santiago: The people I really wanted the cubs to sign were David Robertson, Zach Britton or even Andrew Miller. Either one of those guys I would’ve been happy With.
Do you believe Kris Bryant will return to MVP form?
TG: I truly believe Bryant will be up there with the best in the league this season. First off, he has had no setbacks this offseason. Second, he has gone back to his old swing with a one handed finish. It’s the old Bryant, the slugger we all came to love.
JH: Not a doubt in my mind. Not only that, I think he may be better. All reports say he has his old swing back and is highly motivated. I like the sound of that. I would like him to begin playing a corner outfield spot to save his back. Perhaps that’s on the Cubs minds for next season when a certain Colorado third baseman becomes available. Maybe they’re saving their money for that?
AP: If Kris Bryant is healthy, then he will be one of the best players in baseball again. We saw what he did in the early stages of 2018, he was hitting in the .290s and had an OBP around or over .400. He is too talented to just lose it all. His shoulder is certainly a concern, but if he is 100%, look for more elite numbers from him.
JS: I don’t think he can reach his old mvp form but I really think he can have an excellent season for the Cubs. I’m looking forward to seeing a healthy Kris Bryant this year.
What is the biggest strength/weakness of this club?
TG: The biggest strength of the Cubs has to be their versatility. They have multiple guys who can play all over the diamond and that bodes well for Maddon’s lineup style. We all know he likes to play the matchup and is not going to roll the same guys out there with the same batting order everyday. It’s not his style. In addition, I think the weakness of the club could be pitching if things so south due to injuries. The Cubs rotation could be one of the best in baseball if they stay healthy and click.
JH: By far the biggest strength is the roster’s defensive versatility. They have multiple players who can play multiple positions at or above replacement player level. This allows Cubs skipper Joe Maddon to base his lineups on matchup without worrying about getting bit in the ass defensively. With a deep and talented roster, this is a distinct advantage for the Cubs.
Their biggest weakness is age in their starting rotation. It can be very good given the unbelievable high leverage experience they possess. However, every year from here on out including this one could be the one vets like Cole Hammels and Jon Lester lose it or have a major injury due to overuse during the span of their careers. Also, Yu Darvish isn’t a young pup himself and coming off surgery. This rotation has a chance to be very good or a disaster. I tend to lean towards the former.
AP: Biggest strength is probably the infield. Having four All Star-caliber players in Rizzo, Bryant, Baez and Contreras play most days on that infield give you a lot of thump in the lineup and some very solid gloves. Don’t forget Ben Zobrist being part of that group as he plays pretty much everywhere. They are probably the unit that gives you the most production.
Biggest weakness is the pen, despite what Tom Ricketts and Joe Maddon say. Their closer Brandon Morrow is injured still, Carl Edwards has battled inconsistency while the talent is clearly there, Brian Duensing’s 2017 is looking more and more like a flash-in-the-pan, Brandon Kintzler had an off year in 2018 so who knows what 2019 will be–leaving really two reliable guys only right now in Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek. Going to need a lot more than that.
JS: The Strength of the Cubs is the starting rotation. I think this rotation can be one of the best in baseball.
I think the weakness of the cubs team has to be in the bullpen. Not having Brandon Morrow to begin the season is going to be tough. Strop did very well and he should be the closer after morrow gets back as well. Don’t forget about Steve Cishek, who is very reliable. They acquired Brandon Kitzler from Washington and he didn’t do so well but had some solid performances. Having a healthy Brian Duensing would be great for this cubs team as well. But I still think they need another piece. We will see what happens in the coming weeks.
When they get healthy, do you think the Cubs bullpen can be one of the best in the game?
TG: It’s very possible. We know what Brandon Morrow, Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and Carl Edwards Jr. can do when healthy and at the top of their game. These are going to be your core guys and guys you lean on this season. If these guys can lead the bullpen and close out games, the Cubs can easily win a 100 games in what some consider the best division in baseball.
JH: I do. Especially if they can develop their young prospects. I’ve already mentioned the top 3 but you’re only as good as your weakest link. It’s names like Adbert Alzolay, Duane Underwood, Jen-Ho Tseng that will have to ascend to pay a vital role in how well this entire rotation performs. As I mentioned above, age is a factor now so it will be helpful to keep their innings down by having your bullpen take control of a game with a lead from the 6th inning on. Competition will be tight however. Four of those spots will go to veterans such as Steve Cichek, Brian Duensing, Mike Montgomery and Brandon Kintzler unless they get clearly beat out. Add 5 starters along with Edwards, Strop and Morrow plus whatever FA vet they’re likely to add and that’s 12 spots. It’s doubtful they include a 13th pitcher.
AP: The Cubs bullpen is going to have some issues even if healthy the way it is. Sure the back end with Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. if healthy can be very, very good, there still needs to be depth added. Plus it is pretty clear Morrow will not be healthy to start the season. They simply need to add more depth. In this day and age you can never have enough bullpen arms. If they add reliable depth, then the Cubs can have one of the better bullpen in the National League. Probably another reliable righty and lefty.
JS: I think they can be the most underrated bullpen instead of one of best in the game.
The Cubs rotation is set. Can they be the driving force to another title? Who/What doubts do you have about the group?
TG: This group, to me, yells World Series. Jon Lester continues to defy father time and somehow keeps getting better. Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana are guys I’ve always liked and have shown us unreal performances. And Cole Hamels still have some life in his arm. Yu Darvish is my only concern, but he is on track to be ready for Opening Day and reports suggest he looks to be 100%. It’s worth repeating. The only thing that will stop the Cubs from taking over the division and winning another title is injuries.
JH: They can indeed be why they win another title or why they don’t. As a matter of fact, I believe it will be the reason. I feel the offense will bounce back. I’m counting on the further development of what is still a very young group of position players. I also like the fact the re-emphasis on launch angle and driving the ball for extra base hits will be reintroduced. Defensively, they are elite and among the best base running teams in all of Major League Baseball. Getting on base and situational hitting should improve just by the natural progression in these players development as they gain knowledge of the game and the pitchers they face as well as, how they are game planned and thus adjust their approach accordingly.
Getting back to the rotation I feel it’s going to be vital to keep them fresh. As I mentioned previously this is a rotation with age and millage on the wrong side of the line. The Cubs will have to rely on their depth and on guys like Montgomery, Underwood, James Norwood, Alex Mills and perhaps Justin Steele to pitch well when they are called upon to spot start and pitch at least 4-5 innings to keep the bullpen usage down. It’s about the post season after all, and you want these arms as fresh as possible after a grueling 162 game season.
AP: There are concerns about the rotation: Jon Lester’s age, Yu Darvish’s health, Jose Quintana finding his South Side consistency again…but on paper it is really good. They certainly can be a driving force based on talent alone and if Darvish returns to form as does Quintana, who had an overall solid 2018 despite a few bad outings ballooning his numbers, then it can be one of the best in the National League. Will it all come together is the question. We do not even need Lester putting up in-prime Lester numbers or Darvish going 200+ innings, as long as they put up good numbers then that will be big for the Cubs.
JS: Honestly, they can be a driving force to win another Title. The only doubt I have is health. And that has been the theme of this round table is health. Lets Go Cubs!