The Cubs have been busy this winter. They have made it evident that despite the fact they have made the NLCS four consecutive years, they need to do as much as possible to fend off competitors in the Central. Here is a look at their moves this offseason thus far:
Additions: RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Steve Cishek, RHP Brandon Morrow, LHP Drew Smyly
Lost: RHP Hector Rondon, RHP Wade Davis
Free Agents: RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP John Lackey, OF Jon Jay, C Alex Avila, LHP Brian Duensing
The Cubs’ competition is coming
Theo Epstein acknowledged during the winter meetings that the Cardinals have done a lot to improve their roster. He knows that they have lots of prospects to play with and the money to afford the big-name players. Their addition of Marcell Ozuna, along with another probable improvement to the roster, gives them the edge to make things a bit more competitive.
Surprisingly, the Milwaukee Brewers ended up being the Cubs toughest competition in the Central last year. What is tough to believe is that the Brewers had the lowest payroll in baseball last season. They have a young team and could only get better next year. Thus far, they have signed mostly pitchers, just like the Cubs. Chicago shouldn’t think last year was a fluke with the Brewers either. They should still be in the thick of things.
Are the pitching additions enough?
Cishek and Morrow are good improvements to the bullpen with the departures of Wade Davis and Hector Rondon. According to all of their performances last year, Cishek and Morrow had a better combined WAR than the former Cubs pitchers. The bullpen should be even better than their sixth ranked bullpen last year.
Looking at the Cubs’ lineup, it is hard to find better replacements for their offense than they already have. What they are banking on is a better season from some of their hitters. Chicago still had the fourth most runs in the majors last year, but their team batting average fell down to 16th.
Kyle Schwarber turned out to be a disappointing aspect of the Cubs season last year, despite the fact he hit 30 home runs. We are in an era now though where home run hitters are a dime a dozen.
Schwarber’s average was under .200 for a good amount of the season. This led to his demotion to the minor leagues where he was retooling his game. With the potential he has in his bat, the Cubs are going to look for more from him. If he does not show many improvements, he may be on the move before the end of next year, as there has been interest in him from other teams around the league. This will give them the opportunity to find another bat that may be on the market. Bryce Harper may be a name the Cubs could be interested in come free agency next year.
What will happen in 2018?
It is hard to believe the Cubs will not be able to hold onto their NL Central supremacy. St. Louis has been doing all they can to return to their perennial playoff contenders, as they want to compete right away. While the Brewers have not done as much, the team can still give the Cubs some trouble.
2017 was a year where the Cubs were not able to pull away from the competition nearly as much as they did in 2016. The question is, was that year as good as they are going to get? With how young the Cubs are and the potential they have on the roster, nobody would have told you they would take steps back. It is extremely difficult to repeat as World Series winners two years in a row, so it was not a surprise they were not able to return.
The race for the NL Central should come down to the wire in September. While the Cardinals may be able to pull into a few games of the Cubs, they should be able to repeat and get to the postseason once again.
One improvement the Cubs should make is another pitcher into the rotation. They added Tyler Chatwood, and Drew Smyly won’t be available until 2019. Mike Montgomery also wants to be figured into the rotation in Chicago.
The potential loss of Jake Arrieta could have a big impact on the team though. Watch for Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks to really carry the load to keep Chicago as a World Series contender.
Featured image by AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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