The Chicago Cubs will enter the 2017 season as the favorites to repeat, but they will do so with several significant roster changes. After all, not even the defending World Series champions can afford to bring everyone back. In addition to the retiring David Ross, Chicago is faced with the harsh reality of multiple free-agent losses.
Although the Cubs seem resigned to the fact that they can’t re-sign arguably their three most impactful free agents, they are well-positioned to withstand their losses. Those three players and how the Cubs plan to replace them:
The Cubs’ starting center fielder and leadoff man the past two season almost assuredly will play elsewhere in 2017 and beyond. Of course, that’s also what we thought last offseason after Chicago signed free agent Jason Heyward and before Fowler surprised his teammates be reporting to spring training on a one-year deal.
The champs are moving on without Fowler, however, and will use a combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center – sacrificing some offense but getting even stronger defensively.
Just two days after the Cubs’ World Series parade, they declined their $12 million option on Hammel for the 2017 season. That’s a fairly affordable contract, especially in an environment with starting pitching in such high demand. And let’s not forget that Hammel was a 15-game winner with a 3.83 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 2016. However, Chicago’s rotation is so deep and talented that Hammel never threw a pitch in the 2016 postseason.
Chicago can go the free-agent or trade route to find another No. 5 starter, or experiment with converting setup man Mike Montgomery back into a starter.
In 28 regular-season appearances after his trade from the Yankees, Chapman posted a 1.01 ERA and 0.83 WHIP for the Cubs while striking out 46 batters in 26.2 innings. He was less effective in the postseason (3.45 ERA) but still nailed down four saves and fanned 21 batters in 15.2 innings. However, he reportedly is seeking a massive six-year deal and wasn’t high on Chicago’s to-do list even before that.
The Cubs have an in-house replacement in Hector Rondon and could pursue other late-inning relievers (see: the Royals’ Wade Davis) in trades and free agency.