Cubs offseason preview: Future would be even brighter with another ace
(We will preview one team’s offseason each day leading up to the start of free agency. Now up: the Chicago Cubs.)
In the end, it turns out Marty McFly was off by at least a year. The Cubs won 97 games — the third highest-total in the majors this season — and made a fairy-tale run to the NLCS, but that’s where the magic ended . . . for now. The future is tremendously bright for the Cubs, who weren’t projected to be legitimate contenders until 2016 but arrived early in 2015.
Most of the pieces are in place for a long run of success, but the Cubs just have to figure out where many of those pieces fit best. With a strong front office, a tremendous tactician and motivator in manager Joe Maddon and a young offensive core that is the envy of just about every other franchise, there will be plenty more chances for the Cubs to end their World Series drought.
But there is some work to do. Three things the team must address this season:
1. Add another top-tier starting pitcher: For all the offensive talent the organization has developed, it has struggled to churn out top-notch pitching prospects. Therefore, the Cubs must open up the checkbook and again turn to the free-agent market. David Price or Zack Greinke should be the top target. Neither will come cheaply, but the Cubs have money to spend, especially with so much of their young talent still on incredibly inexpensive deals. (And there still might be enough cash left over to re-sign center fielder/leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler.)
Imagine Price or Greinke added to Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, with all of those young sluggers behind them. In that scenario, it becomes nearly impossible to imagine Chicago losing a five- or seven-game playoff series.
2. Find a permanent position for Kyle Schwarber: Maddon loves a versatile lineup, and it certainly has its perks. Obviously, Schwarber’s bat is so productive that he needs to be in the lineup every day. The slugger came through the minors primarily as a catcher and basically learned to play the outfield on the fly after arriving in the majors. Understandably, there were growing pains (see: ill-advised dive in Game 4 of NCLS), so if the plan is to keep him in left or right field, he needs to spend the offseason mastering the position(s).
Catcher Miguel Montero is signed through the 2017 season, and David Ross is under contract through 2016. That makes it highly unlikely Schwarber will be behind the plate next season. And Anthony Rizzo is entrenched at first base. So that leaves a corner outfield spot for Schwarber.
3. Decide on a second baseman: It’s clear that Addison Russell is the shortstop of the future, meaning that’s one fewer spot for Starlin Castro and Javier Baez to start. Chicago used seven players at second base this season, including Castro and Baez. A platoon featuring those two and Chris Coghlan is possible, but it’s more likely that one player will get the bulk of the playing time — and that Castro and/or Baez will be trade bait this offseason.
Neither the 25-year-old Castro nor 22-year-old Baez is a finished product and both still have holes in their swings, but they also have enough upside to interest plenty of teams. Chicago can deal from a surplus here and still have plenty of depth at the position.