Chicago Cubs: Top Five Offseason Priorities
What do the Chicago Cubs need to do to continue their success?
The Chicago Cubs have won their first World Series since 1908. They made the NLCS in back-to-back years. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done an excellent job of rebuilding the club with great draft picks and trades and then using free agency to help add to the team in spots.
They led wire-to-wire and can finally say goodbye to goats, black cats and Bartman. (Steve Bartman should throw out the first pitch Opening Day.)
Once you climb that mountain and have that target on your back, it’s hard to keep that success sustained. Not everyone can be like the Yankees and stay above .500 every season in recent years.
So what do the Cubs need to do in order to keep this great run going? Here are five things that the Cubs should make a priority this offseason.
Fix Jason Heyward
Last offseason, the Chicago Cubs gave Jason Heyward an eight-year deal worth $184 million. They even threw in an opt-out after 2018 when it seems like the entire baseball world is going to be a free agent.
Heyward with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015 put up respectable numbers. A .293 average with a .797 OPS, his highest average and OPS since 2012. He also won a Gold Glove.
That big contract is shaping more into a big albatross for the Cubs. Heyward has turned into a $184 million pinch-runner and defensive replacement in the postseason. During the season, he hit just .230 with a career worst .631 OPS. He lost his starting outfield job to Jorge Soler and Chris Coghlan during the playoffs.
“By no means has anyone given up on him,” he said. “He just needs to clear his mind a little. When this is all (over), he’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but the truth. If the Cubs are going to continue to be pennant contenders, Heyward needs to step his game up offensively. Otherwise, he’ll just be a sunk cost.
Figure out the closer
Coming into this season and for most of it, Hector Rondon was the Cubs’ closer. Then came the big deadline move for Aroldis Chapman to help lengthen it. All Chapman did was save 16 games, pitch to a 1.01 ERA and strike out 46 batters in 26.2 innings. No big deal.
The Cubs need to figure out what they are going to do for a closer next year. Re-sign Chapman? Try and sign Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon? Make a play for Wade Davis from the Royals? Re-install Rondon at closer?
Rondon saw his ERA jump almost a full two runs this year after a 30-save season in 2015 with an ERA of 1.67. Rondon’s BABIP against only went up three points this year, but his opponents’ BAA went up 13 points.
Melancon won’t cost a pick. Jansen would. Davis would cost more assets after giving up some to get Chapman from the Yankees before the deadline.
Nonetheless, it’s important to figure out.
Trade Jorge Soler for other needs
It’s time for the Cubs to cash in on Jorge Soler and get pitching for him. Whether it’s guys for the bullpen next year or pitching prospects for a rotation with some age on it, Soler can get them a return.
Jake Arrieta could leave in free agency. Jason Hammel and John Lackey are both getting up there in age. The Cubs don’t really have any arms that could take those spots in the next year or two if they had to. Maybe Mike Montgomery could, but the Cubs have to decide whether he should start or relieve.
Soler will just be 25 years old next year and would cost a team a little over $8 million for the next two years. Soler can opt out of the final two years and into arbitration. Soler has all kinds of power and talent but there doesn’t appear to be a spot for him in Chicago.
Time for the front office to cash in this chip.
Lock up Jake Arrieta long-term
Jake Arrieta revived his career in Chicago after the Cubs got him in a trade from Baltimore. It’s time to give him a contract that will net him the ability to buy a whole ton of khakis.
Arrieta is going into his final year of arbitration. He should get himself a nice raise from the $10.7 million he got this year. Arrieta will turn 31 in March. He’s won a Cy Young award and been an All-Star.
He doesn’t have the mileage on his arm that other starers his age might. He’s hit the 200 inning mark between playoffs and regular season over the past two years, but before that the most he had was 156. Arrieta takes care of himself and should be able to last longer than other players who get long-term deals.
They could pull off giving him a six-year deal and make him one of the highest-paid pitchers in the game. He deserves it and it would give the Cubs one less thing to think about moving forward when their young core will start to get a little more pricey.
Start to think about extensions for the core
After 2017, the young, cheap core the Cubs have are going to get a bit expensive. Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell and Javier Baez will be first-time arbitration eligible. Kyle Schwarber will be after 2018. These guys are why the Cubs are where they are and they may want to try and lock them up early so they don’t have to worry about it down the road.
Not that the Cubs need it, but they also have another wave of guys coming. Jeimer Candelario is on the 40-man. Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez are getting closer. Mark Zagunis may be an option next year if there is an injury in the outfield, on top of Almora and Soler if they are still on the team.
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Pitching is on the way, too, in guys like Dylan Cease and Duane Underwood. The Cubs should figure out which young guys they feel they absolutely have to have and try and lock them in or figure out which young pieces might be of use in a trade for a need elsewhere.
The Cubs are in a great spot for now and in the future, something that Theo Epstein and the brain trust wanted. The fruits of that labor are going to pricey and the Cubs should think about that and instead of dipping into a weak free agent class, use their money to keep the gang together.