After coming up short against the Dodgers in the NLCS, the Cubs realized they would have to make changes to compete with the impressive team in Los Angeles. The 3-1 series loss included poor hitting approaches and horrible pitching out of the bullpen by Cubs hitters and relievers. The bullpen is going to be a priority this winter. Adding to the question marks is the starting rotation, which was pretty solid throughout the regular season and postseason. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are both free agents, and the Cubs will be tasked with replacing 40% of the rotation. So, how can the Cubs remain at the top of the NL Central and compete for another World Series?
The Cubs have been connected to pitchers on both the free agent front and trade market. As far as the free agent market is concerned, I don’t believe the Cubs should pursue a reunion with Arrieta or go after Yu Darvish. With Jon Lester already on the club on an expensive contract, I wouldn’t want $50+ million a year locked up into two starting pitchers in their mid-30s. However, there are two other free agent pitchers who are “second-tier” type guys. Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn would be very good 4th starters on this Cubs ball club. They’d both come at a much lower cost too, somewhere around 4 years, $60 million. For the 5th spot in the rotation, the Cubs could turn to 1 year buy-low stopgaps, such as Chris Tillman or Jhoulys Chacin.
I’d much rather the Cubs go that route than trading for a controllable starter, but if Theo and Jed prefer to acquire a pitcher like that (Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, Michael Fulmer), look for Javier Baez and/or Ian Happ to be shopped. Baez hasn’t shown the adjustments that the Cubs would’ve liked to see yet, and Happ gained a lot of value this year by hitting 20+ home runs and showing defensive versatility. Many fans probably would prefer Kyle Schwarber or Addison Russell to be dealt, but with both coming off subpar years, their value isn’t as high as last offseason. The Cubs organization didn’t groom all these young position players to sell them low.
The Cubs bullpen walked a ton of guys in 2017 and struggled mightily in the playoffs. In order to regain their World Series form, they have to have a dominant bullpen. Although the front office has shown hesitance in giving big money to relievers in the past, I’d look for them to retain Wade Davis. The organization thinks the world of him, and, unlike last offseason, the bullpen is a major point of emphasis for the Cubs. I predict Davis will receive a contract near Mark Melancon’s last year (4 years, $62 million). In addition to Davis, the Cubs will probably need at least 2 other relievers to go with Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, Justin Wilson, and Mike Montgomery. Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm are still possibilities, but don’t be surprised if they’re both non-tendered. I like Jake McGee and Brandon Kintzler to fill these last two openings.
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