The Cubs followed their disappointing Wild Card exit in 2018 with the most eventful uneventful offseason of all time. Despite the fact that their Opening Day Roster will likely have at least 23 guys from last year, the eyes of the media found their way to Clark and Addison more than any of the Cubs would have liked.
First, team president Theo Epstein decided to tender a contract to controversial shortstop Addison Russell, who is currently serving a suspension under the domestic violence policy. Then came the release of racist emails from Joe Ricketts, the father of the owners of the team. Then came Tom Ricketts, despite Epstein’s pleas to improve the offense, claiming poverty instead of adding more bats.
They did add Daniel Descalso, formerly of the rival Cardinals, on a three-year deal. However, he is the only player the Cubs added to a roster which had the second most games of zero or one runs in 2018. While Descalso is a solid major league hitter, he is far from the high impact guy the Cubs seemed to need last year.
Daniel Descalso, IN THE CLUTCH…
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) September 2, 2018
Chicago actually scored more runs in 2018 than in 2017, but it wasn’t enough for hitting coach Chili Davis to retain his job. Davis couldn’t resist calling some of the Cubs’ star players out after he was let go, but the underlying point is that the Cubs offense clearly broke at the end of last year.
Kris Bryant missed a lot of time last year with a shoulder injury, but he doesn’t seem to have any sign of injury after raking in Spring Training. Bryant was off to an MVP-caliber start in 2018 before being hit in the head against the Rockies. Should he stay healthy, you can count on this offense being a lot better in 2019.
Baseball is back and so is Kris Bryant's home run swing pic.twitter.com/9xgRPi726t
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) February 23, 2019
Contrarily, Anthony Rizzo started off the season looking like a minor leaguer and then finished like an MVP. Rizzo’s dealt with his fair share of back injuries the past couple years, so while you can’t necessarily count on him for a full 162, it’s fair to assume Rizzo is going to give you a lot of all-star caliber games every year. I’m not going to go so far as to say he’s going to continue his hot second half, in which he put up a 157 wRC+, the whole season, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if Rizzo gets MVP votes come next November.
It seems like Kyle Schwarber is at the butt of many jokes, and I’m not exactly clear why. Schwarber was a 3.2 fWAR player last year, in large part due to being one of the best defensive left fielders in baseball. While he only commanded a 115 wRC+, Schwarber is still going to be a mainstay in the Cubs lineup. I expect Schwarber to take a big leap again under Anthony Iopace, and he is going to be an all-star level player in Chicago this year. Schwarber was, statistically, one of the least clutch players ever in 2018, something which is almost guaranteed to revert in 2019.
Kyle Schwarber in the cage… pic.twitter.com/mQT4jVVa2p
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 20, 2019
New hitting coach Anthony Iopace worked with the likes of Bryant, Schwarber, Ian Happ, and Willson Contreras with the Cubs as a minor league hitting coach previously, so there shouldn’t be the relationship issues that Davis claimed existed. However, Iopace better be able to fix a unit which clearly needs it if the Cubs want to make their fifth straight playoffs.
As for the pitching, there isn’t a ton that needs fixing. More than anything, they need to get healthy.
Brandon Morrow, their big-time bullpen signing of last year, isn’t going to be ready for Opening Day after suffering yet another injury. Pedro Strop, who was hurt for the stretch run in 2018, suffered another hamstring injury which could leave him off the Opening Day roster. The Cubs didn’t add to the bullpen, with the exception of former A’s starter Kendall Graveman, who is on the 60-day Injured List while recovering from Tommy John.
— Pinwheels and Ivy Podcast (@PinwheelsIvyPod) May 25, 2018
Steve Cishek, who threw seemingly every day last year, will be tasked with holding down the fort on an otherwise extremely volatile bullpen to start the year. Cishek was good last year, but he isn’t closer quality, so one of Strop or Morrow has to get back to form really quickly.
After the Tyler Chatwood experiment failed last year, the Cubs traded for Cole Hamels from the Rangers. Hamels was nothing short of spectacular with the Cubs, good enough for them to pick up his $20 million option. He will pitch as large part of what is probably the best starting rotation in baseball.
Both Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have been Cy Young candidates each of the past three years. Yu Darvish claims that, after an injury-marred season last year, this is the best his pitches have ever been. Jose Quintana has been working on the change-up which saw him as a Cy Young contender on the South Side, a pitch which he pretty much abandoned prior to that.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 4, 2019
Mike Montgomery, one of baseball’s all-time trivia answers, saw a lot of starts last year in Darvish’s place. However, in a projected bullpen with only one lefty, it’s likely to be Chatwood that takes the place of either the sixth starter or the swingman this year.
Chatwood has had better command this spring, and the Cubs are hoping he can be a lockdown reliever for them this season. It’s unlikely he starts the year getting high-leverage opportunities, he’s going to have to be quick to adjust to a changing role throughout the season.
New pitching coach Tommy Hottovy comes from the game analysis department, where he worked with the pitchers and catchers to develop gameplans. That level of familiarity will, hopefully, translate to better continuity between him and the pitchers, all of whom return from last year.
This Cubs team is pretty much a carbon copy of their 95-win team last year. However, the rest of the league has gotten better, and they’ve failed to fill in the gaps that need improvement. I can’t see them winning 95 again, but I’m also not sure they have to. As it stands right now, I think the Cubs have the highest ceiling in the National League. There’s a pretty good shot everything comes crashing down.
Record Prediction: 89-73
Team MVP: Kris Bryant