The Chicago Cubs, coming off one of the greatest seasons in team history, capped with a World Series Championship, are still (arguably) the best team in baseball.
That being said, there are threats that have arisen this offseason and the Cubs must work to ensure their reign over the MLB is not cut short at one season. Here are just a few things that the Cubs can look to accomplish heading into 2017, to help ensure they continue their reign.
Fix Jason Heyward’s Swing
During the 2015-16 offseason, Jason Heyward was considered by many to be the best available free agent, which made the Cubs all that more powerful when they signed him to a 8-year, $184 million dollar contract that is still the largest in Cubs history.
The 27-year old outfielder proceeded to have a slump that ended up lasting the entire season, causing many fans to be outraged that the Cubs had spent so much money for a guy that only hit .230. Luckily, both Heyward and the Cubs’ staff recognize the problems he’s had, and are already working this offseason to change up his approach at the plate.
Only time will tell if these changes will be successful, but if the Cubs add a fully equipped Jason Heyward to their already stacked lineup, they will be near unstoppable.
Add a Fifth Starter
While Mike Montgomery subbing in as the fifth starter in place of Jason Hammel isn’t awful, it’s also not the best. During his brief three-month stint with the Cubs after being acquired from the Mariners in mid-July, Montgomery pitched to a 2.82 ERA, hardly deserving of criticism, but it remains unknown if this success will continue as 2016 was only his second year at the major-league level.
The addition of a fifth starter, however, not only wraps up the starting rotation, but also shores up a bullpen that had many questions surrounding it at the end of the 2016 season. The Cubs only had a few pitchers that were solid in the bullpen after losing quite a few arms to free agency.
The front office has begun to solidify the group by trading for all-star caliber closer Wade Davis, and signing free agent reliever Koji Uehara to a short-term deal, but there still remains one or two spots up for grabs. Signing a fifth starter places Montgomery back in the bullpen, giving Joe Maddon another sturdy arm to depend on in the later innings of games. Further, a fifth starter grants some much-needed pitching depth for the Cubs.
If someone ends up injured, as will probably be the case, someone else must step in. Currently, the young Rob Zastryzny is preparing to be stretched out into a starter with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs to start the season, but besides Zastryzny, the Cubs don’t really have any other youth arms waiting in the wings. Currently on the market there are plenty of cheaper options for the team to sign, most notably including former all-star Tyson Ross, who has already been taken on a tour of Wrigley Field.
Extend Jake Arrieta (Or at Least Someone)
The free agent class this offseason is pretty weak compared to others, but the next two offseasons will be exactly the opposite. With many teams losing lots of valuable players in the near future, the entire league and its hierarchy has the potential to be significantly shaken up.
The Cubs specifically fall into a dangerous place solely due to the very high number of free-agents-to-be on their roster. At the end of the 2017 season, the Cubs lose Miguel Montero, Jon Jay, John Lackey, Wade Davis, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara, and most importantly, former Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta.
Losing that many people is never fun, and with all the holes the losses would create, it will not be easy to recover from either, especially when one of your top starters is involved. While Arrieta’s agent Scott Boras is not known for his willingness to compromise, the Cubs must find a way to keep Arrieta secure and ensure safety for the next offseason. If they can’t get it done with Arrieta, they can certainly try and keep bullpen pieces around, such as Davis or Strop. The less holes in the roster after the 2017 season, the better.
Identify a Leadoff Hitter
While Dexter Fowler’s departure to St. Louis hurts the Cubs for many reasons, one of the main problems it causes is the question it leaves behind, of who to put at the top of the lineup. The “you go, we go” motto motivating Fowler and the team at the start at every game gave the Cubs not only stability but a game plan. It shouldn’t be hard to find someone to take over that role.
The problem, rather, is that there are too many people that could do it. Maddon must figure out which worthy candidate to give the responsibility to. Options could be Javier Baez, Jon Jay, Albert Almora, and even Heyward if he can get his swing back on track.