6 Ways the 2017 Cubs May Look Different From the 2016 Cubs
The 2016 World Series victory for the Chicago Cubs was a lot of things—memorable, historic, gut-wrenching—but one thing it was not was a “fluke.”
Throughout the playoffs, friends would ask me, “So are you nervous?” Of course, the answer was almost always, “Yes,” but it always came with a caveat.
I was nervous throughout the playoffs because being in the playoffs means the World Series is within reach. But, I wasn’t as nervous as some thought I should have been because I know that this year’s Cubs team didn’t happen into the playoffs because another team in the division was banged up or because one of our players dramatically outperformed his projections.
The 2016 Cubs was the best Cubs team we’ve ever seen, so it is only fitting that they should win the World Series. But now that the World Series is nearly a month in the rearview mirror, beloved players have floated away onto the free agent market, and the tryptophan-induced stupor has worn off, it’s time to answer the question:
What about the 2017 Cubs?
Next year’s team will look a bit different than the 2016 club with the loss of Dexter Fowler, Jason Hammel, and others. But, thankfully, the Cubs’ depth makes the loss of good players hurt a little less than it would for other teams.
So how might the 2017 Cubs look different from the 2016 Cubs? Some of these I am more certain about than others, but here are five ways the club can look different:
1. Schwarber will be back for the year
Obviously, the slugger made a remarkable comeback in the World Series to serve as designated hitter in Cleveland and as pinch hitter in Chicago, but the Chicago Cubs will have the full version of Kyle Schwarber back for the 2017 season after he was lost to injury in the first week of the 2016 season.
What will be interesting to watch is where the Cubs play him in the field. The hope is for him to be able to get back behind the plate, but crouching behind the plate for the majority of games in 2017 after tearing an ACL and an LCL may be asking a bit much. If I had to bet on where he would spend most of his time, it would be left field. Thankfully, the Cubs have another option at catcher who may be able to rotate with Schwarber and give him a bit of time in the outfield, which leads me to my next point…
2. Contreras will be an almost-everyday player
He wasn’t perfect in the postseason by any means, but his .256 postseason batting average was better than World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler. He still has to mature at the plate, but he is a viable starter both behind the plate and in left or right field if one of the other outfielders needs a day. With Schwarber coming back from his injury, it could be beneficial for the Cubs to rotate Schwarber and Willson Contreras between catcher and left field throughout the season.
Contreras will definitely see more playing time in 2017, and I think that’s a good thing.
3. Davis will be closing games
I have been in favor of trading Jorge Soler for well over a year. Before Tyson Ross went down at the beginning of the 2016 season, I was really hoping we’d deal Soler at the deadline for a pitcher like Ross. So, suffice to say, I am more than happy with the trade for Davis. I just wish he had a bit more time on his contract.
4. Baez will be the new starting second baseman
I know, I know, Epstein & Co. have been kept mum about how Zobrist/Baez will work in 2017, but I think Javier Baez will get the majority of the time at second. He played enough second base in the postseason that you might actually forget he wasn’t there the whole season.
The Cubs have not announced this and no official decision has been made public, but come on. There isn’t enough time in the day to watch Javy Baez tag montages, and Zobrist is just as helpful in left or right field as he is at second base.
There is no reason the Cubs shouldn’t stick with their postseason arrangement, keeping Baez at second and moving Zobrist around the field like a queen on a chessboard. Though, I would expect Zobrist to be in one of the corner outfield positions on opening day. Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Zobrist is my prediction for the opening day outfield, which leads to point five…
5. Heyward may primarily play center field
My guess is that Heyward will play center field with the loss of Dexter Fowler because he was supposed to play the position this year until Dexter Fowler surprised the Cubs (and the Orioles) with his return to the Windy City.
Heyward has a cannon, so it wouldn’t be fun to lose him in right field, his natural position, but his speed would be valuable in center field, and he can still gun people down from there. Also, it would be easier for Contreras/Schwarber and Zobrist to flank Heyward than the other way around.
I know the Cubs added Jon Jay just a couple of weeks ago, but I really see him as more of a fourth (or fifth?) outfielder like Jorge Soler was last year. I don’t see Jay starting every day.
6. Montgomery may be the new fifth starter
What we do know is that Mike Montgomery will be given a shot at the fifth starter role when spring training rolls around.
What we do not know is whether or not he will fill the fifth starter role when the regular season begins.
Knowing virtually nothing about Montgomery when the Cubs acquired him in July in exchange for minor leaguers (shame on me), I was really impressed with the work he did as a starter toward the end of the regular season and with his relief work in the playoffs.
Montgomery delivered the final pitch that delivered a World Series title to the Cubs for the first time in over a century, but will he be delivering pitches at a starter in 2017? It’s hard to say without knowing what competition he will face in spring training, but I am interested in the Cubs adding another lefty to the starting rotation.
I am pulling for Montgomery, but worst-case scenario, he could be a satisfactory lefty long-reliever replacement for a certain Travis Wood that may be headed out the door this winter.
What did I miss? I didn’t list everything, so what are some ways you think the 2017 Cubs will be different from the 2016 World Series champs?