3 Primary Concerns Heading Into Spring Training
Spring training is on the horizon and the offseason is coming to a close, as pitchers and catchers report to Arizona in less than a month. Last year, when I spent a week at spring training, I was primarily interested in seeing how well the team meshed together, as it would be the first full season for all of them to be playing as one unit. This year, unfortunately I can’t make it out to Arizona, but like most of you, I’ll be keeping a close eye on spring training happenings and the development of the World Champion (!!) Chicago Cubs.
As we approach spring training, I really only have three primary concerns regarding the Cubs, and they’re pretty minor:
1. The depth of starting pitching
Really, I’m only sort of concerned about this. The main reason I’m concerned about the depth of starting pitching is because it won’t be the same rotation the Cubs had last year, and they won a World Series last year—it’s not fun to change something that isn’t broken. But, unless Jason Hammel returns—which he still could—the rotation will look different than it did last year.
Going into spring training, it looks like Mike Montgomery will be the fifth starter on the roster, as was reported when Hammel became a free agent, but there is no guarantee he will start the season in the five-slot of the rotation. Now that Tyson Ross is off of the board, sadly, adding pitchers externally before the season starts seems unlikely. So, Montgomery is most qualified to be the fifth starter and will likely be the guy come Opening Day.
That’s not all bad—I’m actually quite optimistic about Montgomery and think he can be a strong, Kyle-Hendricks-like guy on the end of the rotation. Not to mention, it will be good to add another lefty to the rotation, I think.
As I have been writing this, the Cubs have acquired Brett Anderson. Ken Rosenthal, who broke news of the deal, noted that Anderson has only pitched in 65 games in the last five seasons—he’s not exactly a bastion of good health. So, while adding Anderson theoretically creates more depth in the Cubs rotation, it remains to be seen if his health will hold up in such a way that he is a viable option for the fifth starter slot.
It’s not fun to talk about injuries, but another one of the reasons I’m concerned about the depth of the starting rotation is that if one of the top guys gets injured, there aren’t a ton of options lined up behind them as long relievers in the bullpen or otherwise to slide in and make up time. This theme lends me to my second primary concern going into spring training…
2. The sinking feeling that the team can’t avoid injuries like they have before
I know, I know. The team wasn’t entirely injury-free in 2016: Kyle Schwarber was sidelined all but two weeks of the season this year, Jorge Soler was down for a number of weeks, and otherwise. But, generally-speaking, the Chicago Cubs have been incredibly healthy. Now that they have won one World Series—maybe this makes me a bad fan—I won’t be distraught if they don’t win another one with this squad, but I genuinely hope they can stay as unnaturally healthy as they have and win as many championships as possible.
I am pretty nervous about it though, if I’m being honest.
So, don’t mind me, but I’ll be cringing at just about every hard slide, diving catch, and other such dicey plays this year, because I am unsure the Cubs can continue to be as remarkably healthy as they have been.
3. The continued development of future talent
As teams build up major league squads to win championships, younger talent and future (potential) success is often dealt away in exchange for more seasoned stars and immediate success. This past season, when the Cubs dealt young talent for Aroldis Chapman, I was nervous, even though I did not doubt the dominant force Chapman would be for the Cubs throughout the rest of 2016. I was nervous because I couldn’t remember the last time the Cubs were buyers at the trade deadline instead of sellers—it was uncharted territory for me as a Cubs fan.
Despite the World Series win, this feeling of nervousness continues into 2017. Obviously, I am ecstatic about the present state of the Cubs, but I also don’t want to get apathetic about the future, either. Knowing as much about the major league squad as I do, I may actually spend most of spring training trying to learn as much about the minor league guys as I can.
The present Chicago Cubs are darn good, but the future Chicago Cubs may look a bit different than the present Chicago Cubs, and it’s important not to get so comfy in the present that we forget about the future.
All in all, the 2017 Cubs are as likely to repeat as world champions as anyone else is to win the World Series, I think. And I say that with as little homer-bias as possible. I truly think they’re going to be the best team again this year.
But, I do have my concerns going into spring training.
What concerns do you have going into spring training? I’m sure I missed some legitimate worries you may have.