Winter can’t be far off, but neither is spring.
I know this feeling. I have had it before. The Cubs are done and the weather is turning. It’s that time in the upper midwest when the days get short and the sun is orange-gold and low in the sky. The slant of the light, even in the middle of the day, makes it impossible to find a golf ball among the leaves. The air moves and smells differently this time of year. There is a faint and familiar tang of smoke, even in the rain. Especially in the rain. I don’t care much for football. The sports page holds no special interest now. I already miss the company that baseball keeps for me.
My thoughts are still filled with baseball, but is there anything more to say? The Cubs’ season is done. Haven’t we said it all already? The Cubs are a very good team. As Sherm wrote sometime last week, the team of the past three years is the best Cubs team that any of us have seen in our lifetimes. On paper, the team they fielded this season should have been every bit as good as the ’16 championship team. But the chemistry wasn’t there. They never got it rolling in ’17. Even during their successful second half, they were not playing their best or beating the best of the competition. It never felt solid. It was disappointing when they failed against the Dodgers. But not surprising.
I hope it’s not over for the Cubs. I foolishly worry that it might be. But I will resist the pessimism. I will not yield to it. The fact is that that the Cubs are different now. They are a legitimate top tier team with genuinely excellent leadership and an elite group of players at the core. Theo Epstein’s Boston teams won it all in 2004, 2007 and 2013. I think a similar pattern could hold true for the Cubs of the next decade.
It begins with starting pitching. I would like the Cubs to pay Jake Arrieta. Of course, he wants too much money. But, my God. This has been his team. Not Jon Lester‘s. Jake has been the stopper and he proved it again against the Dodgers last week. Plus, the Ricketts can afford it. The Chicago National League franchise is printing money these days. Yet, I know that Jake is gone. Chris Bosio was the perfect coach for Arrieta. Bosio understood Jake’s motion. That crazy across the body delivery was not unlike the way that Bosio himself threw back in the day. It was no coincidence that Jake had his greatest success with Chris Bosio as his pitching coach. When the Cubs did not renew Bosio’s contract, the baseball world knew that the Cubs would not pursue re-signing Arrieta.
That means that we need two starting pitchers to fill out the rotation with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. I have my doubts about Mike Montgomery as a starter, but we will see. And who will be the fifth starter? I will watch the winter meetings with great interest. I think we all expect a trade of one or two of our youngsters. I think that Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber or Ian Happ will be traded for pitching. Maybe Albert Almora, Jr. can be included too. Baez and Schwarber have proven to be one dimensional. The first is a defensive whiz, but an undependable hitter. The latter is a dependable power hitter, but a defensive bust. I have some hope that Happ can be taught patience at the plate. If he can learn the art of consistently taking good at bats, then he can be made into a satisfactory left fielder and figures to be a much better than average big league hitter. Some have included Addison Russell as a candidate for a trade this winter too. I am not convinced. Russell is already a better all around player than Baez or Schwarber likely ever will be.
Bryant had a very good year. With one week to go in the regular season, he led the NL in WAR. (He finished third or fourth, I think.) He improved his OPS over 2016 and led the team in a number of advanced statistics. He is the best baseball player on the Cubs and one of the top five or so in the National League. But he must hit for a better average with runners in scoring position.
Rizzo had a superb year. He is the natural leader of this team and he is a great guy in the community. I don’t know why he wants to be called “Tony” now. And I did not understand that ridiculous “respect me” thing in the LDS. But I am prepared to forget it.
Contreras was my pick for Cubs MVP this year. His injury came at a bad time and that obscured the fact that he had such a strong year. But I expect him to be a fantastic player and I love to watch him behind the plate even more than than I love to watch him hit.
Zobrist is the least athletic player on the team and getting older. But I would rather see him come to bat in a tough situation than almost anyone else on the team. I think he will be platooned at second base next year if Javy is traded. Otherwise, I see him as mostly a part time outfielder in the regular season.
Heyward is here to stay. I take the good with the bad. But I hope that someone works with him on his hitting mechanics. Maybe he should take up golf in the off season. The first thing any golf instructor would do is synch up his arms with his body rotation. Since joining the Cubs, he is all arms.
Finally, I am going to take a pass for now in discussing the manager, the broadcasters or the bull pen. I want to think about it all a bit longer. But I probably am OK with two out of the three. Until next time . . . .