All it took was the getting the old VFTB podcast team reassembled to get the stove bubbling over in Wrigleyville. Sean made his triumphant return on Tuesday to set me up for the easy finish on Wednesday after arguably the busiest offseason window for the Cubs in recent memory.
Lester Watch was all the rage last winter and for good reason, but it may take a few years to fully comprehend just how impactful Tuesday’s Zobrist domino really is in both a micro and macro-level.
David Price and Jordan Zimmerman set off the pitcher market pretty early into free agency, but Ben Zobrist had been the biggest jam in the position player market cog to this point. Unpacking its repercussions both in Chicago and across the league is a challenge I’m not sure I am up to on a grand scale, but away we go.
Zobrist to a National League team made a ton of sense from the very beginning, but it was going to come down to opportunity and preferred position. The Mets posed an interesting threat to the Cubs for the utility man’s services, but the Daniel Murphy conundrum likely kept the Mets from committing to Zobrist at second base—his preferred spot in the infield.
This is me quasi-speculating on that idea, but it wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mets quickly re-sign their postseason GOAT now that Zobrist is locked up.
While the Price-Maddon connection was pumped up throughout the season, Zobrist was always the more likely former Ray to join the organization. I mean, it was far from guaranteed, but there were too many factors that made it a perfect marriage before all this mess even started.
First, obviously Zobrist played for the quirky manager for a few seasons and excelled as an everyman. Second, Zobrist is from Illinois and played for NAIA Olivet Nazarene just an hour south of the city. We have seen a hometown connection for players across the four major sports at an increased rate as guys want to move closer to family. Third, he brings some of that World Series veteran swagger like Jon Lester. The Cubs youth eventually caught up with them in NLCS and a few more high OBP veterans could have made a difference in changing momentum in that series. Lastly, he can play anywhere. We know how much Theo and Joe like the flexibility.
Bringing Zobrist on board further clouded an already clouding infield situation, but Cubs fans received a quick response to that dilemma.
Within minutes—seconds even—Cubs news turned over from Zobrist to full-fledged Starlin Castro rumors. The rumblings of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Castro had cropped it since late Monday, and alleged assurances Castro wasn’t going anywhere ended up just being empty noise.
Keeping both Baez and Castro on the roster in 2016 would have only made sense if Chicago decided to focus solely on holes in center and in the rotation. Baez has yet to settle on a position in the pros due to his youth and is more controllable, which made him a bit more valuable than Castro to both the Cubs and other teams in all likelihood. Trading Castro to New York does not protect Baez from being moved in the coming days, but it certainly lessens the probability there.
With Zobrist in place as the probable opening day second baseman, Castro was rendered expendable by the Cubs after losing his shortstop spot in the middle of the year. Castro was equally loved as he was hated on the Twitterz, but it is sad to see the end of an era after essentially “growing up” with a guy who debuted two years before his 21st birthday.
He immediately improves the second base position for the Yankees, but most importantly he relieves a jam for the Cubs and gives Chicago a pitcher for the back end of the rotation or long relief.
I’ll admit I know very little about Adam Warren despite living in Boston-New York rivalry territory. The Cubs have done pretty well at plucking low-cost pitchers during the Theo era and Warren immediately helps from a consistency standpoint, regardless of what role he settles into. He’s notched 70-plus innings in each of the last three seasons and had a career worst 3.39 ERA in his rookie season in 2013. That’s far from bad in a power-hitting AL East.
At the very least, Warren provides Jason Hammel insurance and the Cubs could use plenty of that.
Brendan Ryan is the other player coming back for Castro. Whatever. Go research the 33-year-old spring fodder for yourself if you feel so inclined.
So where do we go from here?
The Shelby Miller price tag was too high and it’s hard to see the Cubs involved in any other pitchers now that they have a combination of Jake Arrieta, Lester and John Lackey in tow. A few more bullpen arm signings should be expected before the turn of the New Year.
Jason Heyward is the elephant in the room and most people are probably on board with that notion considering what that lineup would look like. The Cubs have the spot and future cash pipeline to pay Heyward a pretty penny, especially after not joining the literal “arms race.” He fits in between the clunky youth of Schwarber and Soler in the outfield well.
Alex Gordon has had his name crop up since the World Series ended, but all that does is likely push Soler out the door. Cubs don’t really need any corner outfielders unless they have a secret plan for Schwarber that no one outside of the organization knows.
If you look at the outfielders on the market, Heyward is the only high-price guy remaining who makes sense for the Cubs. Re-signing Dexter Fowler or Austin Jackson might be the follow up options should they whiff.
And as we depart, let us dream about what an Opening Day lineup would look like for the Cubs in our dream scenario.
1. Ben Zobrist 2B
2. Jason Heyward CF
3. Anthony Rizzo 1B
4. Kris Bryant 3B
5. Kyle Schwarber LF
6. Jorge Soler RF
7. Miguel Montero C
8. Jake Arrieta P
9. Addison Russell SS