The Chicago Cubs caught lightning in a bottle last season en route to winning their first World Series in over a century, but a repeat was sadly not in the cards in 2017. Chicago experienced a serious World Series hangover all season long and though they got hot in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals, they were just no match for a Los Angeles Dodgers team hungry for an NL Pennant.
The good news is that all is not lost for the Cubbies. The core that won them a ring is still intact and so long as certain moves are made in the offseason, Chicago should be back in contention in 2018.
Load up on starting pitching
It’s possible, nay, probable the Chicago Cubs will only return two of five starting pitchers next year.
Jake Arrieta is 32 and looks largely past his prime despite winning the National League Cy Young Award in 2016. John Lackey is 38 and is probably done after going 12-12 with a 4.59 ERA.
While he is still a chance to return, Arrieta may search for around four to five years and $120m, and it is unclear whether the team will offer him that.
If they do, it will be due to how bare the cupboard is this offseason. Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn are the headline acts and are not a lot younger than Arrieta.
Either way, the Cubs’ starters were not nearly as effective as they were in their World Series year, which made it harder for manager Joe Maddon to hide his bullpen.
If Chicago wants to continue the dynasty chat they generated in 2016, they’ll need another ace or two.
Re-sign Wade Davis
In terms of a market for closing pitchers, it will be an all-out war over incumbent Cubs closer Wade Davis and the Colorado Rockies’ Greg Holland for teams on the search.
The solution for the North Siders is simple. They need to re-sign Davis, the most trusted arm in their bullpen, even if it costs them up to $90 million. That is around what Chicago’s former closer Aroldis Chapman got last year in free agency from the New York Yankees.
If they fail to do so, we may be in for Carl Edwards entering the game in the ninth inning. That is not a disaster scenario, but less than what a Fall Classic contender will be after.
Get Kyle Schwarber into proper left field shape
Catcher-turned-outfielder Kyle Schwarber got plenty of unearned hate from Cubs fans this year. He was a work in progress in left field and was shaky with the bat, to say the least, but the guy still hit 30 home runs.
He finally lifted his batting average north of .200 in the latter stages of the season and really looked like a proper fixture in left as the year wore on. Seven outfield assists tied Schwarber for 10th in the majors.
In the postseason, he continued to do both good and bad. He cut down Charlie Culberson at the plate before the call was overturned thanks to a poor blocking the plate call.
However, he also dropped a ball before booting it in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. It was just that kind of year for Schwarber.
Maddon has praised the work by the 24-year-old this year, and his development coaches Dave Martinez and Brandon Hyde. The team hopes he can find more consistency in 2018.
…And the rest of the outfield?
Will number 12 hold his spot in left? Will Ian Happ beat him to the punch? Will Albert Almora go full time in centerfield? Will Jason Heyward opt in or out?
While it’s not the most pressing point on the list, it’s something that must be decided before reasonable decisions can be made around development, especially if management remains committed to Schwarber.
Work out the rest of the bullpen
The Cubs’ bullpen is the one issue that has been pressing since before the World Series victory.
Maddon’s 24-month long trust issues surrounding his relief pitchers have had this team walking on eggshells when it comes time to take the ball from the hands of the starter.
At no time was this more prevalent than during the 2017 postseason. A superb seven-out save from Davis only just got the Cubs past Washington, and the Los Angeles Dodgers wasted no time teeing off.
Chicago’s relievers walked over 10% of batters it faced this year, which is the highest mark in the majors. The fact they’ve gotten to the NLCS three years in a row with the bullpen in this state is remarkable.
In fact, it seems to be a team-wide infection. The Cubs traded for Detroit Tigers reliever Justin Wilson at the trade deadline and before he arrived, he owned an ERA of 2.68. In his 17.2 innings pitched for the Cubs, that ballooned out to 5.09.
If they can’t sort it out by next year, that NLCS streak may come to an end.
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