CubsHQ Mailbag: Spring training thoughts, Projections, Shift ban, Rotation, more
Eric Hartline - USA Today Sports

CubsHQ Mailbag: Spring training thoughts, Projections, Shift ban, Rotation, more

by - Staff Writer -

As Spring Training rapidly approaches, we thought Cubs fans may have some questions. So, we asked them.

Here is Part 2 of my responses to fan questions:

Is this year just a break from rebuilding? A lot of one year guys and others are free agents at the end of the year. Feels like even if they make the playoffs it will be fleeting success cuz so many guys would leave. What makes success this year?

This is an interesting year for the Chicago Cubs. By spending money this offseason, the Cubs have certainly made it their priority to win in 2023 and beyond — or contend at the very least. However, Jed Hoyer and the front office have constructed the roster in a way that creates a lot of flexibility in 2023. The past two seasons have seen the Cubs trade over a dozen players midseason, to stack up prospects and build toward the future. Players like Yu Darvish, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Craig Kimbel and others have been dealt midseason. The way the Cubs are currently built, players like Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly, Kyle Hendricks, Cody Bellinger, Ian Happ, Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini could be candidates to be dealt at the deadline in 2023 — as none of them are currently slated to be on the roster for longer than 2024. If the Cubs make the playoffs, at the bare minimum Hendricks, Bellinger, Happ and Hosmer would be set to become free agents. At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see how the roster shakes out given the known flexibility Hoyer has built in during this rebuild. However, I think success this year is contention for the division.

How much will the shift ban affect the Cub hitters as well as the pitchers?

The MLB will have the shift banned in 2023 and beyond. Off the jump, this should create more hits for pull hitters like Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger and Eric Hosmer — former Cubs Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo should also benefit greatly. For a Cubs pitching staff that relies on pitching to contact as opposed to blowing hitters away with power, this could create some cause for concern with the anticipated uptick in balls in play. However, the Cubs signed Gold Glove short stop Dansby Swanson, signed Gold Glove first baseman Eric Hosmer, move Gold Glove finalist Nico Hoerner to second base, signed Gold Glove catcher Tucker Barnhart and Gold Glove outfielder Cody Bellinger to pair with Gold Glove winner Ian Happ and Japanese Gold Glove winner Seiya Suzuki. This team looks incredible defensively — which should erase some fears with the shift being gone.

1st half standings projection, W-L record?

I took a look at the Cubs schedule, and I would anticipate them being somewhere around .500 in the first half. My exact prediction game-by-game I believe had them 46-45. The Cubs have some winnable series against Pittsburgh, Miami, the Reds, the Giants, the Angels, the A’s — but also some tough ones against the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, Rays, Guardians. It’ll be interesting to see how the balanced schedule helps or hurts the Cubs — but I imagine they will okay somewhere near .500 Baseball. I would also imagine the Cardinals are in first, the Cubs and Brewers jockey for second and third, and the Reds and Pirates are comfortably behind fighting for fourth place in the NL Central.

What are they going to do if we have bad weather in April like we did in 2018? Most of those early season opponents don't have opportunities for double headers like they have had to do?

Weather is something that will always be apart of baseball, especially since baseball at its best is played outside. The issue this season, is that with a balanced schedule — the Cubs will be playing some games against teams they won’t be playing at home again that season so weather complicates things. However, there are off days scheduled and the availability for double headers against certain teams to make up games cancelled by weather and ensure that every team will be playing the full and typical 162 games.

What do you figure a starting 5 man rotation will be?

Kyle Hendricks is the biggest wild card in this discussion, considering his recovery form injury places Hendricks returning to the Cubs at some point during May or June. Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly and the newly acquired Jameson Taillon feel like locks in the Cubs rotation — and Justin Steele, riding his momentum from a breakout 2022 season, figures to slot in the rotation as well. It is assumed once Hendricks is healthy he gets the five spot, but for now the five spot is up for grabs. My best guess has Keegan Thompson and Adbert Alzolay in the bullpen, Hayden Wesneski and Caleb Kilian starting the season in the minors and Adrian Sampson and Javier Assad battling for the fifth starter job out of spring training, with the other opening the season in the bullpen as a long reliever. So I would say Stroman, Steele, Taillon, Smyly and Sampson/Assad out of the gate, with Hendricks coming in down the road and Wesneski picking up some starts should there be a need.

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