Some encouraging signs at Cubs camp
The Cubs have played very well this spring (Mark Rebilas - USA Today Sports)

Some encouraging signs at Cubs camp

by - Staff Writer -

When the Cubs originally made their magical ride toward a World Series title in 2016, many expected that championship to be the first of a few for the Cubs’ young core and progressive front office. Over the next few seasons, it became apparent that the Cubs had some holes in their roster and in their organization that needed to be addressed — but they also were no longer equipped with the resources to throw money at their problems and fix it.

Once Theo Epstein left this offseason, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs were finally able to reflect and make adjustments inside the organization. The Cubs, despite being forced to make cuts in the front office due to COVID, have restructured and revamped scouting and player development departments. Maybe now they can finally become the player development juggernaut Epstein promised they would be a decade ago.

But after that 2016 season — when the Cubs were undoubtedly the best team — their holes have been prominent. The Cubs, as an offense, has struck out too much and, despite walking a lot, have one of the league’s lowest contact rate. At the top of the lineup, the Cubs have lacked a consistent table-setter. Not to mention, the back end of the bullpen hasn’t been the same since Aroldis Chapman has left.

To the Cubs’ credit, by the end of the season, the bullpen always seems to come through, no matter who Joe Maddon or now David Ross has called on to eat innings.

Under the radar moves this offseason

But with those problems, it seemed that the Cubs would need to add and not subtract to address them. However, due to budget constraints, the Cubs found themselves declining to pick up an option for left-hander Jon Lester, non tendering slugger Kyle Schwarber, and trading Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini in what looked to be nothing more than a salary dump.

But it’s been under the radar moves for Hoyer like signing Joc Pederson, Jake Arietta, Jake Marisnick, Eric Sogard, and more that actually make the Cubs look like a more complete team now than they were when they won the NL Central division in a Pandemic-shortened season a year ago.

Leadoff man is unquestionably Ian Happ

The leadoff question appears to have been answered by Ian Happ, who performed admirably in the spot in 2020. After getting sent down to work on his approach in 2019, his return to the big leagues has seen Happ become a more patient hitter with a lot of pop in his bat — from both sides of the plate. Happ led the Cubs in numerous offensive categories in 2020 and had his name firmly cemented in the NL MVP conversation before taking a foul ball off of his face and struggling to get back into an offensive rhythm.

Leading off last season, Happ hit nine of his 12 home runs on the season and drove in 18 runs. Heading into Spring Training this season, Ross mentioned that the leadoff spot was Happ’s to lose, and the plan was to pencil his name into the Opening Day lineup at the top of his lineup card.

While Spring Training is always a limited sample size, his two home runs, five RBIs, and .313 batting average is an encouraging sign for the Cubs.

Joe Pederson, Jake Marisnick, and Eric Sogard seem to be solid moves

Part of not retaining Kyle Schwarber was diversifying the lineup, hopefully finding a left fielder with a more contact-oriented approach. The Cubs signed Pederson, who, in many aspects, is a similar player to Schwarber. Pederson is a bit slimmer, a bit faster, a better defender, and most importantly, sports a higher contact rate. While I’ll add once again that Spring Training doesn’t tell the entire story, Pederson’s team-leading five homers and 11 RBIs this Spring Certainly make it appear that the Cubs made the right decision to bring him to Chicago.

Like much of the Cubs roster, Pederson is in a walk year and has a lot to prove. If the former Dodger can hit lefties when given a chance this season the way he’s been hitting righties, the Cubs are going to want to keep him in Chicago longer than this season.

Signing contact-oriented guys like outfielder Jake Marisnick (1.727 OPS so far in Spring) and second basemen Eric Sogard (.318 average in spring) helps to make the bench a bit deeper for sure while also pushing those like Pederson and Nico Hoerner to continue to value contact and production knowing a player who does exactly what the Cubs want is waiting in the wings.

While Spring Training never tells the whole story, the Cubs have reasons to be encouraged with their offseason. It may not have been the big splashes many fans had hoped, and saying goodbye to players of the caliber that the Cubs did is never easy, but if Spring Training is any indication, the Cubs may be in better shape than we thought.

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