Commentary: A Grumpy take on the Cubs' offseason


by - Columnist -
Brett Davis - USA Today Sports
Brett Davis - USA Today Sports

Now that we have Christmas out of the way, we can start looking forward to the next phases of the offseason. January 10th is the deadline for both sides to exchange arbitration figures (if a deal hasn’t been reached), followed by the arbitration hearing period, which occurs between February 3rd and 21st. Spring Training begins in mid-February, then on March 26th, it’s Opening Day.

For the Cubs’ fans, the decision on Kris Bryant’s grievance is eagerly awaited, with the decision expected to come in mid to late January. No team is likely to bite on a deal for KB until there’s clarity on just when he’ll reach free agency, although the Cubs have reportedly told the Braves what it would take. Interestingly, the Braves are now reported to have inquired about Nolan Arenado, though they are reportedly wary of his salary.

Time is running out for The Epstein to get it in gear if the Cubs are to have any shot at seeing October baseball in 2020.

After writing my Christmas article, I received some feedback on Twitter, calling me “negative” and “grumbly.”

The author of that comment didn’t define where he felt that I was being negative, but I can only assume that he was referring to the sections in the article that covered the Cubs’ offseason. I will concede being a little grumbly at times – hey, I’m old after all – but I’m not negative. The ugly truth is that Theo hasn’t done much of anything to improve this team for 2020, so let’s not confuse negativity for realism.

Unlike past years, Epstein can now only do what Tom Ricketts authorizes, as Tom’s checkbook is apparently on lockdown this winter. Has Ricketts lost trust in Epstein? Doubtful. Ricketts wants to get back under the luxury tax threshold to avoid even steeper penalties this year, and by avoiding free agent signings while trimming payroll, the Cubs will accomplish that task. I still expect Kris Bryant and others to be moved before the season begins, so David Ross is going to have to start planning accordingly.

I still have plenty of faith that Theo will acquire some of the things on the team’s wish list (relievers, a center fielder, a power hitter and perhaps a starter and a second baseman). Still, I also realize that in all likelihood, he won’t get everything the team is going to need. That’s not to say that the Cubs won’t be competitive, as even without KB, there’s still a plethora of talent on this team.

If Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, and Anthony Rizzo get their bats going again this season, they’ll undoubtedly tally runs. I’m both hopeful and optimistic that Jason Heyward and Albert Almora Jr. can get it figured out, while Ian Happ needs only to worry about staying patient at the plate.

I don’t believe that Victor Caratini – also a hefty bat – or Contreras will get traded this winter, and I still feel confident that the Cubs will re-sign Nicholas Castellanos. It seems positive, doesn’t it?

Moving to the rotation, I’m confident that Jon Lester will have a bounce-back season in 2020 and that Yu Darvish can continue the domination that he exhibited after the All-Star break last season. While I don’t expect Jose Quintana to be flashy this season, I’d certainly hope that he finds more continuity with each start. Quintana has never been a guy who raises eyebrows, but as I’ve always said, he’s quietly solid. Kyle Hendricks had some ups and downs in 2019, but somehow, the Professor always manages to get it done, and I see things being no different from him in 2020.

With Cole Hamels officially gone (signed with Atlanta), the Cubs do have an open rotation opening. Still, unlike a lot on social media, I’m not at all concerned about the Cubs signing a starter this winter. While I don’t believe that Adbert Alzolay is anywhere close to joining the rotation at the Major League level, Tyler Chatwood is more than capable of filling that role, assuming that he can continue to exhibit the control that he did last year. If all else fails, Alec Mills is available, though I don’t believe he’d hold a candle to a high-functioning Chatty. The Cubs also signed RHP Jharel Cotton, who could factor into the rotation, but I’d be surprised to see him on the plane as the Cubs leave Mesa.

Despite being stripped of free agents this winter, the cubs’ pen still contains a lot of talent. I’m very concerned (and saddened) that they won’t re-sign Brandon Kintzler, which would be a shame, considering Brandon’s performances in 2019, but even without Kintzler, the Cubs have some very young arms that have pitched like vets during this last season.

Righty Dan Winkler could enjoy a bounce-back season, though I put far more faith in righty, Ryan Tepera, despite his 2019 ERA of 4.98. Then there’s Brad Wieck and Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Dillon Maples. James Underwood Jr. shows promise, and with a full winter and Spring Training to prepare, Craig Kimbrel should be on top of his game again.

There is a little ambiguity surrounding what the team’s plans for Nico Hoerner are, but I believe that Nico is more than ready to receive a full-time promotion to the majors. Hoerner exhibited confidence without cockiness as he performed like a pro last season, and his happy-go-lucky attitude is what the team needs. Hoerner has stated that the best for him to improve is to remain with Chicago, and the Cubs certainly need a second baseman that can hit.

As I said, I’m anything but negative. I’m optimistic that the Cubs can compete, so long as the current players can all perform at their respective levels, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not a little frustrated that the wheels are turning so slowly. In some ways, I’d almost like to see David Ross be able to run with the current roster, as I believe with more playing time, some of these guys could shine.

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