Commentary: A very Cub offseason


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Benny Sieu - USA Today Sports
Benny Sieu - USA Today Sports

CHICAGO -- The meaning of the term “Cub” offseason has changed in recent years. It used to mean throwing huge contracts at players like Alfonso Soriano, Todd Hundley, Milton Bradley and overpaying the likes of Bob Howry and Scott Eyre to fill bullpen holes.

In the old days, there were no tangible results from a barren farm system, and money had to be spent to supplement the major league roster. Times have changed on the Northside of Chicago, and since Theo Epstein’s arrival in 2011 the philosophy has changed, and the result was the Curse breaking ride of 2016!

Even as the top position players have graduated to the big league club in recent years, thinning out the farm system, the approach hasn’t wavered as the front office has kept an eye on future budgets, and has stubbornly refused to overpay, instead of letting the market dictate itself, while holding firm. Let’s face it the 2017 team, just ran out of gas. After an exhausting series against the Nationals, the pitching was exposed, especially the bullpen against the Dodgers.

In the offseason the majority of the coaching staff was replaced, bringing in some very experienced voices in Jim Hickey and Chili Davis. These are two of the best additions; both have had successful runs in the AL East. If you watched the Cubs last year, it was painful to watch them hit with two strikes, they simply couldn’t adjust, and their numbers with RISP was around .230 for most of the season. Their (WRC) Weighted Runs Created, which is a stat that quantifies a player’s offensive value and measures it by runs, showed that for the majority of the season only Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward, and Kyle Schwarber were the only three everyday players that performed better with RISP than they did overall. I believe Davis’ presence will fix that, as the Red Sox, his previous team was at or near the top of the AL with RISP, even though they were at the bottom of the league in homers. Imagine what Davis will do with all the power in this Cub’s lineup.

With everyone returning in the starting lineup and refreshed after a full offseason I expect them to score a ton of runs, I also expect a monster year from Ian Happ, who is crushing the first week of the Cactus League. He also took Madison Bumgarner deep last weekend. My one concern is off the bench, for some reason they elected not to bring back Jon Jay, who was clutch last year and the guy brings winning intangibles.

On the pitching side, the refused to pay a proven closer in Wade Davis, instead opting for Brandon Morrow, who has never really closed in his career. They also brought in Steve Cishek, who has closing experience but has lost his closer job the last two seasons in Miami and Seattle. When I think of Cishek, I think of the late July 2016 game in Wrigley when he was with Seattle, and he was throwing pitches off the backstop as the Cubs eventually won on the Jon Lester squeeze play!

The Darvish addition, even though late was more about Theo Epstein letting the market come to him, rather than pay 200 million for a starting pitcher. The under the radar addition of Tyler Chatwood could turn into a steal. Even though he had 15 losses for the Rockies last year, he is a ground ball machine, and his road ERA was around 2.30. The thing, I think jumped out to the Cubs was his road ERA in NL West parks, they know they will have to navigate through some tough NL West parks come October.

Bottom Line: Find value in under the radar free agents, without having to overpay, because in a few years the bill will come due on the everyday lineup, and tough decisions will have to be made as to who gets paid, and this new approach will keep them competitive for years to come!


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