Now that the Cubs have exorcised every last demon and curse, the question we Cubs fans are asking ourselves is: What now?
In other words, how will the image of the team evolve from the Lovable Losers label they wore for decades and generations? How will we Cub fans root for them now? The life-long wish has been fulfilled. I have made a resolution and a promise to my wife that from now on, I will still root for them but it won’t be live or die now. This year, I literally followed every game inning by inning and pitch by pitch, either on TV, my computer, or Iphone (except when I was working, of course or had given up on a game). The same resolution must now go for the Steelers, who have rewarded my loyalty since 1955 with 6 Superbowl wins. Next year we our expecting our first grandchild, so life is good, right?
Now let’s get back to business and examine next year’s Cubs.
First of all, we know that with all this great young talent, the Cubs should be contending for a decade. Players like Bryant, Baez, Russell, Schwarber, Contreras, and Almora will correct their deficiencies and become even better. That’s scary though for the rest of the teams. In addition, Heyward will work over the off-season to retool his swing. With his work ethic, I expect him to do it.
First of all, let’s that David Ross will retire and two players, Dexter Fowler and Aroldis Chapman, are eligible for free agency. So let’s go position by position.
Willson Contreras will be the number one catcher with Miguel Monteras as backup. Montero had a weak hitting year this year, but will be valuable in the number two position. Kyle Schwarber, whose primary position as catcher, should get some more experience there during Spring Training so he can be number three in emergency. Contreras has a good future both offensively and defensively. I noticed when he caught Arrieta in the game 6 of the series, he cut down on his jumping around the plate and constant visits to the mound. He will be a star.
Rizzo. Nothing else to be said here.
Javier Baez is emerging and should be our second baseman going forward. Ben Zobrist will also play there a lot. Baez must work on his tendency to swing at bad pitches. Once he does that, the sky is the limit because he can hit 30+ homers for you a year. Defensively, he is great but tends to make errors when he gets too nonchalant as shown in game 7. He has the work ethic and has already made great strides in correcting his swing. Look for him to become a big star.
Addison Russell. Great defensively. This year he hit 21 homers with 95 rbis. His average was a disappointing 238, but I look for that to improve greatly. He, like Baez and so many others, is still developing.
Kris Bryant with Baez filling if Bryant needs to play outfield. Believe it or not, he will still improve in his hitting.
I expect Jason Heyward to correct his swing in the off-season and bounce back to being a productive, if not great hitter. His defensive skills in right field are unmatched playing in what is probably the toughest right field in baseball. Then there is Jorge Soler, still young with all his great potential. He needs to be in the lineup regularly to be productive, and with all the talent on this team that is a problem. He can also play left field.
Dexter Fowler, once again, is a free agent, and whether the Cubs will re-sign him is unknown. Leading off, he was a valuable part of the offense. When he got on base, things happened.
But if he leaves, the Cubs have Albert Almora, a great young prospect who has proved he can be a gold glove caliber center fielder. It remains to be seen if he will be a big-time hitter and/or fill the lead-off spot. Make no mistake, this former first round draft choice is a prospect and probably ready to play a full season in the majors.
We have two names here: Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber. The defense will only be adequate, but this is another dilemma any manager would love to have.
The great advantage manger Joe Madden will have is the versatility of the players to move from one position to another.
Once again, we will have Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Lackey and possibly Hammel in the 5th spot unless a trade is made for another quality starter. Arrieta will be in the last year of his contract, and the Cubs want to see which Arrieta they will get in 2017. Will it be the Cy Young award winner of 2015 or the 18 game winner of 2016 (who was somewhat less effective but still outstanding overall)? Lester, of course, will have to pitch to someone other than Ross (besides learn to throw to first base).
The big question is will they re-sign Chapman? If they don’t, they can go after Dodgers’ free agent Kenley Jansen (who might be better). Other than that, they will have most of the same faces. Hector Rondon might return to the closer spot. He was ineffective after he came back from an injury late in the year, but when healthy, he is a quality reliever. With Strop, Montgomery, Wood, Grimm, et al,the bullpen should be strong as long as they have a good closer.
I like it with Matt Szezyr, Chris Couglan, Miguel Montero, Jorge Soler, and Tommy La Stella. No doubt there will be a couple of new names, but things look solid here too. We could use a speedster somewhere.
Hopefully, Madden will never do again what he did in games 6 and 7 with the pitching. Just nitpicking.