We continue our season preview as we move from the Queen City to the Windy City and look at what the Cubbies have been up to.
Key Additions: Zach Davies, Joc Pederson
Key Subtractions: Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwarber, Victor Caratini
Chicago won the NL Central last season and was disposed of by the Marlins in the opening round of the playoffs. The Cubs still figure to be at the top of the division, but there are some looming questions that need to be answered. Kris Bryant has been at odds with the team over service time manipulation, the team traded Darvish, and Willson Contreras was linked to the Nationals in trade discussions during the off-season. Throw in that the pillars of the franchise are set to hit free agency after 2021 and you’ve got a potential crisis in Wrigleyville.
Despite Darvish being one of the better pitchers in the NL last season, he was dealt to the Padres. Yu’s contract is still a steep price to pay and the team felt it best to move off of him. Cubs fans weren’t all that happy with the news, but I think there is a way they can be. Zach Davies was the main piece heading back to Chi Town and people should be excited.
Zach figured something out last season and was quietly just as good as Darvish. Davies is set to become a free agent after the 2021 season. Even if he repeats what he did last year, he won’t command anywhere near what Darvish did. In the end, it might’ve worked out for the best. Something to point out is that Davies is a pitch to contact guy. His success relies heavily on batters getting themselves out as his career strikeout rate sites at 6.5 per nine innings. Guys like Davies don’t usually end up being tops in the league for very long. Take Dallas Keuchel for example. He won the Cy Young in 2015 and in 2016 he was terrible. There is a chance Zach looks like he did last year, but I’m not betting on it.
Joc Pederson replaces Schwarber as the team’s power-hitting lefty who’ll man left field. Realistically, Joc is better so people shouldn’t feel remorse over Kyle’s loss. Other than that, this team pretty much looks the same as it did at the end of 2020. Something noteworthy is the addition of Brandon Workman. He didn’t pitch well last season, but from 2017-2019 Workman was well above average. In 2019, he was one of the better relievers in baseball, posting an ERA+ of 256 (100 is league average). With the small adjustments to the roster plus an increase in production from some of the younger guys, the Cubs could win another division title.
Let’s talk about the young guys shall we? Nico Hoerner has been rough since making his debut (career OPS+ of 72) but he has the talent to be a solid player. While he still has plenty of time to turn it around, contending teams usually don’t wait around for guys to figure it out. It’s worth mentioning Nico did walk nearly three times as often last year when compared to his 2019 numbers. Also, he has only 208 career plate appearances. We can’t really judge who a guy is until he reaches the 500 plateau.
Brailyn Marquez and Albert Alzolay are a couple of pitchers that should factor into what Chicago does this year. Marquez pitched only 2/3 of an inning last year so there’s no way to judge his MLB debut. He’s got great stuff and should factor into being a strong lefty out of the pen. Im sorry to disappoint those who hope Brailyn would be a starter, but he’s destined to be a reliever. For Alzolay, he put together a really solid campaign in 2020. His 2019 debut didn’t go as planned and he turned it around in big way last year. Albert still walked too many guys, but he found a way to work around it. He will probably find himself in the back end of the rotation to begin the season.
2021 is going to be a big year for the Cubs. Bryant, Rizzo, and Báez are all set to be free agents once the season ends. It kind of feels like this is the last shot for the organization to piece it all together. The Cubs won the title back in 2016 but have largely disappointed as they haven’t been able to make it past the NLCS since. Bryant has been at odds with the team and Baez will have plenty of suitors when he is free to choose. That tells me it will be difficult for this team to stick together. Factor in the kind of money each of them will want and it seems impossible the Cubs stay in tact. 2021 might end up being a great season, but with the impending future being in such disarray people might not care what happens unless they win it all.