5 Offseason Moves the Cubs MUST Make this Winter
After yet another disappointing Wild Card Round exit for a Chicago Cubs team that remained in first place in the NL Central for 60 games straight, there are a lot more questions than answers at the conclusion of the 2020 season for this team than their early exit in 2018 at the hands of the Rockies in the Wild Card Round. For starters, the rotation is older and less controllable, this current core’s contracts are almost up, and now the question of whether or not Theo Epstein would be staying in Chicago has turned into who becomes his replacement?
This team is in trouble. Unlike their AL counterparts on the South Side of Chicago, things appear to be shakier in Wrigleyville. These are the five moves I believe can help the Chicago Cubs rebound, and avoid a complete tear down/re-build.
#1: There is No Transition Season, Theo’s Replacement HAS to come from Outside.
The simple solution for who replaces the Cubs’ current President of Baseball Operations is to promote General Manager, Jed Hoyer. While the time would be apparent for Hoyer to become the top dog, this chance cannot come in Chicago. Hoyer has been in the shadows of Theo Epstein dating back to Theo’s days in Boston. Hoyer’s contract is up at the same time of Epstein’s, and the Ricketts’ would be wise to let him walk. Hoyer would not only continue the direction that Theo Epstein has put this club on, but he would also continue the mediocrity the Chicago Cubs organization has been content with since their glorious 2016 World Series winning season. The next Cubs’ President of Baseball Ops needs to come from the outside. The Cubs need a new direction, otherwise more of the same failed seasons similar to 2019 and early postseason exits like 2018 and 2020 are on the horizon.
I particularly like Erik Neander from the Tampa Bay Rays, who serves as Tampa’s Senior VP of Baseball Operations and General Manager under Matthew Silverman. The Tampa Bay Rays have done a lot more than the Cubs have in the last four seasons with a lot less. Neander is ready to become “the guy” and I believe he should be Tom Ricketts’ first choice.
#2: Trade Kris Bryant.
A year ago I was defending Kris Bryant remaining with the Cubs no matter what. A lot has changed in that time span however. Kris Bryant filed a grievance case against the Cubs for his delayed call-up in 2015 which netted Chicago an extra year of team control, which would be this coming season. Bryant also once again missed a considerable amount of time of the season on the IL, appearing in only 34 of the season’s 60 games. Bryant’s stats also took a big hit in 2020, and while we have to take this with a grain of salt due to the nature of the season we had to have due to 2020, Bryant’s AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS all took a major hit, finishing well below his career averages.
Kris Bryant Stats:
AVG: .206 .280
OBP: .293 .380
SLG: .351 .508
OPS: .644 .889
Bryant is becoming a more injury prone player, and quite honestly he just does not look like the star potential player he was just a few seasons ago. The odds of him remaining in Chicago following next season are already slim, so Chicago would be wise to get something in return for Bryant before he walks out the door.
#3. Extend Anthony Rizzo & Javier Baez.
Let’s start with the easy one, Anthony Rizzo needs to be a Cub for life. For most, he is the first current player everyone thinks about when someone says, “Chicago Cubs.” Rizzo is a dependable and powerful left-handed bat in this lineup, and he is the only one who truly deserves to wear a “C” on his chest for this team. As far as Javier Baez goes, he is a generational talent that brings excitement to the Cubs defense, and he is the team’s most marketable player. Also, let’s be honest here, we all love a good El Mago tag every now and then! Even the Tim Anderson lovers in Chicago have to recognize that Baez is the best shortstop in the Windy City.
#4. Retain Lester. Promote Alzolay. Sign Stroman.
Jon Lester has been the workhorse out of Chicago’s rotation since his arrival in 2015. He is arguably the Chicago Cubs greatest free agent signing ever, and I very much believe he can be a solid #4/#5 for this club. He has the ability to be great in big games, and is a dependable lefty in a now bare Cubs rotation. While he did post his worst career ERA in a season (5.16), he still managed to strike out 42 over 61.0 innings with allowing just 17 walks. Those are the makings of a great back-end-of-the-rotation guy. We all would love to see Lester end his career with David Ross as well!
Adbert Alzolay has earned his spot in this rotation, or at least the opportunity to fight for one. Like Alec Mills, Alzolay is a young, controllable, and internal option for David Ross’s 2021 squad that could serve nicely behind a 1-2 punch of Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish. Alzolay finished the 2020 season with a 1-1 record in 4 starts boasting a 2.95 ERA striking out 29 in 21.1 innings. With more experience, Alzolay, like Mills was this season, will be the name to watch heading into 2021 Spring Training.
Marcus Stroman, not Trevor Bauer, needs to be at the top of Chicago’s desired starting pitcher free agents. Bauer will garner the attention of the big markets (Dodgers, Yankees) and will get the heavy attention from Cincinnati to bring him back, and the Cubs would be wise to go after who I consider to be the best 2020 free agent that is best suited for this team this offseason. The Cubs have three spots open for 2021. Lester, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood are all free agents. Stroman will be in a difficult position as he opted to sit out the 2020 season, so he will be going off of his 2019 stats. Theo Epstein could make amends for some of his worse free agency signings by bringing in Stroman to fill a rotation spot the Cubs suddenly find themselves needing to fill. I believe a fair contract would be 3yrs/$35M ($11.5M per year).
#5. Retain Jeremy Jeffress.
Jeremy Jeffress was my favorite pitcher to follow in 2020. I know Cy Young finalist, Yu Darvish, was the most fun to follow, but Jeremy Jeffress brought his career back from what many presumed was over following his abysmal 2019 season in Milwaukee. Jeffress emerged early on as the most dependable arm in David Ross’s bullpen, appearing in 22 games, pitching 23.1 innings, all while boasting a 1.54 ERA, his second lowest of his ten-year career, while allowing only 4 earned runs all season. Jeffress was even the team’s closer at the beginning of the season while Craig Kimbrel struggled to regain his dominance as the ninth inning man.