Only four seasons removed from their historic 2016 World Series championship, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer find themselves at a crossroads as the core of their title team heads into their free agency walk seasons. Led by Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo, the key offensive components of the Cubs roster that ended the franchise’s 108-year championship drought are looking at big contracts at the conclusion of next season.
Rookie manager David Ross was handed the reigns from former skipper Joe Maddon and fared well during the regular season. Leading the Cubs to a National League Central division title before quickly being dispatched in a two-game division series postseason sweep by the Miami Marlins. Although they won their division, the Cubs offense sputtered through a season hitting an MLB fourth worse .220 throughout the abbreviated 60-game season.
The Cubs enter the winter looking at three of their five 2020 starting pitchers hitting free agency and a bullpen without a reliable late-inning solution. The Cubs have the offensive potential to compete in 2021 if they can fill the void left with departing pitchers. Surrounding Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks with additional arms will be key to success next season. Whether they feel they have the starting pitching in their organization or invest in outside talent to fill those needs will be a focus for Epstein, Hoyer, and the front office minds in the North Side during the coming months. Those integral pieces of the Cubs lineup heading into free agency next year are tempting trade chips but coming off sub-par seasons will likely affect the haul they will see in return.
Keys to the Offseason
Extend or Trade Free Class of 2022
Bryant, Rizzo, Baez, and Kyle Schwarber are all heading into their final contract seasons before embarking on free agency. It’s safe to assume they will not come to terms on extensions with all four prior to them testing the market but they could make a serious run at signing one or two this offseason. Chicago needs to decide which of these pieces best fits in their future plans beyond 2021 and begin negotiating contract extensions as soon as possible. Anthony Rizzo seems to fit that bill best and those that can’t be signed, or just don’t wish to sign beyond next season, should be shopped around exhaustively this winter to find the best trade return.
Add Middle of the Rotation Pitching
One and two starters, Darvish and Hendricks, are under contract for the next three years together but Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood are all currently free agents. Alec Mills was a regular-season highlight when he surprised baseball with his September 13th no-hitter in Milwaukee. As of today, Mills along with prospects Adbert Alzolay, Brailyn Marquez, Tyson Miller, and Cory Abbott are all in-house options to compete for spots in next year’s rotation. Anticipate the Cubs to seeking to add a veteran starting pitching to a short-term contract or targeting controllable big-league ready arm in trades involving the aforementioned upcoming free agents. Also, don’t count out Lester or Quintana coming back as free agents as Chicago may be the best fit for both in 2021.
Revive the Offense
In late October, the Cubs decided not to tender assistant hitting coach Termel Sledge contract for next season. Understandable to look make changes considering their offensive woes last season. Sledge appears to be the scapegoat for the team’s hitting woes last season as hitting coach Anthony Iapoce somehow escaped the ax after two seasons in that role. Three of their four future free agents hit below the offense’s combined .220 batting average with Anthony Rizzo barely hitting above it at a disappointing .222 average. All four vets severely underperformed last season and the Cubs are surely betting on improvement from all next season. Expect the front office to target a veteran hitter to add to the line-up, especially if they deal one of those veterans.
Jose Quintana 3 years/$42 million
Of all the free-agent options available, Quintana would seem to have more value to the Cubs than any other organization. After all, they paid a hefty price acquiring the lefty from the White Sox in exchange for Eloy Jimenez. Quintana missed the majority of the early part of last season with a hand injury but returned healthy for the final weeks of the season and will fit in nicely as the number three starter.
Marwin Gonzalez 2 years/$21 million
The 31-year-old utility player hit a career-low .211 in his final season with the Twins but suitors will be counting on a bounce-back 2021 season ahead of him. The Cubs have a good track record with multi-faceted position players and Gonzalez addition provides David Ross another player similar to David Bote, able to fill multiple spots in any given day’s batting order.
Joakim Soria 1 year/$7,5 million
The veteran right-handed reliever provides Chicago with a solid eighth inning set-up option that can be thrust into a closer role if Craig Kimbrel’s struggles continue next season. Much like free agent Jeremy Jeffress in 2020, Soria provides an experienced late-inning option to surround the younger bullpen the organization is introducing through their minor league system. The previously mentioned Jeffress may also continue to be a fit in the bullpen if he decides to resign with the Cubbies.
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