Usually, this article runs in early October, but the Cubs' postseason run has delayed my normal postseason grades by a couple of weeks. I certainly don't mind the delay and I'm sure you don't either.
A reminder that these grades are subjective, my opinion on each player's performance. Obviously I'm looking at their numbers, and then adding my own feelings about how they did this year. Also, since the grades are subjective, a "B" for one player might not mean the same as a "B" for someone else; I'm looking at them in terms of expectations as well as actual performance.
I'm also including the postseason performances in my analysis, though those won't be a major factor. I'm going to stick mostly with the players who were on the postseason roster or who played major roles with the team during the regular season.
With that brief introduction out of the way, let's look at the 2015 Cubs!
Anthony Rizzo: A- Rizzo is the acknowledged leader of this team, from his on-field performance to his clubhouse presence. He'll get some MVP votes, though won't win the award. The reason for the "minus" here is Rizzo's annoying tendency to go into slumps. He hit .250/.372/.413 in July, for example. Those are good numbers for many players, but Rizzo has set a higher standard. Otherwise his play this year has been wonderful. He'll be a mainstay here for many years
Starlin Castro: B I can't give Castro enough credit for what he did after he lost the starting shortstop job and was benched. In 47 games following that to the end of the season, Castro hit .353/.373/.588 with 12 doubles, a triple, six home runs and only 18 strikeouts in 136 at-bats. He went just 2-for-16 against the Mets, but that easily could have been better -- several of the outs were hit hard, but right to Mets fielders.
Addison Russell: B The Cubs clearly missed Russell in the NLCS, but his performance up to then was excellent, especially since he had almost no time in Triple-A before his callup. He posted a 3.3 bWAR season at age 21 and played exceptional defense.
Kris Bryant: A- The probable N.L. Rookie of the Year started well, slumped a bit toward midseason and then had an amazing last two months, hitting .323/.400/.567 with 12 HR in 58 games from August 1 to season's end. His defense at third base was better than I expected, although I do think he'll eventually wind up in the outfield.
Miguel Montero: B- While his offense was pretty much right in line with his career norms, his defense got worse as the year went on. There were 89 base-stealing attempts against him and he threw out only 18, not a good percentage, and his pitch-blocking failures hurt the Cubs in the postseason. He seems a good clubhouse presence, so that has value.
Chris Coghlan: B- He did what he was asked. Hit for more power in 2015 than 2014 (16 home runs was a career high), though his batting average dropped. Defensively he's just adequate, and I would not be surprised to see the Cubs move on from him in 2016.
Dexter Fowler: B Although Fowler's batting average and OBP dropped in 2015, he set career highs in home runs and walks (a career high in PA accounting for the OBP drop). He's the best center fielder and leadoff man the Cubs have had in years, though the bar isn't too high for that qualification. The Cubs will ask him back, though he could wind up leaving.
Jorge Soler: B- Soler's problem, and it's something that could plague him throughout his career, is injuries, and he's showing signs of being injury-prone even at age 23. He hit pretty well in his first full season, but he'll have to stay healthy (and cut down on the strikeouts) to be useful going forward.
Kyle Schwarber: B The power is amazing. The strike-zone judgment is solid, far beyond his experience level. He'll have to learn to play better defense, whether it's in left field or behind the plate. I have no doubt he'll work hard to do that.
Chris Denorfia: B- He did as he was asked, which was to be a useful fourth or fifth outfielder. He played good defense and had several key hits. I happened to see Denorfia walk down to the bullpen near the end of NLCS Game 4 and shake hands with everyone there -- almost as if he knows he's not coming back.
David Ross: C+ Ross provides leadership qualities beyond his on-field performance. He has to, because his hitting isn't good even by backup-catcher standards. He does play good defense behind the plate, in pitch-blocking, pitch-framing and throwing out runners. He's under contract for 2016, and will certainly be back.
Tommy La Stella: B- He missed most of the year with an oblique injury, but played well in limited duty in September. He vanished in the postseason (0-for-10), but given that he can play both second and third base, he'll surely be back.
Javier Baez: B+ I give Baez a ton of credit. He had a horrid spring and wound up back at Triple-A Iowa, then suffered a deep personal loss when his sister passed away. Then he was just starting to get on track when he broke a finger and missed several weeks. He hit .289/.325/.408 in limited duty in September, and even cut down somewhat on the strikeouts (31.6 percent K rate, as compared to 44.6 percent in 2014). He won't turn 23 until next month and could become a supersub in 2016, or perhaps even move to center field.
Jonathan Herrera: C He played good defense, put down a useful bunt or two and invented the "Rally Bucket." Having guys like that who understand their role is useful on any team's bench. The Cubs probably could use someone who could hit a little better in this role, so they'll probably move on to someone else.
Matt Szczur: C- If there were a record for most callups and options in one year, he'd probably have set it -- he was up and down to Triple-A Iowa eight different times. He plays defense reasonably well and can run a bit, but doesn't hit much. Fifth outfielder is his ceiling, and he might wind up on another team.
Austin Jackson: C Delivered a couple of big hits, could be a center-field option if Fowler is not re-signed. Otherwise, he too is a FA and is probably gone.
Quintin Berry: Incomplete Berry was brought in for a specific purpose, didn't do much, and the Cubs will need his 40-man roster spot. He'll likely be DFA'd.
Jake Arrieta: A+ What more can I add? Jake had a season for the ages, perhaps the best pitching season in Cubs history. I hope he can do it again next year.
Jon Lester: B+ If only Lester could face the Cardinals every start. He posted a 2.59 ERA in five regular-season starts against them, and went 3-for-11 as a hitter against them. This year is a mild disappointment for Lester, who pitched better than his W/L record. Part of the reason for that is his presence in the batting order along with Ross. That led to Lester ranking 106th of 124 qualified starters in run support this year. Hopefully, next year brings better results.
Jason Hammel: C This would have been an A for the first half and an F for the second half. Hammel was excellent, among the league leaders in ERA and WHIP before his injury July 8. After that he was one of the worst starters in the league. Hopefully, the 2016 version of Hammel is more first-half than second-half.
Kyle Hendricks: C The dreaded "sophomore jinx" hit Hendricks. He was very good his rookie year, and showed signs of that in 2015, but was mostly mediocre. Still, he posted an ERA under 4 (3.95) and a FIP better than that (3.36), so there's at least a chance he can do better in 2016. Without great velocity, he has to locate almost perfectly to win. He didn't do that quite enough in 2015, but clearly, he has the ability to do so.
Travis Wood: B- Wood washed out as a starter and was removed from the rotation in May, upon which he became a useful reliever, posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.207 WHIP in 45 relief appearances, with 71 strikeouts in 58 relief innings. The K's were somewhat surprising, but Wood's velocity was better out of the pen. He'll be a valuable bullpen piece in 2016.
Hector Rondon: A- Rondon had a couple of blown saves early which got him removed from the closer role temporarily. After regaining the closer spot in late July he posted a 1.38 ERA in 27 appearances, with 18 saves in 19 chances (30 saves in 34 opportunities overall). He's probably the best Rule 5 pick in Cubs history. Well done, Theo & Co.
Pedro Strop: B He had another good season in the setup spot, except for an inexplicable inability to retire Cardinals hitters. St. Louis batters hit .333/.462/.567 (10-for-30, six walks) against him and he had an 11.05 ERA in 11 games against them, while posting a 2.25 ERA against everyone else. He's had 2½ good years for the Cubs and will certainly be back to do it again next year.
Fernando Rodney: B- Did what he was asked after he was acquired, though your final memory of him will be the homer he allowed to Daniel Murphy in Game 4. It's probably his last appearance for the Cubs, and he might wind up retiring.
Justin Grimm: B He pitched well most of the year, then had a really bad finish to the regular season, posting a 4.76 ERA in his final 15 appearances (and that would have been worse, except the five runs he allowed in one bad outing to the Phillies were all unearned). He appears to have gotten past that, given his three scoreless outings in the postseason.
Clayton Richard: B Call him the "Zombie Reliever," as the Cubs kept trying to DFA and release him, only to see him come back and become a useful bullpen piece over the last two months. He'll almost certainly be back in this role in 2016.
Trevor Cahill: A- Cahill was a revelation in the bullpen in September and in the postseason, after having been let go by three teams this year (Braves, Diamondbacks, Dodgers). Never really a strikeout pitcher, he struck out 22 in 17 relief innings for the Cubs during the regular season and eight more in 5⅓ postseason innings. He is just 27 and was once a pretty good starting pitcher. He's a free agent, and the Cubs will surely want him back. I hope they give him a shot at the 2016 rotation.
Jason Motte: C+ Pitched well at times, poorly at others, and then spent much of the last two months on the disabled list. He's a free agent and it's unclear whether the Cubs will invite him back.
Carl Edwards Jr.: Incomplete The pitcher formerly known as C.J. threw a few innings for the Cubs in September to give him a bit of big-league experience. He throws hard, but I wonder if he has the stamina to be a big-league starter. He could be a useful reliever, though.
Neil Ramirez: Incomplete Once again, he showed flashes of real talent but couldn't stay healthy. He's just 26 and could be a real key part of the 2016 bullpen if he can stay on the active roster.
Tommy Hunter: D Didn't really do well after his acquisition from the Orioles, pitched only four times in the season's last 29 games and didn't make any of the postseason rosters. He's a free agent who will likely not be back.
Zac Rosscup: C He showed flashes of being a useful LOOGY, but at other times looked pretty hittable. He'll certainly get another shot at being in the pen next year.
Mike Baxter, Junior Lake, Welington Castillo, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Taylor Teagarden, Dan Haren, Tsuyoshi Wada, Dallas Beeler, James Russell, Donn Roach, Phil Coke, Yoervis Medina, Edwin Jackson, Brian Schlitter, Gonzalez Germen and Rafael Soriano all played in at least one game for the 2015 Cubs. I trust you don't need any more words on any of them.
I'll have a separate article on the coaching staff and executives tomorrow.