There's an unwritten rule for sports writers: all features this time of year must reference March Madness in some way. I assume Brian McCann and/or the Atlanta Braves enforce this unwritten rule.
So to avoid my kangaroo court fine, let's focus on the number 16. The March Madness version of the Sweet Sixteen is set. Those sixteen schools will be whittled down to the Final Four by the end of this coming Sunday.
In that spirit, here are the 16* most important members of the Cubs' organization in 2015, in bracket form (and see if you can identify each region's theme!).
* 16 plus a few bonus choices!
Friendly Confines Region
#1 seed (overall #1) -Joe Maddon: The Cubs new skipper will have his fingerprints on strategy, player development, and clubhouse chemistry. He will also befuddle the masses with his intellect.
#2 seed - Theo Epstein & Tom Ricketts: The Cubs' President of Baseball Operations has total influence over roster construction. The owner controls the money to spend.
#3 seed - Mark O'Neal and the medical staff: We'll keep our fingers crossed O'Neal and his staff aren't busy this year. But chances are someone important will get hurt and will be relying on the medical staff for a speedy recovery.
#4 seed - The Project Manager of The Wrigley Renovations: Seriously. Let's get this done.
Regional side note: Crane Kenney is the sleeper here. He's got media contracts to continue to iron out. He's also most likely to do something that ends up on the front page of the sports section for the wrong reason.
#1 seed (overall #2) - Anthony Rizzo: The Cubs' best hitter, a MVP candidate, and the club leader. All at the ripe old age of 25.
#2 seed - Miguel Montero: The new backstop needs to have a huge impact on the pitchers and a rebound year with the bat.
#3 seed - Jorge Soler: He will have to provide right-handed power in the middle of the line-up from Opening Night.
#4 seed - Dexter Fowler: He has to set the table on offense and stabilize what could be a sometimes shaky outfield defense.
Regional side note: I don't dislike you, Starlin Castro. You were the fifth seed in this region.
Old Style Region
#1 seed (#3 overall) - Jake Arrieta: If the Cubs are going where they want in 2015, he cannot be "Less Than (2014) Jake." With just one full season as a true impact starter, he gets the nod as having the biggest impact in this region.
#2 seed - Jon Lester: The new ace will need to be Mr. Reliable.
#3 seed - whatever starting pitcher the Cubs trade for midseason: If the Cubs are in it, that means the kids on offense are contributing. That makes the rotation the likely spot for a midseason upgrade. Perhaps unless...
#4 seed - starting pitchers with a last name that begins with 'H': One of Jason Hammel or Kyle Hendricks has to be a solid third starter. If they really step up, maybe a starter wouldn't be needed.
Regional side note: Would you be more excited for the Cubs to acquire Cole Hamels because he's an awesome pitcher or so we could all play an epic drinking game where we take a shot every time a writer or broadcaster mixes up Hammel and Hamels?
Deep Dish Region
#1 seed (#4 overall) - Kris Bryant: "Sparkles Watch" will be April's biggest story. And no one else from baseball can promote a bigger bat from their system.
#2 seed - Javier Baez: No player has a bigger variance in possible outcomes. Baez could spend the whole year in Iowa, he could scuffle in the bigs, he could have roller coaster up and downs, or it could all click and he could lay waste to the league.
#3 seed - Lefthanded relievers: I don't care if it is Phil Coke, Zac Rosscup, Joseph Ortiz, Drake Britton, Felix Doubront, Tsuyoshi Wada or someone else. Not many teams are successful without at least one reliable lefty in the pen. So someone better step up.
#4 seed - Hector Rondon: He's sure got the demeanor to hold the closer's gig for a long time. But relievers are known for volatile performances and Cub closers imploding in April has unfortunately been a theme lately.
Regional side note: Don't pull a brain muscle guessing. This is the miscellaneous regional.
So, what do you think? Who wins the bracket? What sleepers could pull an upset? And who makes your Final Four?