This offseason, like last, is off to a relatively slow start. The Cubs haven’t made any moves beyond a couple of waiver claims.
And these comments by Cubs GM Jed Hoyer earlier this week are quite interesting:
“I feel really comfortable where we are with our offense,” Hoyer said. “I mean, you look around the diamond — all the guys have performed in different years exceptionally well. They’re still young. It’s about getting that group to gel as a group.
”In the second half, we kinda cratered. A number of guys underperformed. I think we have a plenty good offense if we don’t add another hitter. That being said, we’ll look around; we’ll certainly have discussions, but our focus really is on our own guys.”
“Our focus really is on our own guys.”
I wrote last February that the Cubs’ 2019 25-man roster was likely going to look a lot like 2018’s, due to players on multiyear deals and young players who are under team control (some of the latter, past 2019).
And if you go back and read the 2019 payroll estimates I made here earlier this month, you can see that next year’s Cubs team already has more than 25 players who could qualify for the Opening Day roster, and unless the team makes trades, they’re likely going to be well over the luxury tax threshold (and maybe over level 2 of that threshold).
To me, the only question as of now is what the team’s going to do with Addison Russell. He’ll likely be tendered a 2019 contract by Friday’s deadline, but the Cubs could wind up trading him. If they do so, they can fill his spot by moving Javier Baez permanently to shortstop and (at least for 2019) platooning Ben Zobrist and David Bote at second base.
What Hoyer was likely referring to in his comments were underperforming years by Willson Contreras and Ian Happ, hoped-for improvements by Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr., a return to health and MVP-candidate form by Kris Bryant, and even a better year from Anthony Rizzo, who dropped from 5.5 bWAR in 2016 to 4.3 in 2017 to 2.7 in 2018.
Except for Rizzo, all of the above-mentioned players will be in their age-27 or younger season in 2019, certainly ages at which they could continue to improve. The team dropped in run-scoring from 822 in 2017 to 761 in 2018, and in home runs from 223 to 167. That’s supposedly one of the reasons hitting coach Chili Davis was let go not long after the 2018 season ended.
And despite that, and having two free-agent acquisitions (Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood) be basically worthless most of the season, the Cubs still won 95 games in 2018.
I think what Hoyer was saying, then, is that this is still a solid team that had some issues, particularly with hitting, in 2018. This is a telling statistic:
Most games this season with 1 or 0 runs scored:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 1, 2018
Now which one of those teams shouldn’t belong in that group? All of those teams lost at least 85 games in 2018... except the Cubs. The offense just vanished at some of the worst possible times, and did so again in the wild-card game, which isn’t included in that total. Read Hoyer’s words again:
“In the second half, we kinda cratered. A number of guys underperformed. I think we have a plenty good offense if we don’t add another hitter. That being said, we’ll look around; we’ll certainly have discussions, but our focus really is on our own guys.”
Essentially, I think this says the Cubs aren’t going to make any big-splash free-agent signings or trades unless they get blown away with an offer, which I suppose could happen, but doesn’t seem likely. Remember, the question I’m posing here isn’t “Should the Cubs spend more money?” The answer to that is likely “Yes.” But they seem to have chosen a different route. So the question I’m asking is: “Will the Cubs spend more money?” And the answer to that is probably “No.”
That’s what makes this such a pivotal season, as Theo Epstein hinted in his end-of-season news conference. The window of contention for this group was supposed to last through at least 2021. But if the team doesn’t come out with the renewed sense of purpose that Theo also noted as something he’d like to see, we could see major changes after 2019.
2019, though? I think what you see on the roster right now is pretty much what you’re going to get March 28, when the Cubs open the season against the Rangers at Arlington, Texas.