When looking through this list, keep in mind that not a single player on it was a Cub for all 10 seasons from 2010-19. The longest-tenured Cub — and the one who played the most seasons as a Cub of anyone on this list — is Anthony Rizzo, who has completed eight years in a Cubs uniform.
That’s actually somewhat rare. Of players whose careers began after 1969, in the divisional play era, here’s the complete list of everyone who’s played at least eight seasons in a Cubs uniform: Rizzo, Ryan Dempster, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood, Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, Shawon Dunston, Rick Sutcliffe, Jody Davis, Leon Durhan, Lee Smith, and Rick Reuschel. That’s 14 players, not a lot for half a century of play. And those are the men, I think, that we find most identified with the franchise over that half century.
Here, then, topped by the guy whose name you didn’t have to guess, are the 10 best Cubs players by baseball-reference WAR from 2010 through 2019, plus video of a signature moment in that player’s Cub career.
Anthony Rizzo: 33.0
Rizzo’s 33 bWAR in his eight years as a Cub averages 4.1 per season, and of course it’s really 7½ seasons, not eight, as he wasn’t called up in 2012 until late June.
There are lots of big moments in Rizzo’s career, but I thought I’d highlight one of his famous “tarp catches,” this one from August 13, 2015. Note how he keeps the presence of mind to relay the ball back to the infield after falling into the stands:
Kris Bryant: 25.1
Even with injury-marred seasons the last two years, KB has averaged 5.0 bWAR through his first five big-league seasons, which is All-Star level play.
There are also a lot of plays from Bryant’s career we could watch over and over, but how about this one, the one that ended the World Series drought?
Kyle Hendricks: 20.6
All you need to know about Kyle Hendricks is this:
Kyle has thrown a number of great games in his 5½ Cubs seasons, but perhaps none better than his 81-pitch complete game shutout of the Cardinals last May 3. Here are all 81 pitches in less than two minutes:
Jake Arrieta: 20.1
Jake posted that bWAR figure in five seasons, one of which consisted of just nine starts. His 8.3 bWAR 2015 season is one of the greatest not just in Cubs history, but for any pitcher of the post-World War II era.
Here are five minutes of highlights from Jake’s second no-hitter, thrown against the Reds in Cincinnati April 21, 2016.
Javier Baez: 16.6
Javy actually posted negative bWAR for his first two, partial seasons with the Cubs, so his total could have been higher. He has 17.1 bWAR for the last four years, an average of 4.3 per season.
There are so many Javy highlights I could show you, but I think one that shows both his tremendous baseball instincts best, plus his absolute fearlessness, is his steal of home in Game 1 of the 2016 NLCS:
Jon Lester: 13.7
Jon might be reaching the end of the line — though I still think he’s got one more good year left in him. But you cannot discount the first few years of his free-agent contract with the Cubs, perhaps the best free-agent signing in Cubs history.
There are a lot of great-pitched games in Jon’s Cubs tenure, but what he might be most remembered for when his time is done in Chicago is this walkoff bunt July 31, 2016:
Addison Russell: 12.1
I know how many here feel about Russell and I’d appreciate keeping those feelings down at this time. He did produce on the field over his first two seasons, even though I (and many of you) agree that it’s time for the Cubs to move on from him now.
One of his best moments as a Cub came on a freezing cold April day in 2017, the only walkoff homer of his career:
Willson Contreras: 11.5
Here’s another player who might have ranked higher in this list if not for injuries. Here’s to a healthy and productive 2020 for Willy.
Willson had appeared in a game as a defensive replacement before he came to bat for the first time in the big leagues. Here is the first big-league pitch he saw, June 19, 2016:
Starlin Castro: 10.8
You know, Castro was a pretty good player, even with some of his deficiencies (inability to walk much, occasionally getting distracted on the field).
If the price was right and the Cubs had room on the roster, I wouldn’t even mind having him back to back up shortstop and second base.
Starlin always loved to have fun on the field. Remember this play from May 6, 2015?
The 10th-best bWAR for a Cubs player in the 2010s is a tie, so you get a bonus player!
Pedro Strop: 7.4
Despite Strop’s struggles with injury the last two seasons, he still ranks as one of the best relievers in Cubs history. I certainly wouldn’t mind having him back for one more year, at the right price.
Pedro can get demonstrative, as shown in this strikeout against the White Sox August 14, 2015:
Darwin Barney: 7.4
You know, if Barney had been able to hit he might have stuck around long enough to get a World Series ring with the Cubs. He won a Gold Glove in 2012, the year he tied a major-league record by playing 141 consecutive errorless games. He hit well enough that year to play, especially on the awful 101-loss Cubs: .254/.299/.354. Even then, he posted a 4.7 bWAR season by having 3.6 of that WAR come from defense. His hitting regressed in 2013 and he was out of a regular job.
Here are four minutes’ worth of Darwin Barney defensive highlights:
And yes, in case you were wondering... I am going to post the companion piece to this article, the worst Cub WAR figures for the 2010s, tomorrow.