It’s December 30 and to date, the “biggest” move the Cubs have made this offseason is...
Honestly, there hasn’t been one. They have added five pitchers with big-league experience to the 40-man roster (one from inside the organization): Jharel Cotton, CD Pelham, Colin Rea, Ryan Tepera and Dan Winkler, and one more through the Rule 5 draft, Trevor Megill.
It isn’t likely that any of those six men will be a difference-maker or be “the guy” who will bring the Cubs back to the postseason.
Many of us have assumed that the Cubs are waiting for the Kris Bryant grievance to be resolved before they either trade KB or make other moves involving significant players.
This is mainly a thought exercise, because the front office seems very likely to make some deals and/or signings after that happens. But what if they don’t? What if what you currently see on the 40-man roster (and a so-far short list of non-roster invitees) is what you get on March 26 in Milwaukee?
Here’s what the 26-man roster would look like in that case. I’m making a few assumptions here; your choices might be a bit different.
Starting pitchers (5)
Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Alec Mills
Relief pitchers (8)
Craig Kimbrel, Tyler Chatwood, Kyle Ryan, Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck, Brandon Morrow, Dillon Maples, Ryan Tepera
Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini
Anthony Rizzo, David Bote, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Nico Hoerner, Robel Garcia, Zack Short, Hernan Perez
Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Tony Kemp
One thing to note about the 26 men listed above: Seven of them spent time on the injured list (or missed important time without going on the IL) during the 2019 season (Hendricks, Lester, Kimbrel, Contreras, Rizzo, Baez, Bryant).
Those seven are among the most important to the Cubs. I think you can imagine September 2019 might have turned out differently had Baez not missed essentially the entire month, and if Rizzo and Bryant hadn’t been injured late in the season. Contreras was on his way to his best MLB season before missing time with another hamstring injury, limiting him to only 105 games (and just 92 starts behind the plate). Kimbrel was never quite right, likely due to being rushed into action and then missing time with two injuries. Hendricks and Lester both made it to 30+ starts, but both also spent time on the IL.
The way I see it, this team could return to contention even with that 26-man roster, as long as they have a bit better luck with health in 2020 along with veteran players producing to their capabilities. Granted that Lester and Quintana had pretty bad years in 2019 and it’ll take rebounds from both of them to stabilize the starting rotation.
But in Baez, Bryant, Contreras, Rizzo and Schwarber, the Cubs have four players who have produced 3.9 bWAR or better seasons over the last three and one (Schwarber) who appears ready for a breakout year in 2020.
I’m also hopeful that Morrow will be healthy and productive in 2020. That would be a huge boost to the bullpen.
Granted, a lot of things would have to break right for the team as noted above to have a contending season. Consider, though, how many things went wrong in 2019. Any team that makes the postseason has to have a bit of luck go its way. Why can’t that happen to the 2020 Cubs?
I’m not saying the Cubs shouldn’t do anything before March 26 and I suspect they will, once the Bryant grievance is resolved. But even if they don’t, this is still a talented Cubs team. Perhaps they’ll have some pleasant surprises for us in 2020.