2019 was an odd duck of a campaign for the Cubs. If you think that a year is a failure without a World Series championship, pennant or division title, this was a wasted season. My interest has waned the last few days. But, then, South Bend won the Midwest League title and I enjoyed that run. But this article isn't about enjoyment, but learning. What did 2019 teach you about baseball?
Civility concerns tell me to scamper away. Many people, given a free kick like this, tend to punch down. So-and-so sucks. This or that is a dumpster fire. Craig Kimbrel was a waste of effort (and money), regardless if you wanted him or not in February or May. I'm at a bit of ease that his signing didn't prevent the Cubs from signing recent additions Chase Strumpf, Brayan Altuve or Kevin Made, the last two being international signings. Guessing right on veteran free agents isn't a strong point for Theo Epstein, so far. Some have hit, some have missed, and some have missed badly.
With the definition of "learned" being new information added, I learned a few things. The rousing applause for Adbert Alzolay and Duane Underwood Jr. were among my high points for the season. If the season had three weeks remaining, I'd prefer Alzolay and "DUJ" to get more outings than Steve Cishek, who I have little time for. He's good two-thirds of the time, but that other third...
Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck, and James Norwood ought to get valid looks next spring. At least the lack of "numbers depth" in the bullpen should lead to some possibilities in the minor-league contract market for relievers. Des Moines will be a flight away in 2020, yet again. It isn't any sort of surprise that kids who might be on the next flight to Des Moines will prioritize the Pitch Lab more than a guy with eight figures guaranteed.
As time has extended, I have grown less surprised by the lack of pennants by the Cubs, recently. The Dodgers are a better squad, for numerous reasons. The Braves seem better positioned, as well. In the current environment, like it or not, bad contracts are detrimental in MLB. Many contracts were generally supported, until they blew up like an ink pen you just sat on. Burdensome contracts make extensions more difficult, whether the subject is Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, or Nicholas Castellanos.
Among the best ways to counter burdensome contracts is to get nearer to a maximum from draft classes. Nico Hoerner looks long-term useful, but his being on the 40-man roster limits other options this offseason, slightly. The 40-man can only have 40 after the season concludes. Waiver claims are a way to add potential talent at low levels of risk. Hoerner on the 40-man limits a few possibilities.
What I most learned was about people, though. Cubs fans thought that "the core" should have had more success — like the Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins core could have. In both cases, the team wasn't quite good enough. Center field, and the lack of a proper leadoff hitter were a significant part of the problem in both cases. Neither front office delivered, and Albert Almora Jr. and Adolfo Phillips pulled up short, for whatever reasons.
In the final analysis, the better teams have more ready talent awaiting a callup. If Robel Garcia improves, if Hoerner doesn't backslide, and if Alzolay and Underwood are joined by other home-grown talent, the future might be bright. It's mildly amusing how people can watch a five-year movie and miss the plot basics. In baseball, creating a legacy without regularly arriving inexpensive talent doesn't work. The Nationals lost Bryce Harper to Philadelphia, but outdid the Phillies with younger outfielders that allowed the Nationals to spend on other needs. Most prospects will misfire, but it's tough to win without cost-controlled quality. Most of the cost control from 2016 is gone. Here's to the next names. I look forward to learning more about them in 2020. May they play meaningful September baseball, as well.