The Cubs have a monumental work load this off-season. Whether ownership and management realize it is another story.
Front and center is a new managerial hire. The question is whether the new manager will be more effective than Maddon, or will he be handcuffed by front office hires. Maddon had to accept the rotation of coaches hired by the front office. A new, experienced manager would want to hire his "own guys" to make sure his philosophies are implemented with the players. But the Cubs clearly do not operate that way. The front office has embrace high technology and advanced statistics to the point that they believe a baseball game is no different than a computer game. It is more than likely the new Cubs skipper will be a figurehead manager.
For a long time, we have been on the roster construction issue. The Esptein Cubs have drafted quality hitters, but only Kris Bryant has proven to meet expectations when not injured. Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and Ian Happ have become platoon players. You cannot field a team of .235 hitters and expect to win.
Where are the area needing upgraded improvements?
1. SECOND BASE. There has been a convention of players who tried to play the position. No one has made a lasting impression as a starting second baseman. Theo & Company have fallen into the Jim Hendry trap of drafting and promoting multiple second basemen to play various positions (not well). As it currently stands, is Addison Russell your starting 2020 second baseman? (cringe). Or is it unexpected rookie call up Nico Hoerner? (maybe).
2. CENTER FIELD. Albert Almora had an opportunity to take the CF position but failed. He cannot hit major league pitching. Jason Heyward played center to the detriment of his defense and his offense. When he was playing right field and batting 5th or 6th in the line-up, he was nearly a .300 hitter. When Maddon moved him to center and lead off (out of necessity) he crashed to a .117 hitter. Everyone expects Heyward's untradeable contract to be parked in Right Field in 2020.
3. CLOSER/BULLPEN. Brandon Morrow was a dead money contract from the get-go. Craig Kimbrel is looking like Morrow 2.0. The bullpen is going to be churned and burned again because the Cubs minor league system is not producing any quality arms. Dillon Maples has a fastball but no control. James Norwood has no long run consistency. Duane Underwood could be the next Carl Edwards. You have the journeyman club of David Phelps, Danny Hultzen, Alec Mills, Rowan Wick, Brad Weick and Kyle Ryan. Of that group, maybe two or three will stay on the roster.
4. STARTING ROTATION. The starters suddenly got old and bad. It was a year long struggle just to complete five innings. Jose Quintana was the most consistent pitcher but he was not great. The professor, Kyle Hendricks, got schooled for most of the second half. Cole Hamels will not return. Jon Lester may have no gas left in the tank. The fifth starter has been a lingering problem since Tyler Chatwood failed to be demoted to the bullpen. The Cubs have only two potential arms in minors: Adbert Alzolay, who was rocked in his spot starts, and Colin Rea, a rehab pitcher who was the best player on the 2019 Iowa Cubs. There may be two or three openings in the rotation for next season.
5. LEFT FIELD. Fans like Kyle Schwarber in left. The front office loves Schwarbie. But even with the Cubs own mantra about big data requirements like OBP, Schwarber fails. His defense is still sub par. His offense is confined to a homer or bust mentality. With his natural short swing, he takes too many pitches and strikes out too often. Is he a trade candidate? Yes. Will the Cubs get a good return? Probably not because DH candidates do not command much trade value. Besides, which team is desperate to find a young Adam Dunn?
There are at least 10 positions that need to be upgraded by the Cubs. Ten. That is an expected 40% roster turnover. It has to be done. It has to be painful. The Cubs window for a championship slams shut in two years when Bryant, Baez and Rizzo become free agents.
Ownership does not appear inclined to spend money in free agent to fix holes. The pending Cubs network is looking like a financial disaster. The Marquee Network has no distribution platform. Cable and dish-tv services are rebelling against regional sports channel subscriber fees as cord cutting continues to rake the industry.
The front office will have to try its stars in order to bolster the roster. But Theo does not like to trade "his guys." Do you trade Bryant for 2 or 3 major league ready players plus prospects? Two years ago that was unthinkable. Today, it is a viable option. But Bryant may not have the most trade value. Javy Baez is the most exciting player. Willson Contreras is a rare catcher with power. Baez and Contreras could fetch the most off-season trade returns. Both are not Theo & Company draft picks but they are part of the core and would be hard to replace.
But something will have to change or the Cubs will continue to slide in the NL Central.