Chicago Cubs News

Chicago Cubs: How can the Cubs be even better in 2017?

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Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell (27) celebrates with teammate Anthony Rizzo (44) after hitting a grand slam against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell (27) celebrates with teammate Anthony Rizzo (44) after hitting a grand slam against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
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Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs player Kyle Schwarber (12) hits a single against the Cleveland Indians in the 10th inning in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs player Kyle Schwarber (12) hits a single against the Cleveland Indians in the 10th inning in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Key Free Agents: Dexter Fowler (CF), Chris Coghlan (UTIL), David Ross (C)

Aside from Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler is the Cubs’ most important free agent departure.

“You Go, We Go,” wasn’t just a cute saying Cubs fans had created to show their love for Fowler. This season was truly better for the Cubs when Fowler was leading off, starting in center field. Most games without him were a huge adjustment.

No Cubs player had a higher on-base percentage than Fowler, and his home run to lead off game seven of the World Series truly speaks for itself. Fowler declined his option for 2017 and will test the free agent waters. Rightfully so. The past two seasons he’s spent in Chicago have been marvelous for him and for the Cubs, and he’s set to get a huge multi-year deal from some team.

Moving On?

But will Fowler come crashing the Cubs’ offseason party again like he did last year? Will he return to the team that he won a championship with, or will the Cubs grit their teeth, smile, and tell Fowler ‘Good luck’?

It’s a scary thought, but we may have seen Fowler’s final game with the Cubs. If so, it was an incredible two years.

The Cubs have a young stud prospect in Albert Almora Jr. who is an excellent defender and is developing at the plate. They also have flexibility with Jason Heyward, who won a Gold Glove in right field.

The loss of Fowler would be pretty big, but the Cubs have more than enough firepower to sustain and overcome. Also, the option of bringing Fowler back is not out of the question, but the Cubs would have to get lucky and get him back on their own terms.

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Like I said — it’s not out of the question.

With Heyward likely spending the majority of his time working with Cubs hitting coaches in the batting cage all offseason, Maddon is going to have to get creative with the lineup if/when Fowler departs.

It might seem like a very far off option right now, but the idea of having Heyward bat leadoff is something we could be seriously discussing prior to April. Now, that discussion might be short and sweet, but Heyward in the year prior to coming to Chicago hit .293 in 547 plate appearances, then hit .357 in five postseason games.

He runs well, he can steal, and there was even a time when he drew 91 walks in a season.

With a more patient approach at the plate and a revived swing, Heyward can start living up to the massive contract he signed last offseason. I don’t know if he’ll be the leadoff man, but he started off the 2016 season in the two-hole behind Fowler, so the Cubs obviously thought enough of his ability to get on base to put him there then.

The situations of Fowler and Heyward will be among the most intriguing to watch for the Cubs all offseason, as will the status of their top flight position players elsewhere.

Two or Three Catchers?

Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero will be the Cubs’ catching duo next season, and you’ve got to think that Kyle Schwarber will make his way behind the plate at some point again as well. The beauty of a player like Contreras is, he can give you great defense from both catcher and left field, but his arm and growing confidence calling games behind the plate are very valuable assets to the Cubs’ talented pitching staff.

First base is locked down by the man, Anthony Rizzo, the heart and soul of the Cubs, the Gold Glove winner, and the man whose smile has won all of our hearts. The rest of the infield will be made up of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez, but we know Bryant and Baez offer positional flexibility to the team as well.

Ben Zobrist, the World Series MVP, could start opening day in left field, which means the Cubs have some big decisions to make.

Where does Kyle Schwarber play? This might be a hot take and you might disagree with me, but I think Schwarber could be the best pure hitter on this Cubs roster. There’s simply no way you leave him out of the everyday lineup, so Joe Maddon is going to have fun being creative.

Options

With Schwarber, Zobrist, and Heyward your current top three options for the outfield (because you’re not benching Javier Baez…), moving Heyward to center field has to be an option the Cubs seriously consider.

We haven’t even started talking about players like Jorge Soler, Jeimer Candelario, Tommy La Stella, and Matt Szczur yet…

Thousands of words later, this would be my ideal ‘everyday’ Cubs lineup if Heyward can prove worthy of the spot:

1. Jason Heyward, CF
2. Kyle Schwarber, LF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, RF
6. Addison Russell, SS
7. Willson Contreras, C
8. Javier Baez, 2B
9. Pitcher

That team is going to score runs, but Jason Heyward has to find a way on base. That could be the key for the Cubs in their attempt to repeat, but to me, that is an elite lineup both offensively and defensively. For the most part. There would be a question wherever Schwarber goes defensively, but you have to live with his defense to get his bat. And he’s really not all that bad in the field or behind the plate.

Next: Moves that make sense for the Cubs

The fact of the matter and what I’ve spent all this time writing is that the Cubs can be even better in 2017 than they were in 2016, and it all has to do with having three things:

1. An ace in the back of the bullpen from day one (Jansen, Melancon, or even Chapman)

2. A healthy Kyle Schwarber, and

3. The 2015 version of Jason Heyward.

There are always unpredictable factors in baseball, but on paper, you couldn’t ask for much better than what the Cubs currently have, and what they can do on the free agent and trade market. This team is scary good.

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