The Chicago Cubs have begun finding their offensive form, the bullpen — which might surprise some — is among NL’s best, yet rotation upgrades loom.
Memorial Day is quickly approaching and it’s about that time clubs begin assessing their immediate future.
With the Chicago Cubs, it’s fair to say the team has shown flashes of their 2016 potency, but are still largely waiting to breakout.
The lineup has shown significant improvement the past week. Yeah, it was the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers but the Brewers are in first place, and among the league’s better offensive contributors.
Chicago’s recent surge also coincides with Ian Happ‘s call-up over a week ago, as the 23-year-old outfielder is hitting .346 during that span. In a losing effort against San Francisco Monday night, Happ tripled off the bench.
Even the Cubs bullpen ERA ranks third in the NL (3.33). Last season, Cubs’ relievers had a 3.80 ERA in May alone.
Rotation weaknesses loom
An obvious area for improvement starts with the rotation. Among the strengths of the club a season ago, starters’ ERA ranks seventh in NL (4.45) in 2017.
Jon Lester has been the rock of the rotation, and Kyle Hendricks has begun to find his groove after a slow start. Brett Anderson has not worked out, and Eddie Butler, through mixed results, will, and should, be given more opportunities to further claim a spot.
Butler, despite first-inning control issues, showed promise in St. Louis and had less-than-ideal Wrigley Field conditions last Friday.
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Jake Arrieta‘s numbers have not been accustomed to the great Arrieta days of old, though one positive is his walk rate is lower (6.3 percent) compared to where it was at this time last season (8.1 percent). His BB/9 is 2.49 compared to 2.8 a season ago. Overall his 9.77 K/9 beats his overall 2016 total (8.67) and 2.49 BB/9 bests the overall 3.47 a season ago.
Arrieta’s only pitched more than six innings once this season yet has only walked two batters his last two outings.
John Lackey, also an impending free agent, has served up 12 home runs on the season, nearly half his total a season ago. Through this time last season, he had surrendered just six.
Greinke (6-2, 2.82 ERA) was a name that surprised me initially.
Arizona already dismissed the notion of trading him during a disastrous year one, for both club and ace, and now that the D-Backs are playing well, as is Greinke, seems unlikely they would jeopardize a chance at contention by trading their best pitcher.
However, Arizona, now under a new regime, could pursue moving Greinke for massive salary relief. His great start to the season increases his value and potential of a return Diamondbacks management hopes for in a trade.
I would expect, however, for Theo Epstein to pursue more desirable trade options. Greinke is 33 years old and has over $100 committed through 2021.
Cueto, 31, could also be a pitcher on the Cubs radar and would represent a significant upgrade to the rotation. Currently, in year two of a six-year contract worth $130 mm, Cueto can opt-out following 2017.
Unlike Greinke, Cueto excelled in year one by the Bay but has struggled in 2017 (4-3, 4.50 ERA). While his strikeout rate is nearly identical to last season, his groundball rate is down and his walk rate is up.
A trade involving Cueto likely means he agrees not to opt-out after 2017.
Cubs and Rays match up
Rumors have surrounded the Cubs and Rays for some time, and that’s because this trade makes sense for both sides.
Archer represents the highest potential ceiling in terms of impact, team control — signed through 2019; options through 2021 — and value in which both teams can match up for a trade — Cubs abundance of position talent.
As small sample-size numbers begin bearing truer semblance moving forward, it’s fun to ponder the Cubs next move.
Who do you want to see the Chicago Cubs acquire?