Chicago Cubs will have offseason filled with change after disappointing NLCS
By Jake Misener
After a Game 5 dredging that won’t soon be forgotten, the Chicago Cubs’ offseason will likely be impacted by the team’s lackluster postseason performance.
We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again. A team empties the tank to get through the first round of the postseason and runs into a team firing on all cylinders. The Chicago Cubs avoided a second sweep in three years in the NLCS, but, suffice to say, their performance was underwhelming.
The once-dominant duo of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo failed to deliver in every way imaginable. Their lack of offensive production left a gaping hole in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup. Throw in lights-out Dodgers pitching and you have a recipe for disaster.
So. Where do we go from here?
That’s simple. Theo and Jed will get their guys together in a room, look at the team’s current makeup and get to work this offseason – same as they always do.
Let’s start with the subtractions. Bear with me – there are quite a few.
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Veteran John Lackey could ride off into the sunset – as Jon Lester referenced in late September after the Cubs clinched their playoff berth. Jake Arrieta represents the best starting pitcher on the free agent market – and a long-shot for Chicago to re-sign. Throw in the likes of Rene Rivera, Alex Avila, Jon Jay, Brian Duensing and Koji Uehara and you see the trend. Oh, and that’s without the loss of closer Wade Davis, who will also hit the open market.
Needless to say, there’s work to be done.
Plenty of holes in the 2018 roster
That represents forty percent of the Cubs’ starting rotation, both of their backup catchers and several bullpen pieces – including their ninth-inning stopper.
And even the remaining names aren’t locks to return. Hector Rondon was dreadful down the stretch and in the postseason. Since he lost the closer’s job to Aroldis Chapman, he really never regained his form as a top-tier reliever for the Cubs.
You head into next year with Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop and Rondon in the pen. That’s it. Of course, that’s assuming Mike Montgomery gets a look as the team’s fifth starter. Pitching has to be Chicago’s biggest priority this offseason – no questions asked.
But the questions for a team that’s played in the last three National League Championship Series continue. Willson Contreras will no-doubt return as the starting catcher. But, with Rivera and Avila hitting the market, the front office has to find a second catcher.
Bullpen – the largest question mark?
It seems asinine to suggest the Chicago Cubs have a bigger need than the bullpen heading into 2018. But do not make the mistake of thinking Joe Maddon has nothing left in his war chest.
Edwards was a see-saw in the postseason, but he also pitched far more innings than he ever had before. Montgomery is in the same boat – and he’ll focus on stretching out this winter as he aims for a spot in the starting rotation.
Perhaps the biggest unknown is the ninth inning.
The Cubs could bring back Davis – but with Arrieta likely departing, leaving a huge hole in the rotation, that money would likely be better spent on a stater. Edwards may still prove to be the best in-house option. And, keep in mind, Rondon was the team’s closer as recently as 2016.
To make a lengthy discussion short, there will be multiple moves made this offseason focused on the relief corps. Whether or not they’ll be impact moves – who knows? But, given the bullpen decides October baseball, quality is key.
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In Theo we trust
You could wallow in the sorrows of the team’s Game 5 loss. Or, you could appreciate the situation we find ourselves in. Three-straight 90-plus win campaigns. Three consecutive NLCS appearances. A National League MVP. A National League Cy Young. Oh, and a Manager of the Year in there, as well.
Theo Epstein has focused extensively on pitching the last few seasons. We’ll soon start to see new pitching names make their way to the Confines. Mix them in with a core that features some of the best talent in the National League and, well, the future remains very bright.