The 2020 MLB season is still very much up for grabs as the owners and players continue to engage in a labor struggle.
But as the battle wages on, the Chicago Cubs are staying prepared.
Theo Epstein spoke on the team’s readiness to attack a shortened season in the event a deal gets done. Epstein said the entire organization–from the coaches to the players–had done an excellent job of retaining focus and keeping motivated (subscription required).
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Owners are hoping to minimize payouts and avoid a potential second wave of COVID-19 this fall by playing fewer games, while the players are hoping to play as many games as possible to maximize their salaries.
Regardless, Epstein feels the Cubs are in good shape to compete in a shortened season.
Every front office is likely to posit the same kind of message about their team’s “readiness” to play. But there are reasons to believe a shortened season might benefit the Cubs.
There is no ignoring Chicago’s aging starting rotation. Jon Lester is in his age-36 season, and he is also in possibly his final year as a member of the Cubs. Jose Quintana will also be a free agent after this year, and both Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks are over 30.
Playing fewer games could lead not only to more urgency but it also naturally lessens the burden on the starters because they do not need to throw as many innings. The same is true for the bullpen arms.
The Cubs were heading into the 2020 campaign with a lot of reasonably unproven relievers. Guys like Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck had shown their potential last September, but how would that translate throughout a full season? What about the likes of Jharel Cotton or Casey Sadler?
Some of these questions remain. However, the Cubs have less reason to be concerned about burnout, which has plagued past bullpen units. This is also inherently positive for veterans who have dealt with injuries in the past few years, like Jeremy Jeffress and Craig Kimbrel.
Not to mention, the potential for an expanded postseason naturally benefits teams that were on the fringes last season.
Of course, there are also reasons to see why a shortened season could be harmful to the Cubs.
Chicago is still figuring out its best options at second base, and could likely use more time to feel things out between the likes of Jason Kipnis and Nico Hoerner.
Similarly, what if Ian Happ–the projected starter in center field–gets off to a slow start, and Albert Almora has the hot bat? Would Almora be the best option in center?
Perhaps most notably, the Cubs will tackle this unprecedented season with a rookie manager in David Ross.
Despite all the unknowns, however, Epstein says the Cubs are fully prepared to tackle the challenges ahead of them.
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They better be; otherwise, there is a real chance Theo looks to blow things up.