Opening Day is, at long last, at hand with our North Siders taking on the Brewers this weekend at Wrigley Field. Let’s take a look at the potential team awards for the Cubs before we have any on-field performance to judge. The WAR numbers herein refer to Fangraphs ZipDC projections for the team.
Fangraphs Pick: Willson Contreras, 2.7 WAR. Wait, what? Not Seiya Suzuki? Contreras gets additional credit for playing a tough defensive position where offense is as scarce as green ivy in April. I see the point, but Contreras will be playing elsewhere long before the season is over. There is little chance he’ll be able to amass all of that 2.7 WAR with the Cubs.
My Pick: Seiya Suzuki, 2.4 WAR. He will still be the reason folks are in the seats when the Cubs are 12 games back in September. He’s shown what he can do overseas and I expect his skillset to translate well to the MLB game.
Dark Horse Candidate: Ian Happ, 1.9 WAR. There is big time raking in his recent past; if he can find that bat in his garage he could put up very good offensive numbers. And he’ll probably play center less often, which should reduce the defensive on him.
Fangraphs Pick: Clint Frazier, 0.2 WAR. It’s hard to carry a near 30 percent strikeout rate without hitting lots of homers. This is why Frazier was available cheap, and why he will be available cheap in the not-too-distant future, too.
My Pick: Rafael Ortega, 0.7 WAR. He’s a good glove but I don’t believe in the bat. If he’s bad this year he might hurt the Cubs more than Frazier, who Ross will probably confine to the short side of a platoon. That said, others are more optimistic. Jason Heyward could be a candidate but his superior defense will probably save him.
Dark Horse Candidate: Patrick Wisdom, 1.9 WAR. Don’t get me wrong, I like this guy and want him to succeed. Unlike Frazier, he has the power to make some of the strikeouts worth it. Some, but not all. There may be a bigger error bar around Wisdom’s projection than almost anyone else on the Cubs. To that point, I could have put him as the dark horse MVP candidate on this list.
Team Cy Young
Fangraphs Pick: Marcus Stroman, 3.2 WAR. Yeah, no points for guessing this one. If Kyle Hendricks can make this a competitive race, maybe the Cubs won’t be 12 back in September.
My Pick: Marcus Stroman. See above.
Dark Horse Candidate: Adbert Alzolay, 1.0 WAR. Out with a strained lat until at least mid-May, Alzolay probably won’t accumulate enough innings to seriously contend for the WAR lead. But if he comes back healthy there is no pitcher on the major league roster with a higher ceiling. A black swan postseason run for the Cubs will probably depend at least in part on a healthy, filthy Alzolay. (Note: No horses or swans were harmed in the preparation of this post.)
Team Cy Not
Fangraphs Pick: Alec Mills, 0.2 WAR. The back of the Cubs rotation is looking like a scary bedtime story. Fangraphs has Mills (perhaps optimistically) as the only Cub pitcher with a projected ERA over 5.00.
My Pick: Alec Mills. Even if he struggles, Ross may well stick with Mills given the dicey nature of the alternatives, which could allow Mills to pile up a lot of bad stats. I think Mills can beat the rap, but it won’t be easy.
Dark Horse Candidate: Drew Smyly, 1.0 WAR. Let’s face it, folks, most of the horses here are pretty light; the Cubs have a collection of 5th-ish starters, any one of whom could implode. We’ll go with Smyly because, thanks to injuries, the Cubs are already relying more heavily on his southerly paw than they had probably hoped. The last year he threw more than 130 innings Finding Dory was smashing box offices.
Want your voice heard? Join the Cubbies Crib team!
The Only Pick That Matters: Almost certainly Suzuki, who is being touted as an early favorite for the league-wide award. Brennan Davis could give him a run, but remember, Davis has had only 72 plate appearances at Triple-A. A bit more Iowa beef would probably do him a world of good.