The Chicago Cubs may not be in the postseason, but baseball has teed up an interesting matchup for this year’s Fall Classic. In a shocker on the National League side, the Philadelphia Phillies are taking on the Houston Astros, who’ve been to the World Series three times in the past four years. While their paths to October and roster construction look completely different, both lay out plans for reaching greater heights in the baseball world.
To some degree, these two teams represent what the Cubs want to be in the near future. 2023 will hopefully be a big step forward as they add key free agents and see the arrival of prospects like Brennen Davis and Alexander Canario. They need to look to the two World Series squads to see what works when building a competitive team.
Both the Astros and Phillies have valuable lessons to teach the Cubs
Regarding Philadelphia, they’re not the most soundly constructed roster on paper. Defense is definitely suspect as they brought on both Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to man the outfield and the bullpen could be better, but they’re also a good lesson on not being averse to the big deal. Namely, with Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler. Both were risks at the time with Wheeler still a step away from ace territory and Harper taking on a ton of money (not to mention years), but both have paid off in spades. Wheeler’s had an ERA of 2.82 and FIP of 2.80 in Philly while Harper has an MVP and was critical to their NLCS win.
The Cubs need to understand that taking risks is often a must when trying to build a competitive team. Especially now, they’re starting to find a spot where the risks are worth it. A slew of homegrown pitchers that are at the very least passable at the major league level gives them the room to be risky and potentially even overpay slightly for an ace. On the hitting end, a longer deal for a big bat (cough, cough – Carlos Correa) can fundamentally change and define an offense just as Harper has done for the Phillies. Those deals need to be made before the opportunity passes.
The Astros, meanwhile, represent the model of team the Cubs seem to want to build. Most of the pitchers in Houston’s rotation are homegrown. Framber Valdez, Christian Javier, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy all had sub-4.00 ERA seasons and even Lance McCullers Jr. played a key role in the postseason. Valdez is a Cy Young candidate alongside their bigger acquisition of Justin Verlander. Beyond simply developing good pitchers, they laid the blueprint for the type of catching the Cubs are going for now with a more defensive, pitching-minded backstop in Martin Maldonado.
Moreover, the Astros show how to build sustainably and extend players as needed. Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman are all inked to healthy extensions of seven, six and five years, respectively. Even when they lost Correa, they knew it was a loss they could weather, thanks to the rise of eventual ALCS MVP Jeremy Peña. With a 102 wRC+ and 3.4 WAR season, he’ll earn some genuine Rookie of the Year consideration considering how well he filled in during his first year.
These are all things we want the Cubs to do, but it’s more about weaving together these lessons. We’ve seen Jed Hoyer rebuild the farm system over the past few years with hopes of creating a sustainable juggernaut that’s particularly full of arms. Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson are just some of the pitching successes to tout this year with plenty more on the way. However, it’s still about flexing some big market might and taking risks to make up for any gaps as needed.
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You can see traces of what the Astros are doing in the Cubs’ plans and it seems like they’ve already taken some of these lessons to heart. It’s just a matter of taking those risks like the Phillies have and spending a little extra to get the pieces you need to complete the next great Cubs team. Actions will speak louder than words this offseason in that regard.