by Duncan Wallis
2017 Record: 92-70 (1st in NL Central)
2017 Payroll: $182,400,336
Projected 2018 Lineup:
All Projections for 2018 from Steamer
- CF Ian Happ .250/.321/.462, 1.6 WAR
- 3B Kris Bryant .285/.390/.535, 6.1 WAR
- 1B Anthony Rizzo .283/.394/.544, 4.6 WAR
- C Willson Contreras .271/.346/.463, 2.9 WAR
- LF Kyle Schwarber .243/.342/.488, 1.8 WAR
- SS Addison Russell .252/.325/.444, 2.9 WAR
- RF Jason Heyward .268/.344/.419, 2.1 WAR
- 2B Javier Baez .262/.314/.462, 1.9 WAR
*9. Ben Zobrist .262/.354/.415, 1.3 WAR
*I would be remiss to not put Ben Zobrist in this projected lineup. He will see consistent playing time, just probably all over the outfield with some 2B mixed in, as well.
Projected 2018 Rotation:
- Jon Lester 195 IP/3.91 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 3.5 WAR
- Kyle Hendricks 170 IP/4.05 ERA/1.40 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
- Yu Darvish 137 IP/ 5.00 ERA/ 1.29 WHIP, 0.9 WAR
- Jose Quintana 196 IP/3.51 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 4.2 WAR
- Tyler Chatwood 137 IP/ 4.09 ERA/1.44 WHIP, 1.9 WAR
After an embarrassing first half of 2017, Theo Epstein and Co. brought in Jose Quintana to inject some life into a struggling Chicago Cubs team. The presence of Quintana and a much-needed break reinvigorated the team, spurring them to a third straight NLCS. This offseason, Epstein, Hoyer, and the rest of the Baseball Operations department did their homework and recruited Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, (resigned) Brian Duensing, and of course, Yu Darvish to put the Cubs in the best position possible to win another World Series in 2018. Will this influx of talent make up for losing Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency?
Other minor signings include Chris Gimenez, Peter Bourjos, Kyle Ryan, Michael Roth, Dario Alvarez, and Anthony Bass for them to try to make the Major League roster. They also inked Drew Smyly to a two-year deal. Smyly is coming off of Tommy John surgery and will likely not return until 2019. All of these deals are about making the Cubs World Champions again in 2018 and leaving a championship window open for the foreseeable future (until the young core likely splits in free agency).
In 2018, it is World Series or bust for the Cubs. Since 2016 when the Cubs broke their 108-year World Series title drought, the goal has been another title. While this core of young, controllable players (headlined by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo) is still with the Cubs, they are, without a doubt, one of the most formidable teams in Major League Baseball.
While I mentioned the intimidating 2-3 Bryzzo punch in the middle of the lineup for the Cubs, they are surrounded by Ian Happ, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez, all twenty-five years old or younger. When you add in the rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Darvish, Quintana, and Chatwood— you have a team that could very well win the 2018 World Series.
Darvish is staged to make an immediate impact on the rotation. There was great debate whether Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish was the superior pitcher this offseason since they were the two premier arms on the market. The Cubs landed Darvish for 6yrs/$126 million guaranteed laced with incentives. Darvish has been a strikeout pitcher with lights out stuff his entire career in Japan and in the MLB. However, two years ago, Darvish had Tommy John surgery. When he returned to the Rangers, he looked strong for the first part of 2016. Then, he was traded to the Dodgers and things started to fall apart. He had a rocky second half, and an even worse postseason, that was rumored to cause teams to be wary of signing him, bringing his asking price down. The Cubs swooped in and got Darvish for six years, hoping he’ll have a return to form. This will be key for the Cubs this season as he is the cog of the rotation that changes it from good to elite.
There are three key position players that the Cubs need to be successful this season, as well. Willson Contreras had a stretch of batting .321 with a 1.019 OPS in July before he was injured. Kyle Schwarber was an absolute monster down the stretch in 2015, was injured in 2016 for almost the entire season, but made Cubs folklore forever by coming back to hit in the 2016 World Series, and then proceeded to have a below average season at best, and a dismal season at worst, in 2017. Finally, Jason Heyward, signed before the 2016 season, has not yet hit at his career levels. Granted, his leadership and defensive prowess contributed plenty in 2016 and 2017, but the Cubs need his old self to come back in 2018. If Contreras can put together an entire season like July last year, Schwarber returns to his former glory, and Heyward performs like he is five years younger, the Cubs may have the best offense in all of baseball.
The strength of this team is clearly the young, position player core. If you had to pick a weakness, it would definitely be the bullpen as they fell apart down the stretch last season. Joe Maddon is great at managing usage, but he needed more weapons to use. Theo and Jed gave him some in Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek. With any luck, Morrow will perform well as the Cubs fourth closer in four years and help sure up the back end of games.
The Cubs have an opportunity to win another championship in 2018. There is plenty of talent, experience, and chemistry in the clubhouse. The Cubs are staged for success in the upcoming season.
Predicted Record: 103-59
Player to Watch: Willson Contreras/Kyle Schwarber/Jason Heyward
I got more in-depth on this earlier in the article, but these three players are key to the Cubs success this season. Watch for these three to outperform expectations and continue Chicago’s recent success.
Player to Watch: Yu Darvish
The Cubs offered Darvish a contract they believe represents his talent well. There are some lofty expectations for Darvish, and the Cubs will win more often every five days if he performs like his previous self.
Player to Watch: Brandon Morrow
Morrow has had some injury struggles in the past. He broke out last season with the Dodgers, but some believe his arm will not hold up over the next few seasons. If the Cubs want to have him as their closer for the next two seasons, the most important aspect of his success is obvious: health. He has shown that he knows how to get outs, but keeping him healthy will be of utmost importance to the bullpen.