2018 Record: 95-68 (2nd in NL Central)
2018 Payroll: $194,259,933 (4th)
Projected 2019 Lineup:
- CF Albert Almora Jr, .272/.314/.399, 1.3 WAR
- 3B Kris Bryant, .275/.382/.504, 5.5 WAR
- 1B Anthony Rizzo, .281/.385/.511, 4.3 WAR
- 2B Ben Zobrist, .268/.351/.406, 1.5 WAR
- SS Javier Baez, .269/.313/.488, 3.4 WAR
- LF Kyle Schwarber, .241/.354/.478, 2.9 WAR
- C Willson Contreras, .257/.340/.427, 2.8 WAR
- RF Jason Heyward, .269/.341/.405, 2.1 WAR
Projected 2019 Rotation:
- Jon Lester, 192.0 IP/4.35 ERA/1.34 WHIP/1.9 WAR
- Cole Hamels, 172.0 IP/3.96 ERA/1.29 WHIP/2.4 WAR
- Kyle Hendricks, 194.0 IP/4.04 ERA/1.28 WHIP/2.6 WAR
- Yu Darvish, 139.0 IP/3.76 ERA/1.21 WHIP/2.6 WAR
- Jose Quintana, 186.0 IP/3.88 ERA/1.29 ERA/2.6 WAR
Well, depending on who you talk to, the Cubs offseason reactions range from terrible to exactly what they needed. Theo, Jed and Co. would describe it as a handicapped, but productive offseason. On the other hand, if you talk to Cubs fans, nobody is happy. But honestly, I’m not one of those fans.
Look, the reality is, the Cubs were never going to get Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. That chance went out the window when someone decided to give Jason Heyward $184 million dollars. And while that contract may never pay off on the field, let’s not forget one Jason Heyward rain delay speech in a game near the end of 2016. I think we can all agree we’d pay $184 million for a .230 average, Gold Glove right-field defense, and one 108-year-drought-snapping World Series title. Maybe they win without him, maybe they don’t. I wouldn’t take that chance, though.
Anyways, back to the point. The Cubs didn’t do much this offseason. They signed Daniel Descalso, and… that’s it. An uncharacteristically quiet offseason resulted in a lot of upset fans, but maybe a more motivated team than ever. And that brings us to the cusp of the 2019 season.
2019 Season Preview:
The Cubs have been on top of the world the last four seasons. After bursting onto the scene in 2015, they’ve averaged 97 wins a season the last four seasons including a World Series win in 2016. Yet, in 2018 Epstein called the Cubs offense “broken,” and the pitching staff included walk-machine Tyler Chatwood and an injured Yu Darvish. That doesn’t sound like a team that will win 79 games this year and place last in the NL Central (I’m looking at you PECOTA projections). Seriously, though, even if you dislike the Cubs or just like a different team better, you cannot objectively say it is likely for the Cubs to win 79 games this year. To win 95 games and then return Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, and motivation to the Cubs lineup… 79 games—I mean, c’mon.
I won’t make this too long—I just want to point out some other things about the 2018 Cubs. First, Willson Contreras just never hit his stride, offensively, at any point in the season. He slashed .249/.339/.390 a year removed from .276/.356/.499. Even if he truly is closer to his 2018 line than his 2017 line, you’d still expect a little regression to the mean upwards in 2019. And even without a potent offensive year like 2017, the cannon arm and smart catching skills still makes him one of the more valuable catchers in all of the MLB. Secondly, Kris Bryant was on the disabled (now, injured) list half the season and the other half was still injured but playing through it. He had a red-hot April with an OPS well north of 1.000 and then that headfirst slide ruined it all. Watch for him to come back with a renewed motivation this season. More on that in a bit.
What I’m really trying to say about the 2019 Cubs is yes, the NL Central will be hard to win (the only division in baseball where all five teams are competing) but the Cubs are still in pole position in my book—especially the way Milwaukee’s rotation seems to be shaky by the end of the season. The Reds made a bunch of moves, Milwaukee got Moustakas and Jimmy Nelson back, the Cardinals got Goldschmidt, and yet—none of that discourages me from believing the Cubs can win the NL Central. It will be harder than any other year of the last four, but it must be those 108 years of losing that gives me blind faith that the Cubs will be good this year.
Predicted Record: 97-65
Player to Watch: 3B Kris Bryant
Is it possible for a Rookie of the Year and then sophomore NL MVP to be underrated? Because everyone has been talking far too much about Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, and Anthony Rendon. Kris Bryant will bounce back in a huge way this year. Remember how I said he had a red-hot start in April? Imagine if he doesn’t injure his shoulder on that headfirst slide? That was the best start he had had since breaking into the league in 2015. He has another gear that we haven’t even seen yet, and he was already the NL MVP (the World Series bid may have had a little something to do with that, though.) Either way, watch out—Bryzzo is back.
Player to Watch: SP Yu Darvish
I’m going to seem pretty stupid referencing this article here, but I have to share it again. If Yu Darvish can remain healthy, he is one of the filthiest pitchers in baseball. And he slots in fourth in the Cubs rotation right now. If he can perform in Chicago (which is a big “if” still) the Cubs could have one of the best rotations in all of baseball. And I honestly believe it will depend on his first two starts. There are three possibilities I see happening: one, he has a decent first start and gets a little confidence and the second start is lights out—has a solid rest of the year. Two, he has a fantastic first start and gets a little confidence and the second start is lights out—has a solid rest of the year. Third, he has a middling first start and gets a little more unsure of himself, the second start is worse and we’ve time traveled back to 2018. In all seriousness, if Yu can pull himself back together, this rotation is scary.
Manager to Watch: Joe Maddon
After last season’s epic fail down the stretch, Maddon and the rest of the coaching staff came under a lot of criticism, including some fans calling for his firing. While I don’t think he should be fired, I think it will be interesting to watch Maddon in “desperation mode” (well, maybe not desperation, but urgency mode?) for the first time in his Cubs tenure. In Theo’s own words, this is a year of reckoning for the Cubs. Will this team be the dynasty that they looked like in 2016? Or the team that never did put it together again like 2017 and 2018?