If there was a consensus bundle of “needs” for the Chicago Cubs heading out of the 2014 season, with an eye toward starting to be competitive in 2015, it would have looked daunting. The Cubs needed a top-of-the-rotation starter, and at least one more very good starter. The Cubs needed to address some issues behind the plate, particularly on the framing side of things. The Cubs needed to get a little more left-handed in the lineup, but, most importantly, they needed to add at least one impact bat, preferably in the outfield. And they needed to add a solid arm in the pen, preferably a lefty.*
Maybe I’m hindsighting, but I feel like that’s exactly how we would have laid it out. Outside of that very last one, the Cubs have nailed it, top to bottom. I’m obviously a guy who thinks this front office knows what it’s doing and is very good at its collective job, but I’m not sure I would have expected them to be able to pull it all off within budget and without seriously denting the farm system.
Yesterday, the Cubs very likely capped off an offseason that already saw them add Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, Jason Hammel, Jason Motte, Tommy La Stella, and David Ross by bringing in Dexter Fowler. To accomplish all of that, the Cubs spent a fair bit of money, and traded away a player that would soon be without a spot (Luis Valbuena), a depth pitcher where the Cubs are already loaded (Dan Straily), a risky relief arm where the Cubs are already loaded (Arodys Vizcaino), an international bonus slot the Cubs weren’t going to use, and a couple low minors pitching prospects (Jeferson Mejia, and Zack Godley).
In other words, the 2015 Chicago Cubs look fundamentally better on paper than the 2014 version that ended the year with a couple nice months of play, AND the deep prospect pool and the young core remain undisturbed. It’s really incredible when you step back and look at it. And then you remember that the Cubs also added Joe Maddon.
None of that means the Cubs will definitely be competitive in 2015, but I sure am liking this team on paper.
Speaking of which, the Fowler trade yesterday is probably the last major addition the Cubs will make this offseason. They might trade away a couple pieces – Welington Castillo and a starting pitcher or two – but those are not likely to bring back significant big league pieces. I can look at this roster and say it would be a lot stronger with one more sure-fire starting pitcher, but I can also understand why – for budgetary and prospect-holding purposes – the Cubs might prefer to roll the dice at the back of the rotation with the Wood/Jackson/Wada/Turner/Doubront/Jokisch/Beeler group. If the Cubs are competitive by midseason and there’s a need, then they’ll be in a good position to strike.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer spoke with reporters about the Fowler trade, and you can read his comments here, here, here, here, and here, among other places. Hoyer addressed the Kris-Bryant-related implications of trading away Luis Valbuena, and, as you hopefully anticipated, the Cubs’ position is that there is no relationship between dealing Valbuena and the timeline for calling up Bryant. He’ll come up when he’s ready, which will very likely be after a short stint at AAA Iowa to start the year. It’s not like the Cubs don’t have short-term options to cover at third, including Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Tommy La Stella, and Mike Olt.
More notably for the purposes of this post, however, Hoyer indicated that the team you see today is likely going to look similar to the one that arrives in Mesa for Spring Training next month. He didn’t rule anything out – this front office never would – but it seems likely that Fowler will represent the cherry on top of an already excellent offseason of additions.
… but I’ll still be following, for example, the Nationals’ pitching situation closely. You just never know if a deal the Cubs can’t turn down will present itself. Don’t get greedy out there – this has already been a fantastic offseason – but I think it’s fair to keep your eyes open. The Cubs’ front office will.
*(The Cubs didn’t add a sure-fire lefty reliever (they did add Motte), but if they were going to “miss” on any of the needs, that’s probably the one you’d be most willing to let slide, and rely on an internal competition. And, hey, the offseason isn’t over just yet.)