If one wonders how much depth matters, look no further than the 2012 Cubs.
With the baseline of 1.0 WAR being a role player, those Cubs had a total of just 12 such players. And only three made at least 500 plate appearances. Of the four 1-WAR pitchers who made the cut, two were traded that July.
Fast forward to 2015, and the Cubs check in with 19 players projected to be at least a 1.0 WAR player, based on the FanGraphs Depth Charts, which is guided by a blend of Steamer/ZiPS projections.
(Side note: Only Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo (for now), Travis Wood and Blake Parker remain from the 2012 team.)
The Red Sox have the most such players (25), while the Cardinals, Dodgers and Padres lead the NL with 21. The Pirates are right behind the Cubs with 18, while the Brewers (15) and Reds (14) project on the low end of the NL Central and among the bottom five in baseball.
As for the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo’s 4.6 WAR leads the position players, while Jon Lester’s 4.0 is atop the pitching ranks. But this is less about them and more about what is around them.
More than anything, the lack of organizational depth has hindered the Cubs’ building process and is clearly something that has been addressed based on the increase of projected 1-WAR players. Hence, the annual summer sell-off that has aided the building of roster depth.
Since 2012, the Cubs have traded eight players who had accumulated 1 WAR or more at the time of their departure prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Of those players, only Matt Garza projects to be a 1+ WAR player in 2015.
Meanwhile, two of those players (Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano) are retired, David DeJesus (0.7) and Emilio Bonifacio (0.5) find themselves below the 1-WAR threshold and Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson are projected as -0.2 WAR players.
The 2014 Cubs had six 1.0 WAR position players, but only three (Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena ) accumulated more than 500 plate appearances. The staff had eight 1-WAR pitchers, two (Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel) were dealt in July and none of those pitchers reached 180 innings.
As a team, the Cubs had only three positions (first base, third base and shortstop) accumulate 2.0 WAR or more.
The 2015 projections suggest the Cubs have improved on that as catcher, center field and right field are also projected to be 2-WAR positions for the Cubs. It is expected that Miguel Montero, Dexter Fowler and a full season of Jorge Soler provide better than the 0.9, 0.7 and -0.6 WAR numbers those positions collectively posted last season.
On the mound, the Cubs haven’t had four starters be worth at least 1-WAR over a full season since 2010 when Dempster, Randy Wells, Carlos Zambrano, Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva each made at least 20 starts.
It would mark the dawn of a new era if Lester, Hammel, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks can change that.
Every team has some semblance of depth. Yes, even the Phillies, Braves and those rotten 2012 Cubs. However, the accumulation of depth across the board is where the value of depth truly shows itself. If anything, the Cubs’ floor is higher now than at any previous time in the last three years.
Projections aren’t guarantees by any stretch, but having depth scattered throughout the diamond beats the alternative.