Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

ben zobrist cubs signingFinding ways to improve a 97-win team that advanced to the NLCS isn’t an easy task, but the Cubs front office sought out to do so and it appears to have improved two key areas.

So much so, the team projects to have two of the 10 best upgrades so far this offseason, according to’s Paul Casella, who highlighted the biggest upgrades based on last year’s fWAR and Steamer’s 2016 projections.

And surprisingly, Jason Heyward isn’t providing one of the 10 most significant changes for the better, mostly because the guy he’s slated to replace, Dexter Fowler, was very good for the Cubs last year.

It’s actually the Cubs’ other big positional signing – Ben Zobrist – who projects to bring the biggest boost from the Cubs’ offseason acquisitions.

Even though Starlin Castro slashed .335/.362/.555 with a .387 wOBA and 147 wRC+ in 164 plate appearances after the July 31 trade deadline, his fWAR at the end of the season was only 0.8. Zobrist’s Steamer projection for 2016 has him at a 3.3 WAR — or a +2.5 change.

The change from Castro to Zobrist projects to be the second biggest among position players who have changed teams this offseason. The White Sox acquiring Todd Frazier (projected WAR: 3.3) provides an improvement at third base of +3.1 WAR.

Brett looked at the upgrade from Castro to Zobrist from another angle this weekend, and he, too, concluded that it projects to be a big 2016 boost for the Cubs.

John Lackey’s addition to the Cubs pitching staff as the effective replacement for Dan Haren comes in at No. 9 on this list. Haren posted a 0.9 fWAR last season (though was worth just 0.3 WAR in 11 starts with the Cubs). Lackey projects to be worth 2.9 WAR in 2016, which is an improvement of +2.0 WAR.

The Cubs going from a near-replacement-level starter to a very solid pitcher should patch-up one of their biggest deficiencies from 2015.

Browsing through the rest of the top-10, it’s noteworthy that there are no other NL Central teams in the top-10. The Red Sox have two moves that ranked in the top-10 with the additions of Craig Kimbrel and David Price to their pitching staff.

Meanwhile, the Giants — who were the Cubs’ chief competitor for the Wild Card in 2015 —  have two of the four moves that are projected to bring the most improvement with the additions of Johnny Cueto (+3.2 WAR) and Jeff Samardzija (+2.6 WAR) fortify the back end of their rotation.

There is still plenty of time to make improvements in the offseason, so it’s very early to assign grades to teams. However, it appears as if the Cubs and Giants have taken the initiative to jump the market in an attempt to position themselves for a favorable start in 2016.

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