Strictly speaking, the Cubs have made only one “reboot” move so far this offseason, sending Yu Darvish to the Padres, and even that move returned them a one-year starting pitcher in Zach Davies. That is to say, for all the rumors of a “heavy restart” before the offseason began, the Cubs haven’t yet actually DONE a lot to make that rebooting restart a reality.
Offseason trades going out the door don’t tell you the entire story on a reboot when your club has also non-tendered Kyle Schwarber, declined an option on Jon Lester, and saw Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood, among others, heading off into free agency. To suggest Darvish was the Cubs’ only outward move this offseason would be silly.
Moreover, the Cubs are also quite clearly considering additional trades that would go a long way to rebooting, with Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras on the rumor circuit every day, and almost no one else you could totally rule out. Jed Hoyer said the team must consider being opportunistic to add longer-term pieces even if it came at the expense of the near term. I expect other trades at this point.
That is all to say, everything the Cubs have done and not done so far is consistent with all that heavy restart/rebooting/whatever stuff.
Yet here they are, just 34 days from the start of Spring Training, and they’re probably still the pick by some to win the NL Central. That is far from a credit to the Cubs, but is instead an absolute finger in the eye of a division that has seen every team get appreciably worse this offseason, with Cubs reliever Jonathan Holder ($750,000) the top free agent signing.
Even as the Cubs reboot, they are being GIFTED the rare opportunity to sell off some pieces for prospects and still add short-term guys to compete in 2021. Yeah, trading away Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras or Craig Kimbrel or whoever is going to make your team less likely to max out on wins in 2021. But trading them away, while also signing some of those lower-end free agents from a deep pool? Eh, you know, it gives you a shot. It ain’t sexy, and no one is going to be celebrating the on-paper Cubs in 2021, but you take the situation as it is. The Cubs desire to reboot for reasons laudable (stave off a pure cliff, build up the farm system) and maybe less laudable (what’s the money situation anyway?). That’s the reality. So, in that real world, why not at least try to pull off competitiveness in a division that is DESPERATE to let you compete?
So anyway, with all that in mind, even as the Cubs look to make sell-type trades, I just wanted to point out that “competitiveness” in 2021 is going to require the Cubs filling some serious and still-existent holes on the roster.
⇒ The starting rotation has two sure-fire guys in Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies, two can-probably-get-you-some-decent-innings guys in Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills, and then nothing but prospects who’ve mostly pitched at AA and below. It’s an absolutely untenable setup at the moment, and the Cubs need to add at least two capable starting pitchers. Thankfully, as we’ve said, the pool of free agent possibilities in a realistic range (read: cheap bounce-back types) is uncharacteristically deep this year.
⇒ There are two starting-caliber outfielders in Ian Happ and Jason Heyward, and then a whole lot of maybe-he-could-be-a-decent-reserve types. You can talk yourself into platoons, but realistically, if you want to be competitive, you’ve just flat out gotta add a starting left fielder or center fielder. Not just to get yourself better performance from the spot, but also because injuries do happen.
⇒ I like Nico Hoerner’s long-term potential, but as we’ve over-discussed, I don’t love thinking that he’s just the starting second baseman on day one in 2021. That’s just a terrible plan. And thinking that David Bote should definitely be the everyday starter there on day one is also a dodgy plan, given his value as a top bench guy (competitive teams have them, dontchaknow). I consider second base a wide open hole for the Cubs at the moment. And if Kris Bryant is traded, well, the need to make an addition at 2B/3B becomes all the more critical.
⇒ The Cubs still need a back-up catcher. Yeah, I don’t hate the idea of them rolling with one of P.J. Higgins or Taylor Gushue, but if Willson Contreras is going to be on the block constantly, then I’d really like to see the Cubs getting in a really good back-up/starting-adjacent guy like Jason Castro, to whom they’ve been connected. Also, again, injuries do happen.
⇒ The bullpen is always a spot where you can say there are holes, but I’ll call that the one area where I’m fine with the Cubs taking the buy-extremely-low volume approach, because they’ve consistently shown they can make it work. They’ve added a ton of guys already. If they wanted to snag a surer thing late in free agency on the cheap, that’d be fine, though.
So, yeah. Holes. Lots of ’em. And this stuff matters if you want to see the Cubs give themselves a chance in 2021, which they can do WHILE rebooting thanks to the dog plop NL Central.
Though I suppose maybe a few of those teams are thinking the same thing today, eh?