Improvements and Payroll, Velazquez Hot, Quality Depth, Steele’s Season Over, and Other Cubs Bullets

The bar was as low as it can get, but there was noticeable improvement from Justin Fields yesterday. The problem, however, is something we’ve pointed out since April: by surrounding Fields with a total lack of weapons or quality offensive line, and by having a new coaching staff and scheme come in, it’s pretty hard to precisely evaluate how much of the failing is on Fields, specifically, and how much of it is everything else. We can SURMISE that it’s probably everything all at once, but how then do you figure out whether Fields can improve enough from here to be the Bears’ guy in 2023 and beyond?

Things seem to be much simpler in the Cubs’ world right now. We know the bones are there for a possible competitive team in 2023, and we know the kinds of additions that are needed this offseason.

  • But there are still three games left in the 2022 season, and although the Cubs have checked the last big box I had for them personally (avoid 90 losses), it’s wild that they could finish as high as 76-86. They will still have to demonstrate an ability to win in the first half, which keeps you in the mix in the second half, but it’s not like it’s an unrealistic ask to get a 76-win team to an on-paper-85-win team in a single offseason. Heck, the right shortstop and starting pitcher signings, alone, almost get you there. And that excludes internal developments, where the Cubs very well should have some more steps forward coming.
  • Nice to see Nelson Velazquez getting a little hot streak to end his season, hitting .364/.533/.818/258 wRC+ over his last seven games. In that time, he’s raised his season slash line from .193/.262/.345/72 wRC+ to .203/.282/.374/86 wRC+. Obviously not where he would need to be in order to be rostered on a competitive team as a 4th/5th outfielder, but for a rookie with very little Triple-A experience? I don’t hate it. What you need to see from him is either a significant cut in the strikeout rate (31.7%) or a significant increase in the power production (.170 ISO). His career development and trajectory suggests it is more likely to be the latter than the former, and his underlying contact quality metrics suggest he was a little unlucky this year on the power side.
  • All that said: we talk a lot about how great it is that the Cubs have so much usable pitching depth that there are a lot of big-league-capable arms that will simply not make the Opening Day roster (but will contribute later as needs arise). But the same is looking like it could really be true on the positional side next year, and Velazquez is a good example. With a number of external additions this offseason, he might get squeezed out of a job on the big league roster for Opening Day. But he’s just 23, he’s got options remaining, and we know there is still development work there. So is it really all that bad that he might hit Triple-A up to open next season? Is it really all that bad to have a guy like that as your 6th (or whatever) outfielder? No. It’s actually awesome. Oh, and sometimes the “depth” guys take a step forward and become something more than that.
  • (But, just like with the pitching discussion, it’s a reminder that the Cubs *DO* need to add impact this offseason.)
  • Thank you, David. I accept this compliment, which was directed at me personally:
  • In all seriousness, you can take a slight additional data point there that the messaging from the organization heading into the offseason is: we are going to get better.
  • It was already assumed, but now it’s confirmed. Justin Steele’s season is over:
  • Steele wraps his breakout 2022 season with a 3.18 ERA over 119.0 IP, 24 starts, 3.21 FIP, 24.6% K, 9.8% BB, a microscopic 3.9% barrel rate, and one phenomenal bullpen.
  • Fascinating to think about:
  • The very short version? If MLB were using the juiced baseballs of that 2017-2019 era, and everything else about Aaron Judge’s season were exactly the same, he would likely have way into the 70s of homers right now. The high end of the 90% confidence interval is actually 81(!) homers. To me, that says as much about just how freaking juicy those balls were as it does about how impressive Judge’s season is. Also: if Judge were ACTUALLY tracking toward 80+ homers, I have to wonder if pitchers would’ve started getting overly cautious a lot sooner, and if he never would’ve gotten there (but his walk totals would’ve skyrocketed even further).
  • The thesis here is that if the Padres flame out quickly, it’ll once again be evidence to the rest of the league that pushing hard is a bad strategy (and thus the Cubs will retrench and not push hard this offseason):
  • I do think there is SOME conversation there to be had, but I think there’s a huge item missing: the very best teams in baseball this year almost all have enormous payrolls. The Padres are not an island in that regard, and indeed there are five teams with larger payrolls. The top three – the Mets, Dodgers, and Yankees – are all kind of in a stratosphere of their own, and wouldn’t you know it, they have three of the best five records in baseball. The other two – the Braves and Astros – are both solidly in the top ten in payroll.
  • In other words, I’m not so sure a Padres flameout would do much to change the reality: spending a lot of money won’t guarantee you a competitive team, but the best teams – in the aggregate – tend to be among the higher-spending teams. You can do it without money, as the Rays show every year. But there’s a reason they stand out in these discussions – it’s because they are the exception. So, yeah. Go spend some money this offseason, Cubs. You’ve got barely $90 million on the books for next season, so there’s plennnnnnty of room for upward mobility …
  • A wonderful tradition:
  • Gorgeous shot:
  • written by

    Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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