Way Too Early ZiPS Standings Projections Offer Yet Another Reason for the Cubs to Be Aggressive This Offseason

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Way Too Early ZiPS Standings Projections Offer Yet Another Reason for the Cubs to Be Aggressive This Offseason

Chicago Cubs

I highly recommend you check out Dan Szymborski’s suuuuuper early ZiPS standings projection for 2023. It makes for good and interesting reading in any case, but as Szymborkski himself notes, it’s most useful when thought of as a conception of where things stand right now for each team, before they actually go about the business of making offseason improvements.

Here’s how he puts it:

These 2023 projections are guaranteed to be awful, wrong in many ways ranging from tragic to comic. But despite being absolutely premature and littered with horrible misses, projected standings at this point are actually quite useful, and useful is the best description any kind of predictive model can strive for. Standings at this point are a poor predictor of the 2023 season — and even the eventual 2023 projections themselves — but what they are able to do is give a “state of the union” estimate for each team. These standings represent the best estimates ZiPS can make at this point about where a team sits in the league’s pecking order, based solely on the players currently under contract with the team. It’s hard to get where you want to go if you don’t know where you’re starting.

Bingo.

Of particular interest around here, of course, is just how close the Cubs are – without any changes at all – to being “competitive” in 2023. I am roughly defining “competitive” for 2023 purposes as being an on-paper-projected 85-win team. There’s natural variance in actual performance above and below your on-paper number in Spring Training, so if the Cubs are right about there come March, then it becomes very plausible that they could still be in the NL Central race by, say, late July. Enough to be a buyer for the second half. (Note that the Phillies just made it to the World Series after winning 87 games in the regular season.)

So against that backdrop, here’s what the way-too-early ZiPS standings look like for the NL Central in 2023:

The part NOT to focus on, in my opinion, is the divisional or Wild Card chances right now. Instead, I’m looking at the on-paper rosters for the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs. For ZiPS, the Cardinals are already looking pretty darn good, and that’s a concern when competing within your own division is pretty important. The Brewers, who might not do a lot of impact adding from here, are right there at that “competitive” level. The Cubs aren’t good on paper, but notably, they aren’t terrible.

Consider that this projection for the Cubs is after the departures of Willson Contreras, Drew Smyly, and Wade Miley, and otherwise includes no boost from the roster we saw this past season.

I’m not saying it would be EASY for the Cubs to add 10 or 11 wins in the offseason from here, but it is extremely do-able. It doesn’t even require going hog wild on top-tier free agents, signing them to super-long-term deals. One Carlos Correa, two decent starting pitchers, a solid 1A catcher, a passable center fielder, and then a bullpen move or two? That would APPEAR to get you into that on-paper 85-win range, and it is not a set of moves that are unrealistic. It’s really just the basic stuff the Cubs need to do, and other than Correa – which, yes, is the most fanciful of the imagined moves – none would be expected to impact your payroll beyond the next few years.

In other words, the Cubs aren’t actually starting at such an egregiously low baseline that competing in 2023 is unrealistic. That’s just not true. It’s not close to true. With a strong offseason, the Cubs can compete in the 2023 NL Central. Consider this another data point in support of that position.

Now it’s up to the Cubs to actually make the moves to close that gap between “not terrible” and “competitive.”


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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.