The 2023 ZiPS Projections Are Out for the Chicago Cubs - This Team is Not Terrible

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The 2023 ZiPS Projections Are Out for the Chicago Cubs – This Team is Not Terrible

Chicago Cubs

The offseason is not over, and we know the Chicago Cubs are going to do more from here. But the projections have to come out on a publishing schedule, which means the Cubs are getting the ZiPS treatment at FanGraphs today.

Thing is, the overall projections make me slightly MORE optimistic about the season ahead, precisely BECAUSE it’s not hard to see how and where the Cubs could still pretty easily improve from here this offseason:

You can and should go over to FanGraphs to really dig in on the individual projections, because I’m still digesting them myself. I’m going to speak a little more broadly about positional groups for now, and how it relates to the rest of the offseason.

Although you’d like to see at least one of those outfield spots producing an above-3 WAR season, it’s hard to be too upset about all three spots being above average (2.0-ish is about average). And if the Cubs get over 8 WAR from their new middle infield combo? I am sure they would be thrilled.

The rotation projections look awfully strong – if the Cubs have three 3+ WAR starters this year, that’d be pretty nice, when considering the depth – and the bullpen doesn’t look too shabby for not having household names at the back end. And that’s before the official addition of Drew Smyly or any other relievers.

Speaking of the depth, depending on where you’d draw the cutoff for “useful” (let’s say 15% below league average), the Cubs now have a comical volume of projected-to-be-useful arms for 2023 – I count 24(!) of them. And that DOESN’T include a trio of guys that ZiPS is extremely low on, and whom I would definitely call useful: Adrian Sampson, Javier Assad, Drew Smyly. That depth has so much value, because it means when there is an inevitable run on arm health, the Cubs are relying on “slightly below average” guys to fill innings rather than “oh dear god who is starting today?!” Even good teams, on paper, fall into that latter category, and it can really damage a season.

Oh, also? I am willing to be hopeful that the Cubs really turned a corner in the way they work with pitchers the last couple years, and we’re going to continue to see surprisingly good performances that run counter to the projections.

Still, even if you take an optimistic eye toward these projections, it’s not hard to see where the obvious holes remain. Or, I guess more positively framed: the areas where the Cubs have opportunities to still make significant improvements.

At third base and first base – which are going to be somewhat related, depending on what the Cubs do from here, and where Patrick Wisdom winds up getting most of his playing time – there is a clear opportunity to add a bat. First base is probably a touch easier than third base in free agency, and comes with the benefit of being able to coordinate that type of hitter at DH. It’s why Jose Abreu was targeted early, and why Trey Mancini has been percolating as an alternative option. Even if you don’t love Mancini, and even if he doesn’t play every day, his addition would still mark a noticeable improvement to that area of the offense.

Much of the same could be said of Michael Conforto, who could dramatically improve the DH mix, and also provide depth in the outfield (if that throwing shoulder is OK). Again, that’s why there are so many Conforto rumors flowing.

And then, obviously, there’s the catcher spot. Adding someone like Tucker Barnhart is not likely to increase the projected WAR total there THAT much, but it would definitely be a bump, and we know the real reason to do it is to improve pitcher performance (and slide P.J. Higgins into a depth role, rather than a true back-up catcher role).

Overall on the offense, a lot of the value is coming from the gloves, rather than the bats. Just four players who could see meaningful innings this year project as above-average bats: Seiya Suzuki, Ian Happ, Dansby Swanson, and Matt Mervis (and the latter three only just barely). They have a ton of guys in the 90 to 100 OPS+ (similar to wRC+) range, but overall there’s just no love here for the bats. SURPRISE! That’s also why we keep screaming for the Cubs to add at least another bat.

In sum, that team on paper right there, according to ZiPS, has the look of a team around .500. Given the rebuilding process, and given the still-can-be-filled holes, I would say that is downright encouraging. The long-stated goal (by me, if not the Cubs) was to see this team as at least an 85-win squad ON PAPER come Spring Training. When you broke down where things stood after last season ended, that was kind of a tall order, but with so much money available to spend and with so much urgency to get there, I thought it was an appropriate, but realistic, goal. I think they’re close. I think with the right last few moves on the offseason, the Cubs can get there.

And once they are there, you have given yourself a real shot at bouncing up toward 87 or 88 or 89 wins – that, in turn, could have you in contention in the division come July, and then all bets are off on how the Cubs might proceed.

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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.