As we continue to preview the upcoming season, we begin to take a look at the other teams in the NL Central, we turn to the Chicago Cubs, who look to go back-to-back and dominate the NL Central again.

 

The Pirates are in the unfortunate situation of being in the same division as the best team in baseball, not only at the moment, but for the for the foreseeable future. The Chicago Cubs lived up to all of the expectations placed on them last season, and those same expectations are carrying over to this season. The Cubs are returning as equally-talented a roster as they had last season. And every major player they lost they over the off-season they managed to replace with equally-talented players. No more Jason Hammel? In comes Brett Anderson. No more Dexter Fowler in the outfield? In comes Jon Jay, and (hopefully) a full season of Kyle Schwarber. No more Aroldis Chapman? How bout Wade Davis instead.

Yes, Anderson is a step down from Hammel, but that may be the only weak spot on the entire Cubs’ roster. Schwarber back full-time is a huge addition offensively for the team. Davis is as good as Chapman. And all of their young guys get another season to take steps forward and improve. There’s no reason the Cubs shouldn’t make the postseason and contend for the World Series again this season.

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 Major Off-Season Moves

  • The Cubs lost flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman over the winter after he signed a five-year deal with the Yankees, the team he had signed with the previous off-season before being traded to the Cubs last summer.
  • But the Cubs knew this was coming. A week prior, the Cubs traded Jorge Soler for Wade Davis of the Royals, who is set to be the team’s new closer.
  • In that same week-long span, the Cubs lost their starting center fielder, Dexter Fowler, to the Cardinals, with whom he signed a five-year deal.
  • But yet again, the Cubs had prepared for this. At the end of November, the Cubs signed former-Cardinal Jon Jay to a one-year deal. Jay will likely platoon in center field with Albert Almora.
  • Chicago also declined to pick up the $12 million option on Jason Hammel, and instead decided to bring in Brett Anderson on a one-year deal to compete with Mike Montgomery for the fifth starter role.
  • Lastly, the Cubs lost David Ross to retirement, Chris Coghlan in free agency to the Phillies, and Trevor Cahill in free agency to the Padres.

Projected 25-Man Roster

With some help from MLB.com, and some educated guesswork, this is how I see the Brewers’ 25-man roster at the moment:

Starting Rotation

Jon Lester

Jake Arrieta

Kyle Hendricks

John Lackey

Mike Montgomery

Position Players

1B – Anthony Rizzo

2B – Javier Baez

SS – Addison Russell

3B – Kris Bryant

C – Wilson Contreras

LF – Kyle Schwarber

CF – Jon Jay

RF – Jason Heyward

Bullpen

Wade Davis

Hector Rondon

Pedro Strop

Carl Edwards

Justin Grimm

Koji Uehara

Brett Anderson

Bench

Miguel Montero

Ben Zobrist

Tommy La Stella

Albert Almora

Matt Szczur

Expert Projections

The Cubs are projected once again to pace all of Major League Baseball in wins. They haven’t lost any major pieces from last season, and their young players could take steps forward. Most projections have the Cubs with at least 95 wins, and many expect them to win 100+ games again this year like they did in 2016.

For some actual projections, make sure to check out those from Fangraphs, Bleacher Report, and USA Today.

Strengths

What isn’t a strength for the Cubs? The top four of their rotation can compete with any in baseball, and their top three could be the ace of almost any staff in the league. They have arguably the best infield in baseball, and Schwarber will be a force now that he’s back full-time. Strop-Rondon-Davis is a terrific trio at the back-end of the pen, and they have a legitimate quality depth starter in Brett Anderson if a starter should go down. And why not have Zobrist, one of the bets utility men in baseball, off your bench to fill in whenever necessary. So even the more minor positions of bullpen swing-man and utility bench player they have quality players at. It really is hard to find a hold in this Cubs roster.

Weaknesses

If we’re being picky, the obvious, and possibly only hole in the Cubs roster this season is the fifth spot in the rotation. Right now, that spot is set to be filled by Mike Montgomery, who only has 23 career starts across two seasons. He had an ERA of 4.60 in his first season as a starter in 2015 with the Mariners, and last year he was used primarily as a reliever. He did find success in this role, putting up a 2.52 ERA last season, and a 2.82 ERA after coming over to the Cubs in a mid-season trade. But now he has to prove himself as a full-time starter.

If Montgomery doesn’t work out, the Cubs do have Brett Anderson, who has incentives in his contract for games started, so the Cubs may already be prepared for him to start at some point this year. But Anderson is a bit of a reclamation project, after posting an ERA of 11.91 in just 11.1 innings with the Dodgers last season. But he also battled a back injury that he battled previously as well. He does have good upside, but he may not be that reliable.

Putting it All Together

The Cubs, barring significant injuries and regression from multiple veteran players, will be a great team again this year. While the Pirates have to hope on unproven players and multiple bounce-back seasons, the Cubs have proven young players and the depth to sustain a few injuries. It’s going to be tough going in the NL Central for everyone not named the Cubs.

Image Credit – Shutter Runner via Flickr Creative Commons

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Tyler Waite

Tyler is a data analyst by day and an aspiring sports writer by night. He’s been a Pittsburgh sports fan his entire life, but has a special place for the Pirates. He is fascinated by the analytical side of the game, and wants to impart his analysis as both a writer and as a fan to Pirate fans everywhere.