Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Cubs Can Quiet Doubters With These Statement Moves

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Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training, meaning the 2024 season is officially underway for the Chicago Cubs. 2023 went surprisingly well overall, but ended in disappointment after the team collapsed down the stretch and missed the playoffs. After reflecting on their shortcomings, the franchise now believes they can compete with the best in the league for years to come, complimented by a plethora of young talent, some new faces, and a proven manager.

Yet the early predictors have the Cubs on the bubble when it comes to making the playoffs. Cubs fans believe they should be the favorites to win the NL Central division given their steps forward in 2023 and the downward trajectory of their foes, but experts believe it is the St. Louis Cardinals’ to lose.

As currently constructed, the Cubs should be competitive but have significant holes to fill. If they were to enter play today, it’d be hard to disagree with the projections given to them. To change the narrative, the Cubs will have to spend money and add to the payroll, but they don’t have to pay top dollar anymore. There are obtainable options available right now, holding out for unrealistic deals. Eventually, they will have to come down on their demands and play ball.

Suppose Jed Hoyer and the Cubs front office are willing to go all-in while they have this core of players. In that case, they can acquire great pieces to add to the roster, put themselves over the top, and quickly flip the script and become the favorites for the division as soon as Opening Day.

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Top Priority: Sign Cody Bellinger

It is baffling to most that we have reached the breaking of camp, and Cody Bellinger is still not a Chicago Cub. The standoff continues between the front office and Bellinger’s agent, Scott Boras. Threats of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Houston Astros swooping in to steal Bellinger are alive and well, but many still believe the Cubs and Bellinger will reunite in the coming days.

Bellinger was an MVP candidate in 2023. He showed us his defensive versatility by making over fifty starts both in center field and at first base. On offense, he provided a .307 batting average and added a Silver Slugger award to his resume. He also finished tenth in MVP voting after his one-year “prove it” campaign.

If (when) the Cubs and Bellinger finally do get the deal done, Bellinger will solidify his spot in the middle of a lineup that desperately needs power and consistency – two things he will undoubtedly provide if he’s close to as last year advertised.

One More Bat For Insurance

Not signing Bellinger would make this even more urgent for the Cubs, but even with him, they’ll still need another capable bat. While you hope for a Nick Madrigal awakening and plentiful at-bats for Christopher Morel, the Cubs must be ready and able to pivot if necessary. The DH spot in the lineup is a great tool to plug in veteran players who may not have the agility in the field anymore but can still get the job done at the plate.

Two veterans that come to mind that are still available are JD Martinez and Brandon Belt. Both players surpassed 100 games played last season, spending extensive time as the DH for their clubs. Martinez, 36, had an OBP of .321, and Belt, 35, had an OBP of .347.

Even with a Bellinger signing, adding one of these bats to the lineup would undoubtedly improve the Cubs’ offense. A middle-of-the-lineup consisting of a paid Bellinger, a healthy Seiya Sizuiki, and a former World Series champion in either Martinez or Belt would be scary for any opposing pitching staff. These are the secondary moves the Cubs are capable of making if they are serious about winning now.

Make The Rotation A Problem

The Texas Rangers traded for starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery at the deadline last year to help them make a run for a championship. The Rangers then rode his back to their first World Series in franchise history. Now, it is the start of training camp, and Montgomery is still a free agent.

The Cubs have four spots in their starting rotation seemingly locked in with Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, Shota Imanaga, and Kyle Hendricks. The fifth spot is open for discussion with Drew Smyly, Jordan Wicks, and Javier Assad, who can all fill the fifth sport or a long-reliever role. But as the Cubs prepare for a run, why not see if they could add Montgomery to this roster?

When Montgomery is on, he can’t paint the corners of the strike zone as good as anyone in the league. His fastball only reaches the low-90’s, but you can get anyone out if you can put the ball wherever you want. Adding that type of control to a rotation with Steele’s slider, Taillon’s sweeper, Imanaga’s “filth,” and the professor’s pin-point accuracy, this rotation would go from “can be good” to “definitely a problem.”

Don’t Stop Adding Pitching

Especially by adding a starter, the Cubs bullpen could be a crowded place of guys who could be starters. All the names above, plus Keegan Thompson and Hayden Wesneski, would be plenty of arm power to hand the ball to Adbert Alzolay and the newly acquired Hector Neris to close a game out. It would be a dream for Hoyer and General Manager Carter Hawkins to see all their young talent do the job. But we all saw the bullpen falter down the stretch last season, so there is no room for feeling comfortable.

Michael Lorenzen threw a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies in his second start with the team after a deadline trade. After that, it went south for him, and he didn’t even make the Phillies’ postseason roster. He’s now a free agent looking to return to his winning ways. He’ll likely have to be content in the bullpen if he wants a spot on a big-league roster.

Depth and longevity are what ultimately demised the Cubs’ bullpen last season. While it seems crowded with young and capable arms now, that could all halt as quickly as last season. What makes a Lorenzen signing seem like a win-win for the Cubs is their ability to sign him to an affordable and short “prove it” deal. If it works in their favor, they are geniuses. If it doesn’t, they’ll designate him and move forward.

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