A Few Cubs Storylines To Follow in the Coming Weeks

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s not a whole lot happening at 1060 W Addison. Not as far as big news is concerned, anyway. But while the water’s surface may have frozen over, there’s still a little movement just below. I suppose that goes without saying, as the guys in the Cubs front office are nothing if not diligent in their attempts to improve the team.

What follows isn’t necessarily new information, more like a series of reminders for those of you who’ve been caught up in the holidays or who’ve simply unplugged from things since early November. Though it’s not guarantee, the Cubs have made somewhat of a practice of dropping some big news at the Convention. With that event just over two weeks away, perhaps one of the tidbits below will set the stage for such an announcement.

Jake Arrieta extension

Talk of a big payday for the 2015 Cy Young winner created the most buzz in advance of last year’s Convention, though nothing ever came of it. The landscape surrounding those contract negotiations has obviously changed and there’s reason to question both sides’ desire to get a deal done at this point.

At this time last year, Arrieta was in line for a huge payday and he wanted to capitalize on his dominance and the deals being handed out to other ace pitchers. Now, however, he’s a year older and coming off a season that didn’t quite live up to its predecessor. He’s still under contract for one more season in Chicago, which MLB Trade Rumors estimates will earn him around $17 million, so it’s now a matter of which side is more willing to bet on Arrieta.

Will the pitcher and his agent, Scott Boras, gamble on a resurgent campaign and the willingness of a team to guarantee a monster payday? Will the Cubs wager on Arrieta maintaining something close enough to the performance of the past few years to pay him for a few more?

If I’m the Cubs, I’m willing to pay the man handsomely as long as he’s willing to accept a deal with options and vesting clauses. Talks could certainly continue into Spring Training and even the regular season, but the longer this drags on the less likely it is that something gets done. At least, that’s how I see it.

Jason Heyward’s offseason work

Perhaps the most noteworthy, or at least the most popular, storyline of the offseason to this point has been Jason Heyward rebuilding his swing mechanics. He’s spending the winter in Mesa to work with coaches in an effort to get back to the offensive production he enjoyed prior to joining the Cubs. We won’t see the fruits of these labors until March, but one early ancillary benefit is that they’ve turned everyone online into hitting experts.

At the same time, all the talk about Heyward’s offense has continued to take away from his stellar defense.

I’m not saying it’ll be perfectly fine if the dude’s results at the plate remain in a crater, just that there’s more to his value than his OPS. We all have our own definitions of worth, and Heyward’s ability to live up to those was severely hampered by the $184 million contract he signed prior to last season. But I’ll go back to what I wrote at the time he joined the Cubs, which is that they didn’t pay him to be a singular transcendent performer. Rather, they brought Heyward to Chicago to fill in what they perceived to be gaps in the team.

When we look at the Cubs’ season through a wide-angle lens, what do we see? A World Series winner with an historically good defense and a bunch of guys who seemed to genuinely enjoy one another’s company. There can be no doubt that Heyward contributed mightily to that picture. We could argue as to whether another — presumably much less expensive — player might have done the same, but facts are facts and the only reality we can work with is the one we experienced.

And the fact of the matter is that looking at past production really doesn’t do us any good at this point. If Heyward can produce even close to on par with his career numbers, it’ll be as though the Cubs have added a whole new player. Not a bad deal, huh?

Tyson Ross/rotation help

The Cubs have made no secret of their interest in the former All-Star pitcher who’s looking to return from thoracic outlet surgery. They reportedly brought Ross in for a tour earlier in the month, which is probably a lot more impactful now that they’ve got the new clubhouse and everything. Being the reigning world champs probably didn’t hurt, either.

I guess it could be seen as odd to host a lifelong Californian in Chicago in December, but it could actually work in the Cubs’ favor. I mean, if Ross likes what he sees in winter, it’s a no-brainer that he’ll love the summer.

Even if they aren’t able to add the big righty, the Cubs are likely to pursue other options for the rotation. Joe Maddon has said that he likes the idea of a six-man starting corps in some form or fashion. Then there’s the fact that 2016’s group was extraordinarily healthy, a run of good fortune it’d be foolish to assume will continue throughout the upcoming season.

There will be all kinds of opportunities to pick up cast-offs here and there over the next several months, none of which are likely to cause much of a stir. Bringing Tyson Ross into the fold, however, would be a CubsCon-worthy transaction.

The Cubs won the World Series

Just in case, you know, you’d forgotten.

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