Back in early 2016, I took a look at the Cubs’ roster and concluded that they had a two-phase window of contention. The first of those (2016-17) was based on a rotation that boasted two years each of veteran starters Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, plus Jon Lester in his prime. The second phase (2018-21) was based on a young position-player group that boasted potential superstars at every spot on the infield.
I felt the first phase represented Cubs’ best chance, and indeed that proved the case, but I thought they would stay a playoff team though 2021. Things have not quite worked out according to that prediction, as evidenced by only 84 wins and a failure to make the playoffs. So is the window of contention closed?
Not quite, thanks to being wedged firmly open by the unlikely duo of Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick.
It has become cliché to note that the Cubs have failed to develop pitching during the Theo Epstein regime. That was not a fatal flaw when they had an All-Star infielders earning peanuts back in 2016. It became far more concerning last offseason, however, when the Cubs had no money to spend on a host of question marks in the bullpen.
Ryan and Wick should help to prevent that from happening this offseason. Both provided quality relief over a sustained period in 2019 and neither had any troubling peripherals to suggest their success was a fluke. More importantly, both will be cheap in 2020 and ’21 and are under team control for years to come. The Cubs finally have reliable, low-cost pitching. This is a huge deal.
The 2019 Cubs had a pricey bullpen that produced abysmal results, but it’s shaping up to be more talented at less cost over the next two years. In addition to the aforementioned relievers, Brad Weick, Dwayne Underwood, and others should allow for money to be spent elsewhere to plug holes in the rotation and outfield. While nothing is guaranteed by any stretch, the money should be there to make a spirited attempt at one more World Series.
Remember, the Nationals were a complete disaster in 2018 and got off to a 19-31 start this past season before morphing into baseball’s best team in the time since. Good teams can turn things around fast, and it often starts with finding the right players to shore up weak spots.