The Rundown: Cubs Good Enough to Win Division, Castellanos Reportedly Still in Play, Sunday Baseball Notes

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Does anybody really know what is going on with the Cubs this winter? I’m starting to think that we’ve been party to some executive horseplay of sorts. I’m not trying to be a conspiracist by any means, but it’s possible we’ve become victims of a little misdirection by the front office. After consecutive disappointing finishes, maybe the threat of breaking up the core was a catalyst for fans to appreciate the team they have a little more.

It’s an elementary concept to consider when, based on cumulative WAR, the roster as it currently sits should be considered the favorites to win the NL Central. Maybe it makes sense to Cubs fans to expect a roster reset due to the sheer disappointment of last season, but it’s not that easy a decision for the guys whose jobs are dependent upon the success of the team.

I generally like to compare the current roster to that of the 1971 team. Though that iteration never won anything, the team was good enough from 1969-72 to contend. And though I cannot find an online reference, Baseball Digest did project the Cubs to win the World Series in 1970.

They were good enough, too, despite finishing five games behind the Pirates and 10 games worse than their Pythagorean record. It wasn’t until the middle of the ’72 season that the organization started to break up its core, starting with the dismissal of manager Leo Durocher that July.

Still, for that stretch of five seasons starting in 1968, then-GM John Holland made no truly significant offseason moves. Granted, free agency didn’t exist and players were evaluated much differently, but Chicago’s front office felt confident in trusting its core players. By all rights, the Cubs should have won at least one championship in that five-year window, if not back-to-back titles in ’69 and ’70. That they did not still haunts many older fans.

There are enough nuances to the game, and the schedule is just long enough, that things rarely play out during the season as they quantifiably should. The Cubs should have won the division title last year, at least according to their Pythagorean record. Instead, they finished in third place and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Based on that fact, there is no reason to think that this year’s roster isn’t good enough to get back to the postseason. Of course, they’ll need to replace Cole HamelsBen Zobrist and two months of Nicholas Castellanos. I’d bet a keg of beer that the team has in-house options that can statistically outperform the 2019 seasons of the first two. Choose one of Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills to grab the fifth spot in the rotation, and let Nico Hoerner or Ian Happ take regular reps at second base, with the other starting in center field. Those four should be able to perform well enough to also compensate for the two wins Castellanos was worth while playing for Chicago.

Still, the likelihood exists that Theo Epstein will break up his core as finances will dictate. Though the Cubs president of baseball operations has perhaps been tasked with trimming the payroll to get near or under the $208 million tax threshold, the Cubs will still have the highest payroll in the division, if not the entire National League. I’d venture to guess if there was a way to keep his team together and add a few peripheral pieces in free agency, Epstein would rather do that.

Cubs News & Notes

On Deck

If you had to choose one of the following, which would you consider Epstein’s best trade of the decade?

  1. Acquiring Anthony Rizzo and Zack Cates from the Padres for Andrew Cashner and Kyung-Min Na;
  2. Acquiring Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop  from the Orioles for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger; or
  3. Acquiring Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva from the Rangers for Ryan Dempster.

Apropos of Nothing

Though Durocher started the 1972 season with the Cubs before being fired with a 44-46 record, he was hired by the Astros with 31 games left in that same season, guiding Houston to a 16-15 record. Leo the Lip retired after the 1973 season, having won 2008 games, one World Series, and three pennants in his managerial career.

Updates On Nine

  1. Castellanos is one player that Cubs fans hope will somehow find his way back to the North Side. A lot of teams, including the White Sox, have been linked to the right fielder. The Rangers are the latest team to reportedly show heavy interest in signing the soon-to-be 28-year old.
  2. Left fielder Corey Dickerson agreed to terms Saturday on a two-year, $17.5 million contract with the Miami Marlins. Dickerson battled injuries last season but batted .304 with 12 homers, 59 RBI and a .906 OPS in 78 games for the Phillies and Pirates.
  3. The Braves are said to be interested in potentially trading for Nolan Arenado, pending a decision by Josh Donaldson in free agency. It seems like an unlikely fit, given that Arenado would push Atlanta’s payroll well past any level of comfort. It sounds a lot more like the Braves are hoping to get the Cubs to lower their demands for Bryant.
  4. The Rangers appear to be a more likely destination for Arenado. Though Texas doesn’t have the deep minor league system that the Braves do, they might consider minor league prospects Josh Jung and Cole Winn as part of a return package. A similar package for Bryant might interest the Cubs.
  5. The Red Sox continue to search for a taker for left-handed starter David Price. In order to move Price and the $96 million over three years left on his contract, Boston may have to make the unenviable choice of eating a sizable chunk of cash or attaching a younger player such as Andrew Benintendi as incentive for the acquiring team. Price is 35 and is recovering from a wrist injury that required surgery last September.
  6. Now that the White Sox have signed Edwin Encarnación, in addition to adding four other free agents and trading for outfielder Nomar Mazara, they are arguably the most improved team in baseball. The ChiSox have been attached to Price in offseason rumors, too.
  7. The Brewers believe they could trade Josh Hader and still remain competitive enough to win the NL Central. Corey Knebel, who missed all of last season after having Tommy John surgery, could be back as early as May and would resume in his role as the team’s closer.
  8. The Mets and Pirates have reportedly exchanged names on a potential trade that includes outfielder Starling Marté. Brandon Nimmo may be involved, though no evidence exists to indicate that anything is imminent.
  9. There have been 33 managers hired over the past four years, and just two were African-American: Dave Roberts and Dusty Baker. This year, eight managers were hired and Carlos Beltrán was the only minority to secure one of the openings. None of this sits well with Baker.

Extra Innings

I am fully convinced Rob Manfred tries to impose his rancid will on the game of baseball for the future of his own legacy rather than the best interests of the sport.

They Said It

  • “I told somebody about 10 years ago that I saw this coming, with the decline in African American players. I’ve lived long enough to see trends, and this is a very dangerous trend. Everybody talks about it, but who’s doing anything about it?” – Dusty Baker

Sunday Walk Up Song

In the Ghetto by Elvis Presley. Today is my dad’s birthday and he’d be 81 if he was still alive, so I thought I’d choose one of his favorite songs from 1970. Both Dad and Presley were originally from Tupelo, MS.

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