The Rundown: Hot Stove Starts Early, Big Changes Coming, Cubs Roster Construction Options for 2020

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”Rogers Hornsby

Where do we go from here? It’s quite a shock to the system to ponder the upcoming winter during the first week of autumn, but here we are regardless. Though not mathematically eliminated, a quick perusal of the internet provides little hope that the Cubs have any shot at catching the Brewers or Nationals. Cubs Twitter is no haven for positive reinforcement, either.

So we tread onward, a week away from the kickoff of Chicago’s hot stove season, and once that door swings open the Cubs will likely be looking for a new manager. Jon Heyman is on record as stating that Mark Loretta is the likely choice, while Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune is nearly 100% convinced the Cubs will hire David Ross. Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks the Cubs should keep Joe Maddon and fire Theo Epstein. And if you are really into hot takes, Phil Rogers of Forbes blames the two-year Cubs collapse on the shift of Javier Báez from second base to shortstop.

You already know who I’d like to see the Cubs hire.

Because a leadership change is very likely, the bigger issue for most fans is how the front office will build next year’s roster. The way I see it, Epstein and his Ivy League entourage have three paths from which to choose:

  1. Throw more money at the problems. The upper echelon of free agents is chock full of established all-stars, including Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, and Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out), who would all look good in Cubbie Blue. Then of course there is fan favorite Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs should have anywhere from $50-90 million to spend in free agency depending how things shake out. However, the upper end of that range would mean that Yu Darvish exercised his opt-out. And though the Cubs should be one of baseball’s bigger spenders, be prepared to hear the following as soon as next Monday: “Having a high payroll does not necessarily equate to winning a division.”  You can thank the Cardinals, Brewers, Braves, and Twins for that. Actually, you can thank the Cubs, who have played .500 baseball for 92% of the season with the highest payroll in the National League.
  2. A scorched-earth rebuild. This is for those vapid individuals who insist the Cubs should trade Kris Bryant. If Epstein trades KB, he may as well burn the whole thing down and start over. There is no replacement for the third baseman, period. Sure, you could sign Rendon, but you’ll have to look for something cryptic in the team’s offseason statements undoubtedly indicating their lukewarm desire to spend (again) on big-ticket free agents. There’s also Josh Donaldson, who is going to be old and worthless at the end of his next contract. If the Cubs trade Bryant, they should just trade Báez, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras, too, and see if they can repeat the same journey they started in 2012. No thanks. And since the Cubs are launching a new network, expect KB to be the face of that marketing campaign. The Cubs can win a championship next year and the year after with the right moves, but they can’t do it without their all-star third baseman.
  3. Retool the roster. The Cubs have some exciting power-armed relievers to build on next year, including Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck, Kyle Ryan, and Duane Underwood, Jr. They have a closer in place in Craig Kimbrel, who we will talk about later this winter, an ace in Darvish, and a solid No. 2 starter in Kyle Hendricks. They have assets they can move in trades to strengthen their rotation at the front end or back, including one of Contreras and Victor Caratini, Kyle Schwarber, José Quintana, Tyler Chatwood, Ian Happ, David Bote, and Robel García. They will have the money to keep Castellanos if they want and make some good depth moves in free agency. This seems like the most logical option.

Neither the Cardinals nor Brewers look like a dynasty in the making, so I’d choose number three, and the front office likely will too. They can’t ask an incoming manager to start in the midst of a team-wide rummage sale and they need to make Marquee attractive to cable providers willing to pass increased carriage costs on to their consumers. Needless to say, it is going to be one of the more interesting offseasons since this front office started.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Thanks to Evan for filling in yesterday and best wishes to his daughter, Addison.
  • The Cubs are just the second team in MLB history to be swept in a four-game series at home while losing each game by one run. The previous instance was 100 years ago, when Indians swept the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The first game of that series was a 3-2 loss in 13 innings, during which Babe Ruth pitched all 13 innings for the Red Sox.
  • It is entirely possible that the Cardinals could officially eliminate the Cubs from a Wild Card berth this weekend at Busch Stadium.
  • Trying to repeat after 2016 may have put more pressure for this team than winning the World Series for the first time in 108 seasons.
  • No update on KB as of the time of this writing, but that rolled ankle looked pretty severe and I doubt the Cubs will risk further injury by playing him again this season. (Ed. note: MRI revealed a Grade 2 sprain)
  • Scott Boras is not too happy with the circumstances surrounding Bryant’s injury.
  • It’s probably the right time for both Epstein and Maddon to move on from each other.
  • If you’d like the Cubs to hire an analytics-first manager who knows how to properly deploy his bullpen, Joe Girardi should be your top choice.
  • If you need something to truly root for this final week, how about hoping Schwarber gets to 40 home runs and Castellanos gets to 30 homers and 60 doubles?

This Season’s Three Cubs Stars

Yeah, I threw you a changeup.

  1. Yu Darvish – I will fight to the death anyone who says this was a bad free agent signing. Once Maddon took his reins off, Big Yu became the staff ace and had a second half that rivaled Jake Arrieta in 2015 and Rick Sutcliffe in 1984. Cubs fans better hope he decides not to opt out.
  2. Nicholas Castellanos – Nicky Two Bags looks more like a Cub than about twenty guys on this team. If Epstein doesn’t re-sign the right fielder, things could get ugly at CubsCon 2020 in January, especially if Darvish leaves, too.
  3. Anthony Rizzo – Anybody who says this team lacks leadership is ignoring the all-heart first baseman. His return on a gimpy ankle is just one of many ways he’s willing to carry this team on his shoulders. We can only hope he remains with the Cubs for his entire career. He should also bat leadoff all next season. He loves it and excels in the spot.

Extra Innings

I hope Addison Russell has played his last season as a Cub. Epstein did everything he promised he would in taking the high road with the troubled infielder, but it’s time to move on. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune noted that Russell was reprimanded earlier this season for getting to the ballpark too late.

“In mid-July, a Cubs coach implored Russell and reliever Carl Edwards Jr. to arrive at the ballpark much earlier than they did before one home game. A few days later, Russell was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, returning three weeks later,  [while] Edwards was dealt to the Padres after numerous warnings.”

They Said It

  • “It’s the big leagues of the big leagues. That’s the way the fans make you feel. The front office, the organization, the way everything’s run — it’s the top of the top. It’s hard to beat the experience of being a Chicago Cubs player, especially when you walk out on that field.”Ben Zobrist

Tuesday Walk Up Song

It’s Over by ELO. Summer came and passed away, hardly seemed to last a day, but it’s over…and what can I do?

Wait ’til next year.

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