Festivus only comes once a year and already we’ve seen the internet deluged with the airing of grievances. In our neck of the woods, fans of the Chicago Cubs are generally content, but if you dive into the comments, we all realize that the team could be even further improved, even if it looks awesome on paper right now. I guess my main grievance is that we’re never satisfied, but one cannot improve if one is easily placated, so I applaud that attitude that Cubs fans have, as long as they’re not unreasonable.
Based on the previous poll, our voters seem to think the Cubs can win 90+ games with this roster as currently constructed, and overwhelmingly believe that the Cubs can win the National League Central. At the very least, the naysayers believe that the Cubs will qualify for a playoff spot if they have to sneak in as a wild card again. I’m going to assume that the folks voting for less than 90 wins and for the Cubs to miss the playoffs are trolling or just have a little too much Sadness in their lives. I doubt there will be any more major signings since the last couple contracts have been of the “creative” variety and the Cubs budget is probably tapped out, but this is a very smart front office and they’ll have all this figured out even if I don’t talk about it (disclaimer: they’re smarter than I am).
Although we fans and even the front office and players themselves feel good about the upcoming season, it doesn’t hurt (and is necessary) to think about contingency plans. For example, with the bullpen issue that some fans are worried about (despite the Cubs fielding a top five bullpen last year and an improved bullpen for 2016), the Cubs have been signing a number of solid options, some of whom you are already familiar with. Last year, Clayton Richard and Travis Wood did a splendid job in long relief, and Richard was very useful in the handful of spot starts he made after he came over from the Pirates system. The roster also has guys like Trevor Cahill and Adam Warren that can be used in swingman roles. The Cubs aren’t done yet, adding additional pitching options (more depth) because they know that they will need more arms to slog through a long season yet again. Along with established late inning relievers like Pedro Strop (who wasn’t that bad and could get better), the bullpen is already deeper than it was last year, with more guys that could potentially pick up the slack in the event of poor performance or injury. So the contingency seems to have been taken care of here.
Rian Watt also broached the subject of what would happen if a starter (i.e. Jake Arrieta, *whimper*) gets injured. I recall Theo Epstein at one point talking about having to know who your 8th or 9th starter is going to be (this might even have been back when he was still with the Red Sox), and this is no exaggeration based on what we’ve seen this offseason. There are no less than nine pitchers on staff right now who could start and not be completely embarrassed, including the projected starting rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, plus the swingman contingent of Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Travis Wood, and Adam Warren. Let’s say that Arrieta has a hiccup (some injury or he’s just not as good as last year, both of which would admittedly suck). Now everyone gets shifted up a spot, and the swingmen buy the Cubs some time to figure out how to get a replacement pitcher. And if it’s a back-end starter who fizzles out, then it is entirely possible that Joe Maddon, who seems to have bought in to the “third time through the order” philosophy, is more than capable of figuring out how to piggyback his swingmen to weather the storm. Just like the bullpen situation, the Cubs have figured out how to set up an in-house contingency. It’s not foolproof, because a Wood-Cahill piggyback wouldn’t be able to replace Arrieta, but it’s not an apocalyptic event either.
Ben Zobrist – 2B, 3B, LF, RF, and 1B on a lark
Kyle Schwarber – LF, RF, C
Kris Bryant – 3B, OF
Jason Heyward – CF, RF
Javier Baez (if he’s not traded for pitching) – 2B, 3B, SS, CF (if he ends up doing well in winter ball)
There are various transactions that have to be completed before the regular season, including figuring out who is going to be on the bench, but let’s say (heavens forbid) that Kris Bryant is out for a few. At least two guys can immediately slot in at third base, and if they kept him after the spring purge, Chris Coghlan could be a starter-quality player to pick up the slack given certain matchups. The versatility of the players on the offensive side also allows for a number of lineup options. The number of options, and in concert with the fact that the Cubs haven’t even dug into their system depth yet, means that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer can pick and choose whom to target in a trade to fill a lineup or defensive spot, and even rotation/bullpen spots if necessary. If something wacky happens in spring training or before the trade deadline, they can ship off a guy like Jorge Soler, plug someone else into right field, and get a new pitcher using the system depth as trade currency.
In short, the Cubs have generated a versatile roster for both pitching and position players alike, and have so many options that it’s impractical to list them all. Suffice it to say that the contingencies are covered.