As you may or may not have noticed, I have not been around much lately. Do not worry (or for some of you, celebrate) because I am not going anywhere. I have just been a bit busy.
Last year was probably the greatest year of my life. Not only did my favorite team in all of sports finally win the World Series, but a month before hand, I got engaged! As you can probably imagine, planning a wedding takes up a lot of your time, and you are not able to spend nearly as much time following sports during that time frame. Luckily, we have been talking about the details for a while, even before we got engaged, so the planning is going smoothly and is going rather quick with very little quirks mixed in. I am thankful that the planning is taking place during the off season and during Spring Training though. I do not feel as though I am missing anything.
Even though the 2016 World Series Championship season was the most exciting season most of us have ever seen, and the playoff run and World Series will give us memories to last a lifetime, Spring Training is not really doing anything for me this year.
Do not get me wrong, I cannot wait for the Cubs to defend the Championship when the season actually starts, but this Spring Training just seems to be lacking a little something. Perhaps because the roster is pretty much set, outside of the battle for the spot for the 25th man between Tommy La Stella and Matt Szczur. Sure, there are a few in camp battles for positioning. Will Jon Jay beat out Albert Almora Jr. for the “starting center fielder” spot? Granted, they will be in a platoon so the term “starter” might not really mean much outside of who will start game one.
Who will make the starting rotation as the fifth starter? Mike Montgomery or Brett Anderson? Another in camp battle. However, both men will make the team. The only question is who pitches where. Not too much suspense if you ask me. Either way, the rotation will get a nice fifth starter and a solid bullpen arm. Personally, I think that spot will go to Anderson. Maddon could also go to a six man rotation, which I am not sure I am a fan of.
Another topic to keep your eye on is the batting order. The Cubs legitimately have nine position players who could and should be starting every day for any team lucky enough to have them. I caused a stir when I threw my prediction for an opening night lineup for the Cubs.
— WorldSeriesDreaming (@WSDreaming_Cubs) March 7, 2017
Yes, I have World Series MVP Ben Zobrist on the bench to open the season. While I know he can still play at a high level, and was signed to a four year deal to be the Cubs starting second baseman, you cannot deny that Javier Baez also deserves to start. People have said Zobrist should start with Baez on the bench, while others suggested that Zobrist plays right field with Jason Heyward in center field. Others said that Jay should start in center over Almora.
You put any of those guys on the bench, and you have a nice weapon coming off the bench at some point in the game. I also guarantee that there will be some fan grievances every game when they see someone sitting out that game. That would include Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo who will at some time see themselves getting a day off (even if only grudgingly). In fact, if I were Joe Maddon, I would use my team’s unbelievable versatility to make sure my team is the most rested, most well oiled team in baseball. I would make sure that everyone gets regular days off.
Think about what Maddon can do.
Bryant can play anywhere he wants. Left, center, right, third and first. Hell, I am sure he would even be able to play second or short if pressed.
Zobrist can play the corner outfield spots, second base, third base, first base and if pressed into service, I am sure that he can also handle shortstop from time to time.
Addison Russell can play second and short.
Baez can play first, second, short, third and even some outfield if really needed, and oh by the way he is also the emergency (4th string) catcher.
Heyward can play all three outfield spots, as can Almora and probably Jay.
Schwarber is a left fielder, but will also be the third string catcher and can give the Contreras and Miguel Montero a day or a few innings off from time to time.
Willson Contreras is a catcher who might also be able to play some left if there was ever a real need.
Rizzo… yeah, he is only a first baseman. A very good first baseman, but a first baseman only.
With the way the Cubs starters can handle the glove, you could literally see a different lineup with a different positioning every game without seeing the same exact lineup too often. Of course, these guys are professionals and want to play every day. If Maddon really wanted to, he could use both Zobrist and Baez both as super subs making sure no one really has to play more than eight games in a row.
Would they be happy playing (starting) only 144 games each? Probably not, but I am sure they would all get into the game in some form or fashion half of the games they were scheduled to have as an “off day”.
Sure, there is some excitement abound in Spring Training, but this year just seems to be dampened a little bit. Perhaps that is because the Cubs are coming off of the greatest season any of us have ever seen and things cannot really get much better, though with a full year of Schwarber they could be. That man is a beast, and if he does lead off for the Cubs, that will be a rude awakening for opposing pitchers because you have to face him because of who is coming up after him.
Maybe this Spring Training is a little dampened because of the World Baseball Classic. I will not hide the fact that I am not a fan of this spectacle. I do not like anything that takes players away from their main goal, which is winning the World Series. Playing in the WBC will not bring the Cubs (or any other team for that matter) any closer to winning the World Series. Perhaps one of these players on another team outside of the USA will catch the eye of a scout and he may help that team win the World Series, but for 2017, this is a deterrent. I am grateful that most of the Cubs are staying in camp with their team to train together. I do not begrudge Baez for wanting to play for his home country, in fact I wish him and his team luck.
Now that I think about it, maybe the reason this Spring Training is not really doing anything for me is not because I am preoccupied with planning a wedding, or the lack of any real battles for spots or the WBC. Maybe I just want Spring Training to get over with as soon as possible because I want the season to start already. It has been four long months since any meaningful Cubs baseball and I am not sure I can wait one more.