Status: Pushing for Central supremacy
The Cubs suffered losses in Game 163 and the National League Wildcard game in 2018. The National League Central has only got stronger over the offseason, while Chicago have stood still.
Hopes of big-name additions were quickly quashed by the powers that be. Minor moves were the story of the winter in the Windy City.
Kendall Graveman was picked up on a cheap contract as he recovers from surgery. He’s not expected to pitch in the Majors but will be an option for the 2020 season.
Daniel Descalso will be available in 2019 and provides a bench or utility option. Chicago have plenty of flexibility on their roster, with Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all particularly comfortable moving around the field. Descalso is coming off a career-best year offensively – he’s useful offensive depth.
Left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno and righty Brad Brach were key additions to a bullpen that was not great in 2018. Brach has thrown over 60 innings in every season since 2013. Cedeno was excellent for the White Sox and Brewers last season.
What to watch
The outfield. It would be nice to be more specific, but this really is an issue across the three positions. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just a lack of star quality and have limited upside. Kyle Schwarber could be the guy people thought he would be, but it’s increasingly unlikely. Jason Heyward is what he is, as are Zobrist and Albert Almora. The outfield is a meh group – contenders need better than that.
Injury limited Bryant’s production in 2018, though he still posted an .834 OPS. The Cubs’ line-up looks very different with the mid-900s OPS Bryant. ZiPs projects 4.5 WAR from Bryant in 2019. His health will have a significant impact on Joe Maddon’s team. Another injury-hit year will increase scrutiny about the lack of winter spending.
Before Cole Hamels arrived from Texas, the rotation was dire in 2018. Yu Darvish being available all year is crucial. The staff could be very good if healthy all season. Depth options are underwhelming, though, so things could quickly head south if injuries rule key guys out long-term.
The Cubs are under a cloud of pessimism despite winning 95 games. The lack of spending contributes to that, but there are reasons to be positive.
The bullpen should be solid, despite not having the names like other teams. The line-up does not have glaring holes. The rotation could have five experienced pitchers above league average.
Winning the division is definitely possible. So is finishing fourth.