The Rundown: Cubs Must Improve Scary ’19 Splits, Bryant Rumors Continue, Betts Could Be Traded Soon

I usually write a Sunday column, but took the day off yesterday for a number of reasons, including that we’ve beaten every Cubs story and non-story to death this winter. Yesterday felt more like spring, I had a good day health-wise, and by now, just like the rest of you, I’m ready to see how David Ross kicks off his first training camp as a Cubs manager.

This offseason has been as exhausting as any previously simply because the Cubs didn’t really do anything, and that’s all we’ve talked about for four months. They’ve replaced Nick Castellanos with Steven Souza Jr. and Pedro Strop with Jeremy Jeffress. They still need a fifth starter, which should come down to either Tyler Chatwood or Alec Mills, but it’s going to be a lot more fun watching Brailyn Marquez in the big league camp. He has no shot of making the team, but it will be nice to see how he pitches against major league hitters.

The team still has question marks in center field and at second base, but Ian Happ should be able to seize a starting opportunity and regular playing time in center. If Nico Hoerner makes it out of camp, he’ll probably be starting at the keystone.

Who will be the team’s first-ever 26th man? My money is on Hernán Pérez since he can play outfield or infield, unless the front office signs another free agent. If I had to choose my roster to head north right now, it would look like this:

That’s a pretty solid roster, though Mills, Duane Underwood Jr., Brad Wieck, and Ryan Tepera should challenge for bullpen spots. Is this a team capable of winning 91 games, which is what I think it will take to win the division? Sure it is, if they get vintage performances from Lester, Morrow, and Kimbrel. What’s missing? A bona fide leadoff hitter, but the Cubs have been searching for one for four seasons.

How can the Cubs win the NL Central? First, they will have to play much better on the road this season. Chicago was 33-48 away from Wrigley Field in 2019, second worst in the National League, and a similar effort this season could bury the Cubs in fourth place. They’ll also need to improve their play against sub-.500 teams. Last season the North Siders were 39-45 in those games.

A scarier monster lurks just beneath the surface, however. Discounting April and May, when they actually played like a playoff team, the Cubs were 54-56. And that includes a 16-12 August with just a +2 run differential. My feeling, though nobody will admit it, is that Joe Maddon lost this team last year. They were often poorly prepared, going 19-27 in one-run games and 7-17 in games decided by two runs. Combined with their road record and splits vs. inferior teams, it really looked like Maddon phoned it in and the players followed suit.

That the biggest change the team made is who will be leading it is not insignificant. By the end of the July it will be obvious if player changes are needed, too.

Cubs News & Notes

Monday Stove

Mookie Betts trade talks are said to be nearing a resolution.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone predicted a 31-20 win by the Kansas City Chiefs in yesterday’s Super Bowl. Boone was spot on.

February is Black History Month and Sports Illustrated pays tribute to pitching legend Satchel Paige.

Ex-Blue Jays shortstop Tony Fernandez is in critical condition and fighting for his life.

Francisco Lindor is open to signing a long-term extension with the Indians.

The Indians were reportedly in the mix to acquire Pirates outfielder Starling Marté before he was traded to the Diamondbacks.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort is very bullish on his 2020 team, despite not making a single move to improve a team that finished 71-91 last year. “I had an analytical staff go through and interpolate those numbers,” Monfort said. “And so in 2020, we’ll win 94 games and lose 68.”

White Sox first baseman José Abreu really likes his team’s chances in the AL Central this season.

Extra Innings

“Take it to the house, kid.” The NFL gets an A+ for yesterday’s game ball ad.

They Said It

  • “We have been [actively talking] all winter. The activity of our offseason isn’t indicative of how much we’ve been on the phone and have been working. The major free-agent market just wrapped up. There’s been a lot of activity. I expect that up to and into spring training. That’s going to continue. The trade market will continue to be an active place well into February.” – Jed Hoyer
  • “For [Almora, Jr.], it’s more approach than swing. He had a pretty clean swing. His swing works. It’s just that freakish contact ability — the ability to put virtually any pitch in play — can work against you unless you have the right approach, because you’re putting early-count pitcher’s pitches into play, because you can. But with shifting and today’s defenses, that’s a hard way to get on base a lot.” – Theo Epstein

Monday Walk Up Song

Ain’t Even Done With the Night  by John Mellencamp. Felt a little like spring yesterday didn’t it? I know enjoyed a day of short sleeve weather.

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