It's been a while since the Cubs have been a powerhouse in fantasy baseball, but they should be exactly that in 2016.
For the first time since 2008, the Cubs figure to have nearly every position player worth owning plus a handful of quality starting and relief pitchers.
Thanks to the additions of Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist plus the re-signing of Dexter Fowler, the Cubs are probably the most fantasy-relevant team in the league.
Let's break it down by position:
Given that Kyle Schwarber qualifies as catcher, this is actually a position of strength for the Cubs in fantasy. Catchers typically don't have great fantasy production, but if Schwarber is going to spend the lion's share of his playing time in left field and not taking a beating behind the plate, he suddenly is one of the top fantasy catchers on the board, behind maybe only Buster Posey. Getting Schwarber's power production from a catcher's spot is clutch and qualifies him as even a fourth or fifth round pick, despite his low average.
Beyond Schwarber, Miguel Montero is an OK option as your fantasy catcher, but he's averaged just 416 at-bats over the last three seasons with a low .240 average and .702 OPS. He supplies some power and decent RBI totals given his lack of ABs, but he hardly scores any runs and figures to be hitting low in the Cubs' order this year.
Anthony Rizzo is a bonafide Top 10 fantasy pick, and may even be worth a Top 5 pick depending on how you value him. He's an extremely valuable hitter who provides production in every fantasy category and may have a .300 season in his near future. He is entering his prime and with this loaded Cubs lineup, the sky is the limit in terms of fantasy numbers, but be a bit wary about his health - he was hit with 30 pitches last year and one fastball in the wrong spot could mean missed time.
However, don't get caught up in Rizzo's 17 stolen bases last year. He caught a lot of teams by surprise with his willingness to run and when the league realized his aggressiveness on the basepaths, he stole just five bases over the final three months of the season. Expect 10-12 steals as his ceiling this year.
Kris Bryant is a budding superstar who, like Rizzo, provides production in every category and only figures to improve in his second season. Third base is surprisingly shallow in fantasy and Bryant has 40-homer upside even as early as 2016. Expect excellent power numbers, runs, walks, a decent average and even 10-15 steals.
As he ages, Zobrist has become a bit less valuable in the fantasy realm, but his main asset has always been positional verstatility - Zobrist qualifies at second base and outfield in 2016. He only stole three bases last season, but that was likely the result of a knee injury that included a DL stint early in the year. Zobrist should provide double digit steals and homers with pretty good run and RBI totals hitting at the top of a powerhouse lineup.
Addison Russell is one of my favorite sleepers for this season. He may be hitting ninth for most of the season, limiting at-bats and RBI totals, but he should contribute plenty of runs hitting in front of the heart of the order. Russell also has plenty of pop in his bat and it wouldn't be shocking to see him hit 20 homers this season. His arrow is pointing way up and this may be the last fantasy draft you'll get any sort of bargain on Russell.
Javy Baez isn't a projected starter at any position, but Joe Maddon will assuredly find ways to get him at-bats, playing all over the field. That positional versatility helps make Baez fantasy relevant, as does his power. For those two reasons alone, it's worth taking a flier on Baez late in your drafts.
Fowler turned in a fantastic 2015 season and if he can stay healthy, you can expect more of the same in 2016. He should be the leadoff hitter in an awesome lineup and 100 runs seems like a guarantee if he avoids the DL. Throw in 15 homers, 20 steals and a good OBP and that's a quality fantasy player despite an average that may not top .260
Heyward is a better real-life player than fantasy option, but he has more power potential and could be a 20-20 option this season. He figures to post solid run and RBI totals in this lineup and could add a decent average, too.
Schwarber is a solid outfield option, but his value really comes at the catcher position in fantasy. Jorge Soler's playing time was probably impacted the most with Fowler's re-arrival. Unless there's a major injury, it might be hard for Soler to reach 450 at-bats and thus be fantasy-relevent, depsite his power potential.
Jake Arrieta is a stud and you could easily make the case he's a first-round pick in 2016. Don't expect him to post a full season ERA under 1.00 like he did in his historic second half, but Arrieta is one of the elite pitchers in the league and could very easily post an ERA in the low 2.00s with a WHIP below 1.00 and a strikeout rate above 9 K/9. With the lineup around him and a solid bullpen behind him, Arrieta could again post 20+ wins. There is some injury concern given Arrieta's huge jump in innings last season, but he's in great physical shape and it's not a real concern.
Jon Lester is a great buy-low option in fantasy. After experiencing a dead-arm period in spring training and enduring a transition period with a new team in a new league, Lester posted a 6.23 ERA in April. But from that point forward, he had a 2.99 ERA and averaged a strikeout an inning. Expect more of the post-April Lester in 2016.
Lackey posted the best ERA of his career last season (2.77) and at age 37, it wouldn't be wise to expect another sub-3.00 ERA. But Lackey should be a solid contributor in strikeouts, wins and quality starts.
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks figure to round out the Cubs' rotation and while both are solid pitchers, they each come with inherent risk. Hammel has struggled in the second half throughout his entire career and if either he or Hendricks struggle, the Cubs have several options waiting to step into the rotation. With the risk attached, there are better fantasy options available than Hammel and Hendricks.
Hector Rondon is a borderline elite closer after posting 30 saves with a 1.67 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 2015. He even added six wins. The only things that truly kept him from being one of the top fantasy closers in the game was that he actually lost the ninth-inning role for a period during the season and he also averaged less than a strikeout an inning (69 Ks in 70 IP). It may be a stretch to see Rondon net a sub-2.00 ERA again, but he is a great bet for at least 30 saves and very well could lead the majors in the category given the Cubs are expected to be among the league leaders in victories.
Beyond Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm are probably the most enticing fantasy options in the Cubs bullpen, especially in leagues where holds are a category.
Strop is next in line for saves if anything happens to Rondon in that role. Even if he's only the eighth-inning guy, Strop should be a stud, as he recorded 28 holds and three saves in that role last season while striking out 81 batters in 68 innings with a 2.91 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Those numbers are a great projection for 2016.
Grimm, meanwhile, had 15 holds and a sub-2.00 ERA (1.99) while ranking among the league leaders in K/9. He only pitched 49.2 innings because of a forearm issue that delayed his start to the season, but he should be in line for more work in 2016. Don't expect another sparkling ERA, but Grimm has the stuff to keep his K/9 rate high and may still wind up with an ERA under 3.00.