Cubs

Final 2015 MLB Power Rankings: Kansas City takes the crown

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Final 2015 MLB Power Rankings: Kansas City takes the crown

We'll admit it, we were wrong to doubt the Kansas City Royals.

In our preseason power rankings, we had the then-defending American League champs ranked No. 20 -- one spot behind the New York Mets, whom the Royals knocked off in five games to win their first World Series since 1985.

But the Royals swept the White Sox to begin the season and never stopped winning, going 95-67 in the regular season, storming back to beat the Astros in the ALDS and muting Toronto's power to reach the World Series. There, Kansas City became the first American League Central team to win the World Series since the White Sox in 2005. And in the process, hopefully every Royals player and staff member earned free Z-Mans for life from Oklahoma Joe's.

With that, CSNChicago.com's Tony Andracki and JJ Stankevitz bring our 2015 MLB power rankings to a close. We'll see you next spring.

Stay tuned for updated rankings every Monday throughout the 2015 campaign. Here's where we're at so far: Preseason rankings | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20 | Week 21 | Week 22 | Week 23 | Week 24

Rank Team
Last ranking Comment
1 5

Eric Hosmer’s hair-on-fire game-tying score in Game 5 perfectly summed up the world champs: Aggressive and never giving up. It also helped this team had the highest contact rate (81.9%) of any team in 2015, which was an antidote to the Mets’ power pitching.

2   6

What a miracle season for the Mets, who made it just three wins away from a championship despite entering the season with very little expected of them. A core of young pitching will help keep them competitive for years to come, but Daniel Murphy is about to become a free agent (and we know he won't hit like that forever) and Yoenis Cespedes is not expected to re-sign, either.

3 3

The American League’s most exciting team — seriously, that Jose Bautista bat flip was awesome — deserves plenty of credit for reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1993. But the drama with departed GM Alex Anthopolous is ridiculous, and leaves this franchise in limbo entering the offseason.

4   4

Cubs-Mets NLCS next year is an extremely popular prediction, but it's so much fun to think about a rematch, especially with another year under the belt for Cubs' young hitters and Mets' young pitchers.

5 1

They might've won 100 games, but they limped into the playoffs and were upstaged by the Cubs and Mets in the NL side of the postseason bracket. Of course, they'll be right back in the thick of things next season because they're the Cardinals.

6 2

A great team had just one game to try to beat the best pitcher in the universe and crack the playoff bracket, but they will get another shot to contend in 2016.

7 11

The franchise thought to still be in rebuilding mode surprised everyone by making aggressive deadline moves, reaching the playoffs and pushing the Royals to the brink of elimination in the ALDS. Fix the bullpen and this is a team that’ll contend for years in the AL West.

8 8

They may lose Zack Greinke, but the core pieces are still there and they have plenty of $$ to toss at the top free agents like David Price.

9 9

Won a thoroughly mediocre division thanks to an August/September surge. Cole Hamels wasn’t a one-year rental, either; he’s under team control through 2019.

10 7

Credit the late-career renaissances of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran for pushing the Yankees into the AL Wild Card game.

11 11

They win World Series every two years, so you can already pencil them in as 2016's champion.

12 10

Totaled 18.3 WAR from its position players (18th in MLB) despite having Mike Trout (9 WAR, 2nd in MLB).

13 14

A team with the best player in the NL (Bryce Harper) and some of the best pitchers in the game (Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer) shouldn't be too far from contention, no matter how disappointing the end of the 2015 season was.

14 13

Valiant effort to finish over .500 and make a legitimate push for a wild card spot. Continuing this success into 2016 won’t be an easy task, though.

15 15

Biggest win of the season was probably trading away Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn.

16 17

They were right there in the AL Wild Card race the morning of Aug. 20, then lost 15 of their next 18 games.

17 19

Somewhat concerning is Evan Longoria’s regression during his prime: Has a pedestrian .744 OPS since the start of 2014 with 43 home runs; had an .870 OPS with an average of 27 home runs per season from 2008-2013.

18 18

Young core of position players will make this team a popular "sleeper" pick as a contender in 2016. They just need to add some pitching.

19 16

Big-money offseason acquisitions Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez combined for -2.8 WAR, while Wade Miley and Rick Porcello failed to stabilize a bad starting rotation.

20 21

Entered the year as our No. 1 American League team. Adding Nelson Cruz to the middle of the lineup, despite how well he hit the ball, turned out to not help much.

21 22

The slow starts of Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera, and the August implosion of Jeff Samardzija, crippled any hope the White Sox had of making the playoffs via a mediocre wild card race.

22 20 They won the offseason before 2015 and wound up with a wildly disappointing campaign. Expect them to be a lot more under the radar this winter and bounce back with a solid 2016. Because baseball works that way.
23 23

Did well to get Daniel Norris from Toronto in the David Price deal, but is there enough talent here to make one more playoff run?

24 24

If they get a full year of Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, anything can happen. Oh yeah, and they don't have their GM running the show from the dugout, either, so that's gotta help.

25 26

Trading away Josh Donaldson looks like one of the biggest busts of the Billy Beane era.

26 27

After everything went right for the Brewers for the first four months or so of 2014, they've come crashing back to Earth the last 14-15 months. Milwaukee's luck will likely even out a bit in 2016, but they still only have a handful of core pieces still around.

27 25

Full-on rebuild mode for the Rockies, who traded away Troy Tulowitzki in the middle of the season and will probably shop Carlos Gonzalez this winter, too.

28 29

Made a couple nice strides in their complete overhaul, but they're still a few years away from contending.

29 28

Votto had a bounceback campaign, but the rest of the core had disappointing seasons or have been shipped out, so 2016 looks bleak.

30 30

Hey, at least it seems like they actually understand that in order to turn things around, they need to tear it all down. Wouldn't shock anybody if they were the worst team in baseball again next season.

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.

Maybe the early exit was just what the Cubs needed

Maybe the early exit was just what the Cubs needed

A year ago, the Cubs world was in essentially the exact same place — trying to find answers for a season that ended earlier than expected.

There was only one difference: Time.

The 2018 Cubs woke up on the morning of Oct. 22 having been out of action almost three full weeks. That's a long time in terms of decompressing, letting your body heal and evaluating what went wrong.

A year ago today, Ben Zobrist was in the midst of trying to heal his ailing wrist after a third straight trip deep into the postseason.

A year ago today, Theo Epstein was roughly 48 hours removed from his annual end-of-season eulogy.

A year ago today, Kris Bryant was trying to catch his breath after what he called the most draining campaign of his life.

Yet we woke up Monday morning 19 full days removed from the latest iteration of Epstein's end-of-season eulogy, Zobrist is making light-hearted Instagram videos and Bryant is already nearly three weeks into the process of letting his left shoulder heal completely and adding strength.

Of course, that trio of Cubs figures would gladly trade in these extra few weeks of time off for another shot at the NL pennant, even if they fell short in the NLCS again.

Still, there's a lot of value in extra time off, especially after three straight falls where they went deep into October playing high-stress baseball. The Cubs absolutely will go in 2019 much fresher than they went into this year's spring training.

For example, Jon Lester threw 8.1 fewer innings this October than 2017 and 29.2 fewer innings than 2016. Zobrist played 8 fewer games this October than 2018 and 16 fewer than 2016 (he also won the World Series in 2015 as a member of the Kansas City Royals). That matters when players' ages start creeping up into the mid-to-late 30s.

It shouldn't take the sting out of the disappointing end to 2018 for the Cubs or their fans, but extra time off for these guys is certainly not a bad thing. 

The Cubs have already gotten the ball rolling on offseason changes, including replacing Chili Davis at hitting coach with Anthony Iapoce

On top of that, each individual player has now had enough time to evaluate why or how they went wrong offensively down the stretch.

"A full winter — especially this extra month that we unfortunately have — is a luxury in baseball," Epstein said. "There are things that come up all the time during the course of the season with teams and with individual players that you say, 'We'd love to address.' But that's so hard to address during the season because there's always another game tomorrow. 

"Guys are surviving. We have to wait 'til the offseason, then we can get right physically, then we can wade into the mental game, then we can address this swing change, then we can handle this fundamental. Well, we now have that luxury — unfortunately — of a full offseason. How do we take full advantage of this so we're never in this position again?

"We don't want to be a part of an offensive collapse in the second half again. We don't want to be part of losing a division lead late again. We don't want to be part of looking back and recognizing that, gosh, maybe a greater sense of urgency from Game 1 through 162 would've led to one more game and then we're still playing. We don't want to be part of that ever again, so we need to make good use of this time."

The early exit also helps to create a chip on the shoulder for each member of the organization. It's hard to see the Cubs spending much time in 2019 lacking the same "urgency" they had this summer. The painful NL Wild-Card loss will leave a bad taste in their mouths that can carry over all the way until next October. 

Like Lester said, sometimes you "need to get your dick knocked in the dirt in order to appreciate where you're at." 

We saw that play out on the North Side of Chicago from 2015 into 2016 and Cole Hamels has seen this script before with a young core of players in Philadelphia.

In 2007, the Phillies made the playoffs, but were swept out of the NLDS by the Colorado Rockies. They rebounded to win the World Series the next fall over Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays.

"That [2007 sweep] really kind of taught us what the postseason experience was and what it was to not just play to the end of the season and instead to play to the end of the postseason," Hamels said. "This is a tremendous experience for a lot of guys and you have to go through the hardships before you get to enjoy the big moments.

"I know there's a lot of players here that have won a World Series, but there's also a lot that didn't have that sort of participation that you would kind of look towards, so I think this is great for them. 

"It's exciting to see what they're gonna be able to do next year and the year after that because this is a tremendous team here with the talent that they have. It's gonna be a great couple years."