Cubs' all-time 26-man roster
With no baseball right now, it's been fun to look back at the 145 years of Cubs history. NBC Sports Chicago recently listed the best and worst trades and free agent signings in Cubs history. Next up: an all-time 26-man roster.
The Cubs have been around for a long time. As much as these 26 players are deserving of a spot on the roster, there are plenty of worthy names left off. And as a precursor, WAR rankings mentioned are from Baseball Reference and aren't all encompassing. Rather, they're separated by pitchers and position players.
Let's get into it.
C Gabby Hartnett (1922-40)
Hartnett played 19 seasons on the North Side, hitting .297/.370/.490 with 231 home runs (No. 7 in franchise history) and 1,153 RBIs (No. 6). He made six All-Star teams, won the 1935 NL MVP award and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955. His 55.9 WAR (per Baseball Reference) is No. 7 in team history.
1B Anthony Rizzo (2012-present)
With respect to Mark Grace and Derrek Lee, I’m going with Rizzo, an exemplary player on and off the field, and current face of the Cubs. In eight seasons on the North Side, he’s hit .277/.376/.496 with 217 homers (No. 8 in team history) and 720 RBIs (No. 14).
Rizzo, a three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, is already No. 19 in Cubs history in WAR (33.9). If he spends his entire career in Chicago, he’ll crack the top 10.
Note: Cap Anson is the Cubs' all-time WAR leader, but his character issues are tough to overlook.
2B Ryne Sandberg (1982-94, '96-97)
A lot of good options here — Johnny Evers, Rogers Hornsby, Billy Herman, Glenn Beckert — but Sandberg is the clear-cut choice. In 15 seasons with the Cubs, the 2005 Hall of Fame inductee hit .285/.344/.452 with 282 homers (No. 5 in team history) and 1,061 RBIs (No. 7).
Sandberg made 10 All-Star teams, won nine Gold Gloves and the 1984 NL MVP award, and the Cubs retired his No. 23 jersey. His 68.1 WAR is third in team history.
3B Ron Santo (1960-73)
Santo’s 72.1 WAR is second in team history behind Cap Anson (84.8). The late third baseman made nine All-Star teams and won five Gold Gloves. He played in 2,126 games (fifth most in Cubs history) and hit 337 home runs (fourth). Post playing career, he broadcast over 3,000 Cubs games on the radio.
Santo was posthumously elected into the Hall of Fame in 2012. However, when his No. 10 jersey was retired in 2003, he famously said “this is my Hall of Fame” to the honor.
SS Ernie Banks (1953-71)
There can’t be a roster like this without Mr. Cub. Banks is fourth in team history in WAR (67.8) and the only two-time MVP in team history (1958-59). He made 14 All-Star teams (most ever by a Cub), had his No. 14 retired and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Banks hit 512 home runs across 19 seasons, the second-most in team history (Sammy Sosa, 545). He’s the Cubs’ all-time leader in games played at 2,528.
LF Billy Williams (1959-74)
Sweet Swingin’ Billy spent 16 of his 18 big league seasons with the Cubs, hitting .296/.364/.503. He ranks near the top of the franchise leaderboard in home runs (392, No. 3) and RBIs (1,353, No. 4).
In 2,213 games (third-most in Cubs history), Williams generated 61.8 WAR (fifth-most). He won the 1961 Rookie of the Year award, the 1972 batting title and made six All-Star teams. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1987, and his No. 26 is retired by the Cubs.
CF Hack Wilson (1926-31)
Wilson only spent six years with the Cubs but accumulated 31.0 WAR (No. 20 in team history). The 1979 Hall of Fame inductee slashed .322/.412/.590 with 190 homers. He led the National League in long balls in 1926 to 1928, and all of baseball in 1930 (56).
Wilson never made an All-Star team (there wasn't even a game until 1933) but finished in the top 12 of MVP voting four times with the Cubs, including a fifth-place finish in 1926.
RF Andre Dawson (1987-92)
Dawson won two Gold Gloves as a Cub, so I'll give him the nod in right field over Sammy Sosa. He spent six seasons on the North Side, winning the 1987 NL MVP and making five All-Star teams. He hit .285 with 174 home runs, accumulating 18.7 WAR (40th in team history). He entered the Hall of Fame in 2010... wearing an Expos cap.
DH Sammy Sosa (1992-2004)
Sosa’s 58.8 WAR ranks sixth in Cubs history. The slugger hit 545 home runs as a Cub (No. 1 in team history), including 66 in his 1998 NL MVP season. He made seven All-Star teams and won six Silver Sluggers.
Whether his numbers are a byproduct of steroids is up in the air, but Sosa is one of the best to ever don a Cubs uniform.
SP Fergie Jenkins (1966-73, '82-83)
Jenkins posted a 3.20 ERA in 401 career games (347 starts) with the Cubs. He’s their all-time leader in pitcher WAR (53.0), starts (347) and strikeouts (2,038). His 167 wins are fifth-most in team history, and his 29 shutouts rank fourth.
A 1991 Hall of Fame inductee, Jenkins made three All-Star teams, won the 1971 NL Cy Young Award and finished in the top three four other times. He made a franchise-record seven Opening Day starts with the Cubs, and his No. 31 is retired.
SP Greg Maddux (1986-92, 2004-06)
Maddux spent a bulk of his prime with the Braves but pitched 10 seasons on the North Side. As a Cub, Maddux won the 1992 Cy Young Award, made two All-Star games and won five Gold Gloves (six if you count 2006, when he was traded to the Dodgers).
Maddux made 298 starts (fifth in team history), won 133 games (13th), racked up 1,305 strikeouts (sixth) and accumulated 33.7 WAR (11th). Upon his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2014, he opted for his plaque to portray him with a logo-less cap due to his appreciation for Chicago. The Cubs retired his No. 31 alongside Jenkins.
SP Mordecai Brown (1904-12, ’16)
Brown put up video game numbers in the pitcher-friendly dead ball era. In 10 seasons with the Cubs, “Three Finger” won 188 games with a 1.80 ERA (both second in team history). He sported a 0.998 WHIP while tossing 48 shutouts (both first), accumulating 48.0 WAR (third).
Brown helped the Cubs win back-to-back World Series titles in 1907 and 1908, and entered the Hall of Fame in 1949.
SP Jon Lester (2015-present)
Lester’s numbers as a Cub aren’t the gaudiest (74-41 record, 3.54 ERA, 1.242 WHIP), but there’s no overstating his importance to the franchise. Since signing a six-year deal in December 2014, the Cubs have made four postseason appearances and won a World Series. The left-hander has shined in October, too, posting a 2.44 ERA in 12 games (10 starts).
The Cubs signed Lester to lead their rotation and deliver in big games. He’s done that and then some, and will go down in Cubs lore for his efforts.
SP Jake Arrieta (2013-17)
Like Lester, Arrieta played a big part in the Cubs’ recent run of success. The right-hander accumulated 20.0 WAR (No. 24 in team history) as a Cub, posting a 2.73 ERA (No. 18) and 1.034 WHIP (No. 2). This includes his elite 2015 second half in which he posted a 0.75 ERA and 0.727 WHIP en route to winning the NL Cy Young Award.
Arrieta was rock solid in October, delivering a 3.08 ERA and 1.082 WHIP in nine starts. He threw a complete game shutout in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game and shutdown the Indians in Game 6 of the 2016 World Series to force a Game 7.
Bullpen: CL Lee Smith (1980-87); Pedro Strop (2013-19)
Smith holds the Cubs franchise record for saves with 180. The 2019 Hall of Fame inductee posted a 2.92 ERA in 458 games with the Cubs, earning two All-Star appearances. He asked to be dealt after 1987 and the Cubs obliged, one of the worst trades in team history.
Strop, unappreciated at times during his Cubs tenure, is one of the best relievers in team history. The right-hander made 411 appearances (sixth in team history) in all or parts of seven seasons, sporting a 2.90 ERA and 1.048 WHIP. He holds the franchise record for holds with 120.
Bullpen: Bruce Sutter (1976-80); Randy Myers (1993-95)
Although Sutter is remembered more for his time with the Cardinals, his 133 saves are second most in Cubs history. He led MLB in 1979 (37) and the NL in 1980 (28). Sutter made four All-Star teams in five seasons in Chicago, winning the 1979 NL Cy Young Award along the way.
In three seasons with the Cubs, Myers posted a 3.52 ERA and 1.307 WHIP, saving 112 games (fourth most in team history). The lefty’s 53 saves led MLB in 1993, and his 38 led the NL in 1995. He made back-to-back All-Star teams in 1994 and ’95.
Bullpen: Don Elston (1953, ’57-64); Carlos Marmol (2006-13)
Elston posted a 3.70 ERA and 1.362 WHIP as a Cub, making 449 appearances (fourth most in team history). He led MLB in appearances in 1958 (69), and the NL in ’59 (65). Elston ranks seventh in saves (64) and third in games finished (239) among Cubs all-time.
Marmol walked too many batters (6.1 BB/9 with Cubs), but when right, he was one of the nastiest relievers in baseball. His 11.666 K/9 and 5.891 H/9 are No. 1 in Cubs history, and his 117 saves are third.
Bullpen: Hippo Vaughn (1913-21); Kerry Wood (1998-2008, 2011-12)
Vaughn started 270 of his 305 career Cubs appearances, but the thinking here is that he could provide long relief help. In nine dead ball era seasons, he posted a 2.33 ERA (No. 9 in Cubs history) and 1.169 WHIP. His 1,138 strikeouts rank eighth.
Injuries derailed a promising start to Wood's career, leaving one to wonder what could have been. Nonetheless, he put up 25.5 WAR (No. 19 in Cubs history) and racked up 1,470 strikeouts (No. 3). He was the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, including in 2008 when he remade himself as a closer.
Bench: Kris Bryant (2015-present); Javier Báez (2014-present)
Aramis Ramirez is deserving of a spot here, but Bryant’s defensive versatility (he can play third and first base, and all three outfield spots) gives him the edge. Offensively, he’s already 30th in team history in WAR (23.9), 16th in home runs (138), 12th in OBP (.385) and fifth in slugging (.516) through five seasons.
No matter his role, I’d take Báez here every time. He could come off the bench to pinch hit; he could enter a game late for defensive purposes; he could enter in a key pinch running situation. Báez’s all-around game is extremely valuable, and though he’d fit nicely in the starting lineup, he’d be a lethal weapon on this team’s bench.
Bench: 1B Mark Grace (1988-2000); C Jody Davis (1981-88)
Grace isn’t the best fit positionally on this team, but it would be a disservice not to include him. In 13 seasons with the Cubs, the lefty hit .308 (13th in team history) with a .386 OBP (10th), accumulating 44.2 WAR (11th). Grace made three All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves, the most ever by a Cubs first baseman.
Davis’ overall line with the Cubs (.251/.313/.416) isn’t bad considering he played a defensive-minded position. The backstop made two All-Star teams on the North Side, appeared in 990 games and hit 122 home runs. Among all catchers, he’s second to only Hartnett in each of those categories.
Manager: Joe Maddon (2015-19)
Maddon's .581 winning percentage is second in Cubs history among managers with at least five seasons at the helm (Frank Chance: .664). I can't help but wonder how he'd fare with a loaded roster like this, not that the Cubs lacked talent from 2015 to '19. The versatility is endless, and Maddon's creativity makes him an intriguing option.