Cubs

Cubs fans shouldn't be too worried about the Brewers...yet

Cubs fans shouldn't be too worried about the Brewers...yet

While the rest of baseball continues to spend the winter chilling, the Milwaukee Brewers have turned up.

The Brew Crew made waves earlier in the week with reports they were linked to Yu Darvish and then Christian Yelich. Sure enough, the Yelich rumor was true and Milwaukee acquired the cost-controlled star outfielder Thursday night. 

In a corresponding move, the Brewers also inked Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million deal.

It had some Cubs fans in a tizzy, and for good reason. Yelich may well be on the verge of superstardom and is owed only $58 million over the next five seasons if the Brewers pick up his 2022 team option. 

That's a heck of a team-friendly contract for a small-market organization — getting five years of a guy's prime for well-under-market value. 

Cain is also a very good player, but will make $22 million more than Yelich in the same five-year span, though he'll be ages 32-36 for that contract and has seen his defensive value in center field decline for four straight seasons.

It's adding two very good hitters to a lineup that already woke up Thursday morning as one of the best in baseball. 

Here's what the Brewers' Opening Day lineup could look like (h/t Roster Resource):

There's no question the job of the Cubs' pitching staff has gotten harder in 2018 with those lineup additions, but this isn't the same kind of ground-shaking series of moves as when the St. Louis Cardinals cleared room in their outfield for Marcell Ozuna.

The Brewers should be a really good team in 2018, but here's why the flurry of moves shouldn't make the Cubs shake in their boots just yet:

That's the Brewers' projected starting rotation for Opening Day. 

Right-hander Jimmy Nelson may be able to join those ranks given that he's reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery from a shoulder injury. That would be a game-changer, but shoulder injuries are notoriously unstable and nobody knows how many starts Nelson could be penciled in for.

That rotation doesn't exactly scream out "October-worthy." 

Zach Davies is a good starter — think a poor man's Kyle Hendricks — and Chase Anderson emerged in 2017 as the ace of the Milwaukee staff with a breakout season.

But beyond that, it's iffy. Junior Guerra regressed badly last season after a breakthrough in 2016; Yovani Gallardo has a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the last two seasons; and Jhoulys Chacin's track record is marred by inconsistency and injury. 

Brent Suter is kind of the Milwaukee version of Mike Montgomery, so Suter very well could become a big part of the Brewers rotation if needed, but still, starting pitching is a clear weak spot. Josh Hader and Brandon Woodruff were two of the top pitching prospects in baseball before 2017, so they could be a factor as well. 

There are so many question marks and very little in terms of track record for any of the options the Brewers have to start every fifth day.

The bullpen has one of the elite arms in the game at the back end (Corey Knebel), but the rest of the group features a young/inexperienced core that has added only journeyman Boone Logan this winter.

Milwaukee made it work and won 86 games with largely the same pitching staff in 2017, but they got career years out of all of their major guys and will need to do so again if they're gonna hang with the Cubs and Cardinals in the divison. 

Yet the Brewers haven't done much to address that clear weakness. Chacin, Gallardo and Logan don't really qualify as making waves to improve in that regard.

The offense was already dynamic in 2017. Adding Yelich helps and Cain is a very good player, but the Brewers already had two very good outfielders — Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana — before Thursday's moves. Now, one of those guys is probably out, and that's likely Santana given Braun is owed at least $60 million more over the next three seasons. 

As mentioned earlier, Cain's skills are already in decline and $80 million is a lot to commit to what was already an area of strength on the Brewers' roster when that money could've been better spent on adding an arm like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb.

Even if the Brewers make a trade for a starting pitcher with Santana as the headliner of the return package, it's a puzzling decision for a small-market team. Why pay an aging veteran (Cain) $16 million/season and then deal away an up-and-coming 25-year-old who is very cheap for the next four seasons and coming off a 30-homer, .875-OPS season?

Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office talk constantly about trying to mitigate risk and spend each offseason aiming to shore up weaknesses and add depth to combat the war of attrition that strikes down a team's pitching staff each year. The Brewers don't have that same approach here, at least not yet. (There are still plenty of moves the Brewers can make, so this winter's chess match is far from over.)

The Brewers aren't going anywhere anytime soon — these moves assured that — but they're still another arm or two away from being a true threat that will make Cubs fans wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

But even if Milwaukee does get to that point, that's a great thing for the Cubs in general. Last September was a whole lot of (stressful) fun for fans as the Cubs had a week straight of games against the Brewers and Cardinals to decide the fate of the NL Central.

Baseball is better when the Cubs are challenged in their own division as opposed to just rolling over the rest of the NL Central and locking a playoff spot up in the first week of September.

*pauses, thinks for a moment*

*realizes the year the Cubs won the World Series, they rolled over the division and locked up a playoff spot in the first week of September*

*realizes also that the Cubs were exhausted and drained by the time they even reached the playoffs in 2017, in part because of that stressful week against the Brewers and Cardinals*

On second thought, maybe Cubs fans should panic...

But hey, the silver lining to this whole Yelich move is — at least the Cubs could jump out to a 4-0 start to the 2018 regular season by opening the year in Miami.

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.