MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs didn't spend the winter hanging out at the top of the market for free agents or trades, but they're about the only National League team that can claim that.
The NL was already pretty good a year ago and it looks to be even better in 2019, with maybe only 3 teams (the Marlins, Giants and Diamondbacks) who aren't trying to be competitive. (Then again, the Giants have been rumored to be a player for Bryce Harper, so it's entirely possible that list dwindles to just 2 teams by Opening Day.)
Manny Machado's record contract Tuesday morning helped solidfy the San Diego Padres as a serious player — if not in 2019, then in the very near future.
That throws another team into the mix, joining the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, Dodgers and Rockies as serious contenders in addition to a few teams on the upswing even if they may not be playoff squads this year (Pirates, Reds, Mets).
With tanking and "rebuilding" popular trends in the game today, it's been a while since one league was as competitive as this.
"There are a lot of things about the game that we're doing right or people are disgruntled about," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "but as a fan, when you can look at a lot of different markets and feel like your team has a chance to compete for a division, I don't recall any other time where it's been like this. This is a good thing for where this game is at right now."
While the Cubs have been surprisingly quiet this winter, the rest of the NL had loaded up, with the talent changing leads very unequal.
Here's the list of notable players moving from the American League to the NL this year:
Meanwhile, the list of talent going from the NL to the AL is basically D.J. LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, Matt Harvey and a bunch of role players.
On top of that, many free agents chose to stay in the NL, led by Machado. There's still a bunch of talent on the open market (Harper, Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, etc.) that could wind up in the NL, too.
All that points to a tough road for the Cubs, a team that spent much of last year with the best record in the NL. The talent gap on paper has certainly shrunk.
But the Cubs still have plenty to focus on what's happening under their own roof, with a refocused mission and renewed sense of urgency.
"Things are cyclical — the American League was like that 3, 4, 5 years ago and they've had a number of teams that hit a different part of their cycle at this point in the AL," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "But now that's what we have in the National League — where there's a cycle that it's hard to find a team that's not competitive, that doesn't have a chance.
"It means some lower win totals will probably win the division and be in the Wild-Card race. It means you just have to grind through every series. You're not gonna just look at your schedule and know you got some easy runs. It's changed.
"In '15 and '16, for example, in the National League, you could look at the schedule and you'd have some stretches where you felt like we gotta go 11-3 in those two weeks to feel good about it. That's not gonna be the case anymore and there's nothing wrong with that. You just gotta kinda readjust your sights a little bit."
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.