Cubs

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.

Cubs fans collective rage measured in one word

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USA TODAY

Cubs fans collective rage measured in one word

Baseball is an emotional game, both for those on the field and those merely spectating. Cubs fans are no exception to this notion.

TickPick looked into how often fans used expletives on Reddit during the 2018 MLB Postseason. According to the study, Cubs fans used the f-bomb on Reddit more than any other team.

Despite playing in just one postseason game, Cubs fans ranked first in frequency of using f-bombs per postseason game played at 432 occassions. Of course, the Cubs' playoff run ended quickly with a 2-1 loss to the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game.

There were 1,911 f-bombs used on Reddit during the Wild Card Game, including 48 when Javier Báez hit an RBI-double in the eighth inning to tie the score at 1-1.

Red Sox fans "placed" second in f-bomb frequency/game with 342, an interesting note considering a) the Red Sox played in 13 more playoff games than the Cubs and b) they won the World Series. 

Reddit users directed the fourth-most "f _ _ _ you's" at the Cubs as a team, trailing just the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox. Individually, no Cubs ranked in the top 5 in "f-you's" directed at players, for what it's worth. 

Playoff baseball! You've got to love it, right? The full study can be found here.

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MLB Hot Stove: How Cubs are approaching the trade market this winter

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USA TODAY

MLB Hot Stove: How Cubs are approaching the trade market this winter

There's certainly a sense of urgency for the Cubs this winter, but they won't make moves just for the sake of shaking things up.

The Cubs always anticipated a window of contention for at least seven years and we're now on the backside of that estimate, with only three years until a bunch of core players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez all become free agents.

That doesn't necessarily mean the championship window is closing (a lot can happen in three years) but it does mean there is a strong desire from Theo Epstein's front office to try to capitalize and win another ring, especially after the 2018 season ended with only one playoff game.

"Everyone who's been around the team — from the players themselves to [the media] to the fans — we all know the takeaway from that season wasn't the positives," Epstein said last week at the GM Meetings in Southern California. "It wasn't the 95 wins. It wasn't how together the players managed to be (and that takes some doing — that was a really together, connected clubhouse). It wasn't the fine, outstanding individual seasons that many of our players enjoyed. It wasn't battling through a gauntlet of 42 games in 43 days.

"All those things are realities, but those aren't the takeaways from the season. The takeaways are that we got caught from behind and we had opportunities to put that division away and to make another postseason run and for myriad reasons, it didn't happen. So we damn well better be honest with ourselves about the reasons why it didn't happen and find ways to fix it, otherwise what the hell are we doing here?

"So yeah, we're not gonna sit here and celebrate 95 wins. We're gonna be pissed off about the way the season ended and it doesn't matter if I'm pissed off — our players are pissed off. And they know that they have an opportunity to be part of something special. They basically built it and helped build it. And we want to take full advantage of it.

"You can't take anything for granted in this game. You look up and it goes really fast — teams don't stay together forever and we need to find ways to take advantage of this great opportunity that we have. ... This has been a real winning group the last four years and that was a real low moment for us, 95 wins or not. And we don't want to live through that again."

Even reading those words on a screen, it's easy to feel Epstein's emotion and that sentiment undoubtedly rings true throughout ever corner of the fanbase.

The Cubs clearly want to fix their offense that faded down the stretch and they've already made a change with the hitting program, inserting Anthony Iapoce as hitting coach to replace Chili Davis. The pitching staff was handed a nice boost of consistency immediately after the World Series ended when the Cubs chose to pick up the options for Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana and Pedro Strop.

Given the current financial landscape, it's hard to see the Cubs landing either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency.

Which leaves the trade market as the most likely way to retool the 2019 roster.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said last week he and the Cubs front office were spending more time talking to executives from other teams than agents of players on the open market.

The Cubs also aren't interested in making any knee-jerk reactions to a team that still found a way to 95 games despite injuries and ineffectiveness from the group's top players — Bryant, Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Willson Contreras, etc.

"We do feel like our answers are internal," Hoyer said. "We need to focus on getting our players to maximize their potential. With that said, I think we're open to business and listening and [the trade market] will probably be our focus more than shopping at the top of the [free-agent] market."

The main areas of focus Epstein's front office is working to address this winter include the lineup and the bullpen. It's easy to see how a trade for an impact reliever can develop given the Cubs' plethora of young position players with potential.

The Cubs would love to add more established, consistent hitters to augment their lineup and help avoid the Jekyll and Hyde nature of hot streaks and slumps brought about by so many young players still finding their way in the big leagues.

But how would a hitter-for-hitter type of deal work out if the Cubs want to truly take their offense to another level?

"There's lots of different ways to do it," Epstein said. "You can trade up the service time clock. You can trade backwards for more years of control. You can trade for an established guy. You can trade for somebody you think is ready to break out. There's no one way to do it. You can trade two comparable players with different shapes if you think it benefits you."

The last idea is particularly intriguing as the Cubs have plenty of hitters in the same high-strikeout/slugging mold.

Epstein and the Cubs teased a potential offseason of trades last winter and wound up retaining all of their young hitters.

But that theory didn't translate to on-field results, as the Cubs led baseball with 40 games of scoring 1 or 0 runs (including Game 163 and the Wild-Card contest). Couple that with the fact the season was over before the sun came up on Oct. 3 and it's safe to say the organization is approaching this winter differently.

"We're gonna be open-minded about trades and we still are," Epstein said. "We may make many trades. We may make a couple small trades. We may make no trades. What we're definitely going to do is hold ourselves to a higher standard with how we perform, how we execute.

"The job is not just accumulating talent. The job is winning baseball games. We have to get our players to perform and we have to be at least one game better than we were last year."