Welcome to the first edition of the Cubs mailbag.
We'll be answering your burning Cubs questions once a week throughout the offseason, so stay tuned to @NBCSCubs and fire away when you see the prompt for the next upcoming mailbag.
This week, we're addressing the futures of guys like Tyler Chatwood and Addison Russell while also diving into the Cubs offense, if the designated hitter will come to the National League and — of course — Bryce Harper and the star-studded free agency class.
How can we improve the offense without spending an exorbitant amount of money? I would really like us to bring Chavez, Hamels, and Strop back in the fold. — Brandon Hembrough (@BrandonJHembro)
Man, fans are SO worried about all the money the Cubs are spending. I'm curious — why? The Red Sox have the highest payroll in baseball and just took a 2-0 lead in the World Series. It's not like the Cubs spending more money on payroll increases how much it'll cost to go to a game. Ticket prices go up each year anyways. Fans obsessing over a team's payroll has never made sense to me — it's not their money.
That being said — the answer to Brandon's question here is via trade if you really don't want the Cubs to spend money to improve an offense that led baseball with 40 games where they scored 1 or 0 runs. Given the Cubs are not currently in the business of trading AWAY pitching, they would have to deal from their group of young position players — which means they'd be trading offense for offense. Whoever they get in return would have to be a more stable, consistent presence in the lineup than whoever they trade away (think: Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, etc.). That's hard to pull off.
The easiest way the Cubs can improve their offense without spending an exorbitant amount of money is to just sit back and count down the days until 2019 spring training. Because that's when Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras will be talking about how they can't wait to get back out there and show everybody that 2018 was just a down year. Which...it was. Bryant is a perennial MVP candidate and Contreras looked like he could challenge for the NL accolade in 2017. Unless these guys somehow forgot how to hit, bet big on a rebound in 2019 and that will be a HUGE boon for the Cubs lineup to get those two back to normal.
What happens to the first 1st round pick by Theo — Almora? A step forward or trade bait? — Bala Ramachandran (@Bala8105)
Great question and one we may not find the answer to for some time. It's entirely possible Albert Almora Jr. is traded away this winter, but only if the Cubs get something of value in return. It's tough to see that come to fruition simply because Almora is an unproven commodity offensively and though he's a very good defender in center field, he's also not very fast and could struggle to turn out the same value defensively playing regularly in a more spacious outfield than Wrigley. The Cubs won't trade him away just to trade him, so chances are higher he'll be on the 2019 team at least as a backup outfielder with a chance to play his way into a larger role if he can take steps forward offensively.
How soon will the National League switch to the DH and do you think a realignment of divisions and the timeline that is possible to happen? — Kathy Kummer (@PrincessKathy)
Interesting question. It wasn't long ago that we heard rumblings about the NL possibly adopting the designated hitter before 2020, but that looks to be highly unlikely now. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement goes through Dec. 1, 2021, so I can't imagine the DH coming to the NL before then. But it should happen. It's silly that there's such a drastic rule change between the two leagues. America's other professional sports don't have that. Imagine if the Bears got to use an extra offensive player every time they faced the Patriots or another AFC team on the road. That'd create an uprising.
As for the divisions, I doubt that happens anytime soon, either. Baseball is rich in tradition and history and it would be very difficult to uproot that to realign divisions. It was a big deal when MLB moved the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West.
Based on Theo’s postseason comments, do you think Joe will make more of an effort to go with a consistent/steady lineup and leadoff man? — Stephanie Marmolino (@CubbySteph)
Yes...and no. Yes in that Maddon will absolutely make more of an effort to go with a consistent lineup and stable leadoff man, but no in the sense that it simply may not be possible. Look at the Dodgers. They're in the World Series and the class of the NL this year by having a platoon system where only a couple of players (Justin Turner, Manny Machado) are in the lineup each day regardless of who the opposing pitcher is. If the Cubs dont drastically change their personnel, there probably won't be much of a change atop the batting order or filtering down through the rest.
However, if the Cubs do make some major changes to their group of position players — which very well may happen — it could be in an interest to get a more stable lineup and a "you go, we go" type of leadoff hitter in the Dexter Fowler mold.
Will we be seeing more David Bote in 2019? — kimberly. (@kimisrad)
Once again, we'll go with: "Yes...and no" as the answer here. As it stands right now, Bote is a valuable piece for the 2019 Cubs both in his defensive acumen, positional versatility and as a cost-effective option as the payroll starts to skyrocket past the luxury tax. That being said, Bote may not draw as many starts as he did in 2018 when he filled in for Kris Bryant.
Bote figures to be a utility infielder for the Cubs moving forward and possibly even see some time in the outfield, as Maddon suggested in September.
If Kershaw becomes available... Do the Cubs get him or a big name piece like Machado or Harper? — Payton Arendt (@ArendtPayton)
Kershaw will almost assuredly not become available by anything other than a technicality. He can opt out of his contract, but everybody expects him to just renegotiate a contract with the Dodgers for more money. The Cubs are not currently in the market for starting pitchers and that includes Kershaw. Assuming they bring Cole Hamels back, the Cubs have 8 options for the 2019 rotation and there's a valid case to be made for each of those 8 guys pitching every fifth day. Starting pitching is probably the one area the Cubs won't touch this winter, just because it's the lowest on the priority meter at the moment.
I do believe the Cubs get a big-name piece and I feel like Harper is the guy. The link between Harper and the Cubs has been public knowledge for years (he named his dog Wrigley, you guys!!!) but beyond that, his bat fits in this lineup perfectly as a feared left-handed hitter to form a scary heart of the order alongside Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez. Some other team may wind up offering Harper a ridiculous amount of money that takes the Cubs out of it, but I expect them to be serious players for Harper this winter.
If the Cubs don't get Harper or Machado, who else could they target for another hitter or two? With Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, and Hamels likely coming back, who will be the fifth starter? Will it be a rotation in that spot alone? — Kyle Gore (@Cubsfan122112)
Great question. Everybody is focused on Harper and Machado — and rightfully so — but there are a lot of other bats on the market as well. Andrew McCutchen and Nick Markakis are two such options, as we discussed on the latest CubsTalk Podcast. D.J. LeMahieu makes a degree of sense given his offensive profile, solid glove and the fact the Cubs need a second baseman besides Ben Zobrist, but the former Rockie is heading into free agency with some ugly home/road splits.
As for the rotation question, the answer is clearly Yu Darvish. Assuming he's healthy, he will 100 percent be in the Cubs rotation.
Will the Cubs trade Tyler Chatwood, or will they attempt to fix him? — Sam (@CptnDonuts)
The answer is possibly both. They may try to "fix" him this winter, but if everybody's healthy in spring training, Chatwood could be come a superfluous piece in the rotation and thus Epstein's front office could package him in a deal with the Cubs eating some of the remaining money on Chatwood's contract.
The Cubs can't afford to just stick him in the bullpen — that's the worst place for a guy with head-scratching command issues — and they also can't send him down to the minors. If he doesn't look much-improved in spring training, they may unload him to anybody who would want to take a flier on a 29-year-old pitcher with the Cubs footing a bunch of the $25.5 million remaining on the contract.
What should the Cubs do with Addison Russell? — Capper John T.F. (@johnroy76)
I'm not sure. We're in unprecedented territory here from a Cubs perspective. The day after the Cubs season ended and just a few minutes after Russell was handed a 40-game suspension, Epstein said he felt the Cubs organization needed to be there to support Russell. Releasing or non-tendering the shortstop would not be all that "supportive."
It's hard to see any other MLB team wanting to trade for him right now with all the off-the-field baggage on top of the on-the-field struggles over the last two seasons. The Cubs may just let Russell serve out his suspension, bring him back in May, let him play a little bit and boost his value, then deal him away midseason as they retool for a stretch run.
That may not be the answer a lot of Cubs fans want to hear given Russell's suspension for domestic violence, but it certainly makes the most sense from a baseball standpoint. I can't pretend to know how Cubs personnel truly feels about Russell after he maintained his innocence to them for over a year, only to then accept the 40-game suspension without a fight or appeal. It's entirely possible that emotion could sway the Cubs to make a decision that goes against "baseball sense."
Who will the Cubs look at to fill their other middle infield hole? With Addison likely gone, as well as Murphy's contract expired, what are some ideas to fill that second base spot? — Pat Doll (@mrpatsi2)
The answer could lie in the previous question — Russell would solve the middle infield hole after April. If the Cubs retain Russell, they could go with a combination of Ben Zobrist and David Bote at second base until the suspension has run its course.
If it's not Russell, a couple solid veterans are in free agency and flying under the radar. The Cubs have been fans of Jordy Mercer's game from afar and though he's aging, he can still be a valuable defender in the middle infield and provide some solid at-bats. Jose Iglesias is another option as a glove-first shortstop who could come off the bench or draw some starts at shortstop, pushing Baez to second or third base.
How pumped up does it make y'all to hear chants of "Let's Go Cubbies" when playing away from home? — Little Bear (@Little_beartx22)
You do know we're not the actual Cubs, right?
Computerized strike zone...will it happen in my lifetime? — Marnita Curry (@13woman)
Well, it depends on how old you are and how long your lifetime is.
I'll say "no" as my official answer just because I find it hard to believe baseball will get rid of the human element altogether.
But if Ben Zobrist were fielding this question, I think we can all agree the answer would be a resounding "YES!"