With a young, talented core and veterans not in decline phases, the Chicago Cubs have the look of a very strong team in 2016, but are they the right MLB pick to win the World Series.
Last season, the Cubs won 97 games and advanced to the NLCS for the first time since 2003, which is admirable because four rookies got significant playing time, their bullpen was inconsistent at times and they didn't have a serviceable fifth starter for much of the year, not to mention that they had won only 73 games in 2014.
This offseason, the Cubs added experienced starting pitcher John Lackey, second baseman Ben Zobrist, a key member of the reigning World Series champion Royals and outfielder Jason Heyward. Chicago also traded Starlin Castro to the Yankees for reliever/spot starter Adam Warren and brought back Trevor Cahill for bullpen depth.
The only significant departure besides Castro was center fielder Dexter Fowler, though Jason Heyward will fill that void.
The current MLB odds reflect how a lot of people think that the Cubs will be an amazing team next year, so let's take a look at why they're right.
The different lineup combinations that Cubs manager Joe Maddon can use on a daily basis are pretty scary. Last season, Chicago had the second-best offense in the National League after the All-Star break and they just added table-setters with high on-base percentages in Zobrist and Heyward, which means that the offense will be more consistent and less dependent on home runs and there's significant room for growth for Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber.
The Cubs finished fifth in the National League with 10 defensive runs saved last season. Addison Russell getting a full season at shortstop will help them a lot, Kris Bryant improved greatly at third base as the season progressed and Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist are outstanding at first and second base respectively.
Heyward will likely play center field, Soler has a cannon of an arm at right field and Schwarber is new to left field but defensive replacements can be used late. Miguel Montero on the other hand has done a great job behind the plate. Defense as a whole might not be their strength, but it will be better than most people think.
Deep Starting Rotation
The Cubs ranked third in the National League in starting rotation ERA last season with Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks and several pitchers at the five spot. Chicago just added Lackey to be their No. 3 starter, knocking down Hammel and Hendricks to the fourth and fifth spots.
Don't forget that Hammel had a 2.86 ERA through 17 starts before injuring the triceps in his pitching arm and Hendricks is only 26 years old so he can get better. Also keep in mind that Adam Warren had a 3.66 ERA as a starter for the Yankees last season and that the Cubs might make another move to improve this rotation.
Last season the Cubs built their bullpen out of spare parts and it ended up with the fourth-best bullpen ERA in the NL. Most of them will be back, with Hector Rondon (1.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 30 saves in 33 save opportunities) as the closer, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm as setup men and a healthy Neil Ramirez (1.44 ERA, 53 K in 43 2/3 innings in 2014) coming back from injury. Travis Wood, Cahill and Warren round out what promises to be a successful unit.
Chicago's bench will include Tommy La Stella, Chris Coghlan and Javier Baez, which is impressive because Coghlan and Baez could start on many teams and La Stella has done his part. Backup catcher David Ross can't hit but he is good defensively and his locker room presence is extremely valuable.
World Series Chances
This roster has holes, but not real glaring ones. Every team will have issues but the Cubs have pieces in place that can make things happen, even if they don't add more players this offseason.