The Chicago Cubs are not resting on their laurels. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon are not just content with the team making its first post-season appearance since 2008. They want to win their first World Series since 1908.
The Cubs have made several impressive additions before, during and after Baseball’s Winter Meetings.
First, free agent pitcher John Lackey signed a 2-year contract worth $32 million. With Adam Wainwright injured, Lackey was arguably the best pitcher on the St. Louis Cardinals last year posting a career best 2.77 ERA. Lackey is reunited with Epstein and his ex-Red Sox running buddy Jon Lester. His career appeared over during his tenure with the Sox in 2011-2012, but he rebounded in 2013 when Boston unexpectedly won the World Series. Indeed, Lackey was the winning pitcher in the Series clincher. Traded to St. Louis mid-way through the 2014 season, Lackey has continued to enjoy a renaissance and will give the Cubs starting rotation some depth.
Second, Maddon was able to recruit one of his top players in Tampa Bay to come aboard. Ben Zobrist signed a four-year, $56 million contract. After nearly a decade in a Rays uniform, Zobrist began 2015 with the Oakland A’s. But the A’s would trade him in late July to the Kansas City Royals to fill in for an injured Alex Gordon. After Gordon returned to the lineup, Zobrist moved to second base which is where he remained as the Royals won their first World Series in 30 years. Perhaps Zobrist can help the Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years.
With the signing of Zobrist, the Cubs traded Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for pitcher Adam Warren and a player to be named later. Although Castro is only 25, his offensive production had declined since collecting 207 hits in 2011. Zobrist might be nearly a decade older than Castro, but he brings leadership to the young Cubs’ club. Maddon can rely on Zobrist to be one of his lieutenants in a way he can’t with Castro. Good luck to the Yankees. They might see another Robinson Cano, but Castro is going to be a handful. Meanwhile, the addition of Warren gives the Cubs a genuine swing man. While he will primarily be used out of the bullpen, Warren could be called on to start in a pinch.
But today they perhaps they made their biggest signing of all with the addition of Jason Heyward. Financial terms were not disclosed. The J-Hey Kid spent 2015 with the Cardinals. St. Louis acquired him from the Atlanta Braves in a trade for pitcher Shelby Miller. (Interestingly, the Braves also just dealt Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks). His power numbers are modest, but on a team with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, it isn’t absolutely necessary. Heyward did hit a career high .293 in 2015 and won his third Gold Glove in four years. With all the time he has spent in the bigs, it is easy to forget that he is 26 and hasn’t reached the peak of his career and Wrigley might be the ideal environment for him. In 25 games at Wrigley in his career, Heyward has hit .311 with 4 HR and 13 RBI.
The Cubs are looking good, but one wonders if they can hold onto Dexter Fowler. With Heyward departing St. Louis, the Cardinals are said to be interested in Fowler. Well, fair or Fowler, life is looking good on the North Side of Chicago.
UPDATE: Heyward signed for 8 years, $184 million. It reminds me of Alfonso Soriano’s contract which was a significant bust. However, there are opt out provisions after the 2018 and 2019 seasons. It is also worth noting that the Cubs plan to have Heyward move from right to center field. This effecitvely makes Fowler expendable. While I like Fowler at the top of the Cubs lineup their new acquisitions will more than make up for his departure.
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