First Pitch: Your 2017 World Series Champions, the Chicago Cubs?

The NL Central is turning into a difficult division. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been contenders for the last two seasons, and have one of the top farm systems in the game, with some of their best prospects coming up in the next two years. The St. Louis Cardinals are routinely at the top of the standings. But perhaps the biggest threat might be coming from the Cubs.

Today it was rumored that the Cubs had hired Joe Maddon as their next manager, although there were some mixed reports saying a deal wasn’t finalized yet. It seems like the report is true, and it’s a move that makes a lot of sense. It’s also a move that should scare other NL teams a bit.

The Cubs already had Theo Epstein as their GM, and Epstein has done a great job of rebuilding the team. According to Baseball America’s mid-season top 50 list, they had three of the top seven prospects in baseball. Kris Bryant rated number two, Addison Russell was number five, and Javier Baez was seventh. Joining them in the top 50 was Arismendy Alcantara. The list didn’t include Jorge Soler, who was in the top 50 in the pre-season, and who came up and posted a .903 OPS in his first 97 plate appearances in the majors.

The young hitting is in place. They have a great GM and a now a great manager. The only thing missing is the pitching. They did watch Jake Arrieta emerge this year as a top starting option, but that’s just one pitcher. Fortunately for the Cubs, and unfortunately for the rest of the NL Central, they have a lot of money to buy some of the top pitchers in the game. That’s made even more possible by the fact that their young hitters will be so cheap over the next few years.

There are a lot of top starting pitchers about to hit the open market. This year’s group is highlighted by Jon Lester, Francisco Liriano, Max Scherzer, and James Shields. Next year’s group could include Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, and Jordan Zimmermann. There will be plenty of opportunity for the Cubs to add a top starting pitcher or two, and if that happens, they could be a dangerous team to contend with in the NL Central.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**Joe Maddon to be the Next Manager of the Cubs?

**AFL: Scouting Reports and Video For Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell. The Pirates sent a great group of prospects to the AFL this off-season, and Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell lead the way. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo provide some good reports on their progress from Arizona.

**2014 Recaps: Pirates Showed You Don’t Have to Spend Big to Upgrade the Bullpen. They had a horrible bullpen for the first half, but by the end of the year they came together and posted one of the top groups in baseball.

**Winter Leagues: Stetson Allie Isn’t Hitting Homers, But Keeps Getting On Base

First Pitch

  • Will someone please explain to me why the Pirates cannot sign Russell Martin a top FA pitcher or two. Please provide hard data re the team’s ability to spend $$$ vs. how much it historically has spent. One has nothing to do with the other. With huge fan turnout, revenue sharing, and a wealthy enough owner…let’s not resort to crying “small market” poor. It’s a tired cliche. Also, bear in mind that by any reasonable definition St. Louis is a small market team and no one is shedding tears for them and their winning ways, er, “woes.”

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t many of the Cubs’ young hitting talent strike out at an alarmingly high rate? Wasn’t Bryant over 40% or something like that? (As an aside, when Marte was coming up, his prospect status was constantly downgraded because of his strikeout rate. For some reason you don’t hear much of that when the Cubs’ prospects are discussed. Are they that talented that it doesn’t matter?)
    If that’s the case, they’re not going to be the juggernaut that people are predicting.
    Their young talent is going to be subject to the same failure/success rate as everyone else’s prospects. One will become a star, a couple will be average and some will flop.
    I guess Maddon didn’t care that the Cubs already had a manager when he decided he wanted that job. Makes him a prick in my book. Renteria is supposedly well liked so let’s see if there’s any repercussions over his dismissal.

    • But Cecil cmon those glasses, the glasses!

    • No Cecil, it is Javier Baez who was over 30 % in MiLB, and over 40 % in his time with the Cubs. Kris Bryant was over 30 % in AA and AAA, but the consensus of experts opinion is that doesn’t really matter.

  • I view the Cubs chances as being a WS champion in 2017 as not much better than they were before Maddon was hired. And on another note, it was bad form imo the way they dumped Renteria. All this slobbering over Maddon is a bit nauseating as far as I’m concerned. The Cubs will be good because of the plethora of young talent but will have growing pains and I don’t expect them to be WS champion in 2017 because Maddon is their manager now.

  • anything you can do to set up Cub fans for disappointment, please continue.

  • At least the Reds and Brewers should begin to fade by the time the Cubs have everything assembled.

  • Lee Foo Young
    October 30, 2014 8:07 am

    So the Cubs are going to be the next great team? Well, they may, but where have I heard that before? How many ‘next great teams’ have there been? You don’t win titles on paper.

    • Yep Lee. It wasn’t that long ago the next great dynasty was/is going to be the Nats.

  • I have said this for the last year that the Cubs will be a better version of the Pirates in a couple years. Wouldn’t be surprised if we finishing third behind the cards and Cubs.

    • Pitching prospects in the Cub’s organization are ?

      • We should know by now that pitching is plentiful in the MLB. It is harder to find great hitting cheaply, then it is to find pitching. You give me that lineup with say Lester and shields, and some cheap options like hammel… That is a pretty darn good team. I would disagree with Tim and say this team is positioned for 2016. Remember, the Cubs have very little in payroll right now and can add a great deal as they are a large market team.

        • Pitchers are plentiful ? I saw a lot of orginizations scuffling pretty hard to come up with anything resembling an MLB rotation this past season. Most baseball people know the best way to go is develop as many of your own pitching prospects as you can.

          • For a large market team, I would argue yes. Granted, all teams have to have home grown talent and pitching but if you have one or two good pitchers, you can supplant that with middle tier pitchers. The Pirates Didnt have an “ace” this year and the royals were in the same boat as James shields wasn’t lights out. I view the Cubs as a scary team and one that I bet will give the central a big problem

            • Yes, certainly. The World Champion Detroit Tigers are prime example. Oh ? The didn’t even get to the ALDS ? That HAS to be wrong.

              • You say that yet they consistently make it to the playoffs. The royals had two pitchers they signed/traded from outside their organization and made the World Series. They developed a good core of hitters and supplamented it with pitching. Minus bumgarner, the Giants had Hudson, vogelsong, and peavy that they signed and didn’t develop. Baseball is about getting hot at the right time for playoffs and KC and the Giants did.

                Also, baseball has transitioned into a pitching league vs a hitting league. More pitching out there then hitters.

      • They are called free agents, and the Cubs have a ton of money to spend. I get Pirate fans are used to looking at a teams young guys to prove their teams worth, but the Cubs built the offense from young guys and will pay for the arms. When nearly all of your offense is getting paid league minimum, you can afford 2 overpriced FA arms.

        • Exactly my point! Lester and another top pitcher (scherzer)? And you got a pretty darn good looking team. I like the Bucs team makeup but as Tim has eluded to many times, MLB is rigged in a way to favor large market clubs. The Cubs are scary because they built their farm system up and now have the means to add many high priced pitchers and positional pieces. Can the bucs do that? No way!

          • To be fair, part of that is due to a less than awesome TV deal and some crazy low ticket prices. If the Pirates had the same TV deal and ticket prices as the Cubs they could likely increase payroll a good bit, tho not to the Cubs level. Pirate fans would cry murder at a 5-10 dollar raise in ticket prices, but it’d help.

            • If you haven’t seen, the Pirates are raising the ticket prices. It isn’t purly on that though. I don’t blame nutting because he treats the Pirates as a business and that is his choice, but some owners like the Tigers or reds, go for broke. They want to win and will spend that money if it means they end up in the red. It is a business and we need to remember that as a fan. The TV deal is something I can’t speak to because that isn’t a public topic.

        • See my reply to Nate James please.

  • Lee Foo Young
    October 30, 2014 8:01 am

    Competition makes you better. Nobody said that the NL Central teams would take it lying down. Bring it on!

  • Javier Baez doesn’t really scare me as much as Bryant does.

    I know that Bryant is only in the MiL, but he’s been consistently tearing it up at every level. Baez reminds me of Pedro and is even closer to a two true outcome hitter (K or HR) and I can see him being consistently overmatched. He’s going to get his HRs, but I think that he’s going to have to be buried deeper in the lineup b/c he’s going to kill a lot of rallies.

  • Jed Hoyer is the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs.

  • Why not 2016?

    • Youth of hitting and a lack of overall pitching. They could add Lester and a mid rotation type and still have a good not great rotation. Certainly all the young, while clearly immensely talented hitters, wont avoid struggles. I could see them being a very streaky team, where a few of the hitters go on great stretches and the pitching does well, and then diving into rough patches where the hitters go through normal rookie issues and the back end rotation aint great. Most rookies arent world beaters out of the gate.

      • LS: Kris Bryant is the real deal, and they could have the best and youngest infield in the NL next year. I have my Kris Bryant autographed official minor league baseball from when he tore up AA up the road for the Tennessee Smokies. They have traded away a damn good Rotation the past 2 or 3 years, and I cannot see them getting that much better to make a run in 2016 or 2017. Getting guys like Arrieta and Russell are keys to the future, but finding a way to play the number of middle infielders on the roster (Castro, Baez, Alcantara, Russell) means that the OF will probably be without true outfield talent. I feel very comfortable with the plan of the Pirates to bring along a player every year and give them the time and opportunity to blend. Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco, and next year Alen Hanson. I think we will also see at least 2 and possibly 3 new young arms coming to the Pirates in 2015.

        • You cant see a team with basically all league minimum deals on offense and the ability to spend a ton of money getting better in the rotation? Go ahead and pencil in Lester as the OD starter for the Cubs. Cubs will pay for pitching and hope the rookies assimilate quick. They can have Alcantra and Soler and a league average LFer with a loaded IF and paid for rotation next year. How is the OF going to be without true talent when they already have a few pretty talented guys there?

      • 2016 is two years away, not next year. Rookies will have had time to acclimate. Cubs had a final 2014 payroll around $90 mill, with capacity to go to $140 mill or more. $50 mill can buy a lot of missing pieces. And they have redundant young pieces to trade, plus an FO that’s gone deep into the postseason a couple of times. It’s actually pretty easy to see an accelerated timeline.

        • Most players on the Cubs will be rookies next year, 2015, and anyone being honest can imagine some struggles for those young players. Acting like a team that is offensively dependent on 3+ guys in their first full year of play will be playoff bound may be a bit giving. I think they will be tough next year, scary the following (which is 2016).

    • I’m guessing it’s going to take them another year or two for their top prospects to arrive, and then adjust to the majors. Not to mention about two off-seasons to add the pitching they need. They might have the pitching in 2016, but that will be the first full season for a lot of their prospects.