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Closing Out The Best Year, Getting Ready For The Best Year

It took me until the end of August, and maybe even September, to admit that 2015 was the most fun season I’d had watching the Cubs. So you’d think I’d be sorry to see it go. Except I like many others expect 2016 to be even more fun. I can’t remember a two-year pivot quite like this. 2003 wasn’t as encompassing as all of 2015, just a really fun before a really awful ending. And 2004 ended up being the biggest case of baseball whiskey dick a fandom could ever experience. 2007 wasn’t very impressive, and we were too beaten down after 2008 to ever look forward to 2009. Milton Bradley didn’t help (though honestly, I was for the signing at the time, not realizing how crazy he was. Maybe he just needs a Nick Swisher to balance him out).

So there are a few thoughts rolling around before we do the pivot.

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Polishing Off The Keg

Now that the big party of the winter is over, the Winter Meetings, there’s still something left to be done for the Cubs. You never return beer after all, so they’re basically at the stage where you sit around with a few buddies and drink until sunrise. Though that’s not usually all that enjoyable. This could be.

The rumors still persist that the Cubs could move Soler or Baez for either more pitching or a center fielder or both. The two teams you hear are the same ones that we’ve always heard, and that’s Tampa and Atlanta, though they’re probably talking to a lot of teams.

When it comes to the Rays, my feeling can be summed up like this…


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Legit Boss

It’s funny what you can talk yourself into.

I know when the offseason started, I wasn’t particularly hot about Jason Hayward. I doubt I had a good reason for it. 26-year-old free agents really aren’t a thing that happens. Maybe I was clouded by being on the Cardinals, or I had just assumed they’d keep him because when do players ever leave there? After they jab players with whatever chemicals they have there that brainwashes them into thinking St. Louis is place you want to stay for more than seven consecutive seconds. Maybe I’d gotten too attached to the kids and had just assumed that a signing of Heyward would cause a jettisoning of one or two (and it still might). Maybe it was the amount of money that I thought might hamstring the Cubs, even though they’re years away from having to pay any other position player anything remotely resembling market value.

Then the clouds start to disappear, and you focus on what matters. Concerns about switching to center started to sound sillier and sillier. This isn’t some rickety right fielder who makes his living with just an arm. This is a premier athlete whose range is almost as impressive as his arm (and ask Rizzo about his arm). What’s the concern about him in center? That he can’t cover the ground? That can’t possibly be it. That it will take some time to adjust to new angles? He’s already played center enough to look comfortable.

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One Splash Down

Cubs didn’t wait around to make their Winter Meetings interesting, huh?

When viewing the Zobrist in/Castro out maneuver, and they are linked, you have to look at both the baseball terms and then the emotional. The emotional doesn’t play into the baseball aspect for the organization, and nor should it beyond any possibly clubhouse/chemistry problems. And Zobrist isn’t going to provide any of those.

I guess the angle I can’t escape, after looking at it over the night, is that if we agree Starlin’s best season was 2014, and it was. that’s basically Zobrist’s average season. Stalin had a .339 OBP. Zobrist’s career OBP is .355. Starlin slugged .438. Zobrist’s career slugging is .431. And while those numbers for Castro came at shortstop, that position is now closed to him. At the moment, right now, Zobrist is the surer bet.

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The Only Meetings Anyone Enjoys

We’ve gotten to the frenzy portion of the baseball offseason, the Winter Meetings. Everyone is in one place meaning we envision everyone in the hotel bar or at Tootsie’s in this case hashing out the same blockbuster trades and free agent signings that we hashed out at our local bar. Perhaps we should realize that technology in communications have made these talks accessible whenever people want, but hey, everyone’s still in one place! And given the intricate and thorough nature that the Cubs have gone about their business the last four years, somehow I doubt Theo and Jed are pulling the trigger on some move after a third Old Fashioned. Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones torpedoing the Cowboys organization at a hotel bar is a distant memory, sadly.

Still, it feels like something is going to happen. So let’s address of some of what might go down in Dixie.

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If There’s An Asshole In Your Rotation, Don’t Be Alarmed Now… It’s Just A Spring Clean For The May Queen

Theo Helmet

Guess you can pinpoint how I feel about John Lackey.

Ok, let’s do the surface stuff first. On the surface, the signing makes total sense. It’s not a long-term commitment, it really isn’t that much money for a mid-rotation starter Especially one that’s coming off a near 4-WAR season. He doesn’t walk anyone, and even a leveling out would see him be worth 2.5-WAR or so, which is hardly bad for a #3. It’ll look even better if Jason Hammel can find it again. He’s not exactly a ground-ball pitcher but sure does get enough of them and the strength of the defense is clearly going to be on the infield.

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Where It Goes Now, And How We’ll All Feel About it

The big fish has gone away, as they often do, off to cash in in Boston only to find that money won’t help with the traffic, or general asshole-dom of the populace. When we look back, we could tell with the rumors of the Cub budget only being $140 million or so and a serious desire to extend Jake Arrieta that the idea of David Price was always a pipe dream. And that’s fine.

But will it be fine with most Cubs fans? Have we gotten over our need to win the offseason after the highs of kind of doing so last winter with Jon Lester? Will Cubs fans lose their mud if the winter only brings a Samardzija/Leake type along with a trade for a younger starter (Miller/Teheran/Ross) and a stopgap centerfielder? I wonder.

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Looking Outward

I can’t seem to find it, but I know a year ago somewhere around this time I wrote a post, either here or at Cubs Den, that was trying to suss out if Jake Arrieta’s 2014 season was just going to be a flash in the pan or if it portended to more greatness (which it obviously did). In my research, basically I concluded that any pitcher that could put up a 5.5+ win season (as Arrieta would have done had he pitching April ’14), no matter how out of the blue it came, was the real deal and we could expect at least that much again. No pitcher had ever put that up and then faded into Bolivia, basically. While I didn’t expect Arrieta to have a generational season, I did expect him to be among the league’s best.

So after writing about whether or not the Cubs should extend Arrieta or not this winter or go into arbitration and then see where they are after 2016, I thought it might be useful to try and project where he might be going. Using other pitchers from the past is always admittedly somewhat dicey because every pitcher is different, but it’s one of the best tools we have.

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Anarchists Brunch – So Far Away

The first snow is always when baseball season seems so far away, even though the last one ended. Maybe it’s because you know there’s going to be a lot more snowstorms, and digging out the car sessions, and unshoveled sidewalks, and your quads hurting from trying to stay upright on said sidewalks, before you even get to utter the phrase “pitchers and catchers.” And yet this is the time things start popping.

It was at this time that Jim Hendry started his binge with Alfonso Soriano in 2006 (I looked it up, it was nine years ago last Friday). Soon Lilly and DeRosa and seemingly everyone else followed. This brass had Thanksgiving dinner with Curt Schilling (and what conversation that must’ve been) to convince him to come to Boston and end “The Curse” (TM Dan Shaugnessy). The Winter Meetings are approaching, when a bunch of rumors get tossed out there because everyone happens to be in the same place and I assume are getting drunk together (that’s what you do at meetings, right? I don’t know, I’ve never had a real job that involved meetings. I just assume that because they keep happening and why else would they?)

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Shark Tale

We seem to have the first actual rumblings of an actual signing for the Cubs, and it appears to be old friend Jeff Samardzija. Nothing concrete, just rumors and reports of a dinner between him and Theo and The Score’s Bruce Levine saying that’s it’s more likely than not that Shark will be returning to the Northside after a year and a half essentially out on loan. I get the impression that there’s some angst or bitterness about it. I wonder why.

First, the actual baseball side of it. Samardzija was something of a comedy skit for the Sox last year, and that probably is being used a shield to justify some weird feelings Cubs fans have about Shark. You can find plenty of studies about whether it was a false year or the signal of a downturn elsewhere I’m sure. He saw a decline in his strikeouts, grounders, and uptick in walks, and some horrible luck in sequencing with a non-repeatable left-on-base percentage of 67.2%. He gave up more liners, and seemingly was moving to using a cutter more and using his sinker/four-seamer less, which is what was his strength here. His cutter has always gotten whacked around, so the new focus on it is strange.

But I don’t think that’s what’s going on with Cubs fans and their feeling about Shark.

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