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.
Doesn’t hit for power? Yeah, ok, he doesn’t really. A .430 slugging percentage looks pretty good in center. So does a .350 OBP. And the Cubs might get power from left, right if Bryant is there, 3rd from either Baez or Bryant, 1st and catcher. Power is covered.
The Cubs have added two hitters who rarely strike out and walk a lot. They’ll be doing that in front of Rizzo and Bryant. Pitchers might have to throw 15-20 pitches just to get to #44 and #17. Have fun with that. And they’ll do that with better outfield defense than they had last year.
As for the money… well, let’s look at that. The only Cub on the roster getting a big raise soon is Jake Arrieta. Rizzo is locked in for six more years. Bryant doesn’t even hit arbitration for another two seasons. What does anyone think his award will be? Josh Donaldson got one before last season that was $4.5 million. Is Bryant really going to skyrocket past that? Two years ago Buster Posey got a raise to $8 million. That’s probably the max you’re looking at. Russell and Schwarber are the same. Contreras is coming to fill catcher cheaply possibly. There are others. Basically, when Arrieta gets his extension (if he gets one), that’s what the Cubs payroll can be for the next few years, depending on what they do in coming winters. And in a couple years they’ll lose Lackey’s money and Hammel’s as well. That’s $27 million off the payroll right there. If they have to the year after that they can find a retirement home for Zobrist. There is still far too much flexibility for a team already this good.
The pieces aren’t done moving of course. There’s still the (unhappy) buzz that Soler could still be moved for pitching. Maybe an actual centerfielder is coming. More pitching too. It’s not over yet.
We’ve been down this road. We know what’s coming. Where as last year the Cubs were a story most of baseball enjoyed following, starting in February you know everyone’s going to be already sick of the Cubs. Everyone will be waiting for it to all fail. The Cubs are now the main heel to everyone else.
And we don’t care.