The Cubs have an offseason to-do list, and it’s a long one
The Cubs have an offseason to-do list, and it’s a long one
The Cubs had the second-best record in the NL this past season, but let’s face it – the second half was not pretty, and Theo Epstein has plenty of work to do this winter.
Although the offseason is upon us, MLB free agency doesn't officially begin until Nov. 3 after the mandatory five-day exclusive negotiating period between players and their current teams. That means the pumpkin guts on my porch won't even be dry by the time Theo Epstein has Scott Boras on the phone to chat about Bryce Harper. But Epstein has so much more on his plate this winter than just Harper. Despite their 95 wins – second-best in the National League behind the Milwaukee Brewers – the Cubs were pretty ugly in the second half. They managed to compile a 40-30 record in those 70 games, but they scored just 285 runs compared to 283 allowed. Changes that are bigger than any one player could be on their way to Wrigley Field in 2019. Let's check each aspect of the team and how the Cubs' front office will be looking to improve in the coming months. ### Rotation Cubs starters were No. 10 in all of baseball in ERA last year, coming in at 3.84. For a comparison, the World Series champion Boston Red Sox had a 3.77 ERA out of their starters, while four non-playoff qualifiers (Cardinals, Rays, Mets and Diamondbacks) finished ahead of Chicago. So you could say that, on the whole, the Cubs' starting pitching was good enough in 2018. But that doesn't mean it can't be better. Kyle Hendricks should return for his sixth season in the big leagues, while Jon Lester will be in year five of his seven-year contract. The Cubs have high hopes that Yu Darvish will be healthy and back to his old self, as well. You could do worse than those guys as one-two-three in your rotation. José Quintana, however, [has been a disappointment](https://www.betchicago.com/jose-quintana-needs-a-change) since coming over from the Chicago White Sox in July of 2017. His 2018 season was objectively the worst of his career, with Quintana posting his lowest innings total since his rookie year and his highest ever WHIP, FIP, HR/9 and BB/9. But Quintana will be just 30 years old in 2019, and the Cubs have a $10.5 million option they'll certainly exercise. Barring a trade, the left-hander will be back as their No. 4 starter. Tyler Chatwood was given a three-year, $38 million deal last offseason to be the No. 5 man in the rotation. But given his [excruciating performance](https://www.betchicago.com/cubs-tyler-chatwood-stats-rotation), it's impossible to see the Cubs relying on Chatwood ever again. The 28-year-old pitched 103 2/3 innings with a 5.30 ERA and more walks (95) than strikeouts (85). It will be tough to move him given the $25.5 million Chatwood is owed over the next two seasons, but the Cubs will try. If they can't deal him, maybe the right-hander takes a long relief role until they can figure out how to move forward. That leaves a rotation spot open, and I don't think Epstein is going to get too cute with this decision. Cole Hamels was outstanding after being acquired in July from the Texas Rangers, putting up a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts. He may not post ace-like numbers in 2019, but the 34-year-old has a 3.70 ERA over his last four seasons with an average of 188 innings pitched per year. The Cubs have a $20 million option on the lefty that most expect they'll exercise. ### Bullpen The bullpen was another area of reasonable success for the 2018 Cubs. Statistically, they led the National League with a 3.35 ERA out of the 'pen. Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and several others performed exceptionally overall for Chicago. But Brandon Morrow (1.47 ERA with 22 saves in 24 chances) didn't throw a single pitch in the second half, proving that he's bound to do what he does best: [Find his way to the DL](https://www.betchicago.com/cubs-notebook-morrow-darvish-hoerner). Going into next season, the Cubs have some questions at the backend of the bullpen. Notable free agents include left-hander Justin Wilson and trade acquisition Jesse Chavez, the latter of whom had a 1.15 ERA in 39 innings with 42 strikeouts since arriving in Chicago. Chavez, who is 35, has expressed interest in either returning to the Cubs next year or retiring. For their part, the Cubs would love to have Chavez back on the right deal, so expect him to return. Wilson, however, will probably move on. He has been far too inconsistent since the Cubs acquired him in 2017, and there are other options available. Joining Chavez, Morrow, Cishek, Strop and Edwards in the potential 'pen could be Brian Duensing and Brandon Kintzler, the former owed $3.5 million next year, while the latter has a $5 million player option. Mike Montgomery, Randy Rosario and Jorge De La Rosa are left-handers who could all return and also play roles. Given the uncertainty around Morrow and the frustrating annual dry spells of Edwards, the Cubs know that simply resigning Chavez won't be good enough. The good news is there are several quality relievers on the free agent market, including Craig Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino and David Robertson. The team could also take a chance on a guy who’s looking to bounce back, such as Cody Allen, Andrew Miller or Trevor Rosenthal. ### Position Players Harper, Harper and more Harper. And if not Harper, Manny Machado. But Harper. The Cubs have been rumored to be interested in Harper for at least a few years, and the time has finally come. Offshore betting odds even have them at 3/1 to sign him, making the Cubs the second behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Harper wants to play at Wrigley Field, joining forces with his good friend Kris Bryant. Epstein will do everything he can to make his wish come true. __Harper or Machado:__ [Who's the better fit for Cubs?](https://www.betchicago.com/cubs-bryce-harper-manny-machado-free-agency) But that's not the only move that would need to be made. The Cubs had five players start 60 or more games in the outfield last year, and all of them are under contract for 2019. Bringing in Harper means at least one needs to go. Epstein talked in his end-of-year press conference about needing production over potential, and how several of the Cubs’ young players have failed to take the next step in their development. That won't mean trading everyone who had a disappointing year, but here’s how the outfield may shake out: The Cubs sign Harper to play right field and move Jason Heyward to center field, where he platoons with Albert Almora Jr., and then Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ are each traded (either together or in separate deals). That opens a few options. The Cubs could put Zobrist back at second base regularly with Javy Báez at shortstop, allowing the team to chase a free agent outfielder such as Nick Markakis. It adds another veteran bat and a qualified leadoff hitter, solving two problems at once. If not Markakis, they could target former MVP Andrew McCutchen. Otherwise, the Cubs could try to entice the Kansas City Royals into dealing second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield. The 29-year-old just finished his third season in the big leagues, hitting .304/.367/.438 with 45 stolen bases – leading the American League in that category for the second straight year. Merrifield would solve a lot of problems for the Cubs, but the real question here is whether the Royals would be interested in making a deal. Schwarber is over four full years younger, but he'll be arbitration eligible a year sooner. That's something the cash-conscious Royals would be concerned about. However, either Schwarber or Happ paired with some quality prospects could be enough for Kansas City. There are other free agents who have fans buzzing, but it's currently unclear how likely any of them are to be wearing a Cubs uniform next season. Marwin González is a favorite of Cubs fans, and was a Cubs minor leaguer until he was stolen away in the 2011 rule 5 draft. Some prefer another former Cub, Gold Glove second baseman D.J. LeMahieu. A backup catcher should be on the shopping list as well, and free agents such as Martin Maldonado, Jonathan Lucroy and Nick Hundley will be available, too. ### Prospects Finally, the Cubs have a handful of prospects who could be debuting in the big leagues next season. Starting pitcher Adbert Alzolay was a top-100 rated prospect according to Baseball Prospectus heading into the 2018 season, but an injury derailed his season in late May. Trevor Clifton and Duncan Robinson are two other starting pitchers who could be knocking at the door, too. In the bullpen, keep an eye on 24-year-old right-hander Dakota Mekkes. He's 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, and has a 1.16 ERA with 190 strikeouts in 147 innings in his minor league career. This year, Mekkes had a 1.17 ERA in 53 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. As for hitting prospects, keep an eye out for outfielder Jeffrey Baez and second baseman Trent Giambrone. The Cubs have several familiar faces that could make an impact in the majors, too. Duane Underwood Jr. made his major league debut in 2018 in a four-inning start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Underwood, along with James Norwood and Dillon Maples, could see action in the Cubs' bullpen at times during the 2019 season. The caveat to all of this, of course, is that any of these young players could be traded prior to Opening Day. __Also check out:__ [2019 World Series odds](https://www.betchicago.com/2019-world-series-odds-cubs-favorites-white-sox-longshot)2018-10-31T18:23:40.189Z2018-10-31T14:23-04:00