This will be Theo Epstein's fifth year as the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. And the man with the plan seems to have put the competitive team that they've been waiting for on the field.
Thanks to savvy drafting and frugal spending, the Cubs were well-tooled to go on a spending spree this past offseason. And Epstein and the Cubs front office didn't just spend. The team is coming off of a 97-win season thanks to the best pitching and fourth-best batting in the majors last season.
Jake Arrieta took home the NL Cy Young in what was a pretty tight race that included Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Kris Bryant won the league's rookie of the year and posted a 6.5 WAR season by FanGraphs' measure. That's good enough for the fifth-best player in the National League last season, behind A.J. Pollock, Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, and Bryce Harper.
Everything's coming up Epstein.
Most of the Cubs trades this offseason revolved around making room for all the free agents they signed.
Chronologically, that begins with the Starlin Castro trade with the New York Yankees. The Cubs acquired Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan -- who they promptly released -- in exchange for their middle-infielder. On the same day, the Cubs signed super-utility player, Ben Zobrist.
Warren will likely get shuffled into the bullpen, but is also able to make some starts if the Cubs so choose. If you had to pick a team weak-spot, it would likely be the rotation.
That chronology ends with the trade of fourth-outfielder Chris Coghlan to the Oakland Athletics. In exchange, the Cubs acquired Aaron Brooks. Brooks is a 25-year old pitcher with only 58 innings in the majors. Brooks has a superb walk rate, but lacks many other good indicators of success. It's unclear what his role will be going forward.
The Free Agents
This was the headliner of the Cubs offseason. In fact, the Cubs free agent signings were the headliner of the entire offseason.
As previously stated, even the trades they made were tailored to maximize their free agent signings. Without the trades they made, the Cubs might not have signed Zobrist to his four-year, $56 million deal. The Cubs also might not have signed Fowler to his one-year, $13 million deal that includes a vesting option.
Further adding to the team, the Cubs got one of the top prizes off free agency by signing Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million deal. The deal includes not one but two of the very in-vogue opt-outs. The elite-gloved outfielder set a career-best in OBP last season with .359 while on the St. Louis Cardinals.
Adding further insult to the division-rival Cardinals, the Cubs also swiped John Lackey from their grasp with a two-year deal worth $32 million. By FanGraphs WAR, Lackey had his best season since 2007. The 37-year old right-hander seems to be going through a resurgence.
Lastly, the Cubs also retained Trevor Cahill on a one-year, $4.25 million who seems to have found a bit of a niche in the bullpen after having some mixed results as a starter.
In total, the Cubs spent $259.25 million in guaranteed salaries this offseason. And that's not including the amount ownership has allegedly spent against Donald Trump. However, with the new trend of opt-outs, it almost certainly won't reach that, and that's where Epstein shone the brightest. Despite going on a spending spree, the majority of the deals are pretty team-friendly. Players seem to have identified what's happening on the north side of Chicago, and want to join in on the fun.
Reasons to worry
If you had to pick apart the Cubs roster construction, the starting rotation. Sure, it starts with Arrieta, Lackey, and Jon Lester, but it ends with Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel. The depth is okay, with Warren, Cahill, and Travis Wood, but it is less-than-ideal to count on those arms.
Expecting an encore from Arrieta might be a bit much as well. While a repeat of 2014 -- which was still excellent -- isn't out of the question, asking Arrieta for yet another 7-win season seems steep.
Furthermore, despite having the fourth-best bullpen in the major leagues last season, the Cubs relievers are kind of an amalgam of strange pitchers. With the distinct exception of Hector Rondon, the Cubs bullpen will rely on who have had to overcome some adversity.
Pedro Strop seems to have found some success with the Cubs, but still struggles with a high walk rate. Justin Grimm showed a distinct ability to strike opposing batters out last season, but also benefited from an amazingly-low .255 BABIP. Even Rondon had his strand rate drop by nine percent, which could indicate some regression.
Lastly, the division is still really hard. After all, the Cubs did finish in third-place last season. The Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates aren't just going to roll over now that the Cubs have spent money.
Reasons for hope
You've made it this far without being reminded of 1908, so it's time for some hope.
This team's batting lineup is scary good, and deep on the bench. With Fowler, Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Zobrist taking up the top six spots, it's likely the best lineup in the National League. Furthermore, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez will be late-inning ringers if need-be. In fact, it's almost unfair that this team doesn't get to use the designated hitter.
Depth Charts projections has the Cubs pegged to win 96 wins. PECOTA has them pegged for 94. This team is good. Everybody thinks they're good and it's going to be an exciting season regardless of what happens. The Cubs have the necessary pieces to make a deep push into the postseason. Whether it plays out that way, we'll have to wait and see.