Last offseason, the Chicago Cubs were fresh off a playoff appearance, looking to continue to make noise and turn their recent World Series success into a long-term plan that brought them back into the dynasty conversation.
What last offseason really resulted in for the Cubs was a lot of money spent on one player that has not panned out yet and that will need to show a lot this year and next to live up to their big-money deal.
Bringing in Yu Darvish (six years, $126 million) looked like a no-brainer for Chicago, seeing as how dominant Darvish was for both the Texas Rangers and then when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Darvish was supposed to spearhead the rotation, lead the staff in innings pitched, and help stabilize the overall team in terms of producing results.
That did not happen early on, as Darvish faced countless arm issues that eventually resulted in him being shut down for the remainder of the season in August due to a stress fracture. Coming back from this injury will be a big test for Darvish, as he hasn’t thrown in a game situation in a long time, which can provide wear issues for a pitcher coming back from no activity to ramping up for the regular season.
Trying to avoid the same dilemma that contributed to their 2018 playoff misfortunes, general manager Jed Hoyer and company decided to do a 360-degree flip from the 2018 offseason and spend little money, in an attempt to validate the team’s core and not mess with their salary issues.
There are no big-time names that fans commonly see in the transaction history for the Cubs in this offseason period, as small additions have come in the form of minor-league additions to the pitching staff.
Mike Zagurski, a former Milwaukee Brewer career minor leaguer, signed a minor league deal on Dec. 19 to kick off the offseason hoopla. Zagurski, who had a cup of coffee for the Brewers in 2018 in the big leagues, was designated for assignment after compiling a disastrous 63.00 ERA and a loss in two games.
One of the team’s biggest trade deadline additions was Daniel Murphy, who played a pivotal utility man and second baseman role for the Cubs down the homestretch of the regular season. Murphy was the next chip to fall into place, leaving the confines of Wrigley for the hitter-friendly Coors Field, signing a two-year, $24 million deal with a club option for 2020 for a measly $3 million.
Having crossed Murphy off the potential signees, the lone major-league deal that was not due to arbitration occurred, as starting pitcher Kendall Graveman came in for a minimum, one-year contract. The deal is structured with a $3 million club option, which is the more likely time frame that Graveman will play for them.
Graveman underwent Tommy John surgery towards the end of July 2018, putting his 2019 season in jeopardy. When healthy, Graveman was unspectacular before getting injured, going 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA in 34 1/3 innings with 27 punchouts.
Moving through the offseason, arbitration deals were reached with the members of the team’s core, as Kyle Hendricks, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Mike Montgomery, and Addison Russell all signed one-year deals with Chicago.
Of all the players involved in arbitration, the only player that should not have been tendered a deal was Russell, for obvious reasons. His ongoing domestic violence issues have given the franchise a black eye, as their seeming misuse of Russell throughout the investigation has led for many fans and foes to call for the team to release him.
While Russell’s on the field talent ranks him in the top 15 in the National League, his off-field issues speak volumes about the type of player he is and what his future should be in baseball.
Keeping him on the roster has added to the negative connotations that the Cubs have been plagued with this offseason, but all of this could have been addressed if they would have removed him from the roster, barred him from playing, and moved on from him in the offseason.
For a team with high expectations from both inside and outside of the organization to make little to no needle-moving moves in the offseason is quite puzzling, especially for a team bounced from the Wild Card round on their home turf.
Rumored to be involved in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes due to his relationship with his good friend Kris Bryant, the Cubs never had the type of necessary money to even entertain the idea of bringing Harper to the south side of Chicago. While his addition would surely help push the team back into NL Central contenders, which they still tend to be ranked as even without him, it has nearly a zero percent chance of happening.
With the Brewers (Yasmani Grandal) and St. Louis Cardinals (Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller) both making moves to remain at or near the top of the National League, the ball is now in Chicago’s hands to make a move and solidify that it will be a three-horse race in the Central come August. If not, the Cubs could be given the difficult choice of refreshing the team or just ignoring the glaring needs and plugging along, attempting to make the playoffs.
Making crucial improvements will be hard for this team, as Hoyer has let big-ticket players cloud his judgment and decision making, hurting the team in the long run. There also have been rumblings about Joe Maddon’s future as the team’s skipper, and he could see a swift end to his run leading the team from the bench if they fail to make strides in 2019.
With the Darvish and Heyward contracts financially plaguing the Cubs for years to come, coupled with a dark cloud of valuing results over standards, the Cubs have been put in a bind this offseason. Combine those two things with a disappointing end to the season last year, and the team will need to figure out its direction going into 2019.