Chicago Cubs 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap: 103-58, 1st in the NL Central. Won the World Series 4-3 over Cleveland. The wait is finally over for Cubs fans. Your team was the best in baseball from start to finish. An unhittable pitching staff, a quality consistent lineup, and one of the best defensive teams of all time. Everything clicked for the Cubs in 2016 and with the majority of their best players in their prime this could be the start of a dynasty. The nightmare is over Cubs fans, get ready for a lot of W’s over the next several seasons.

Offseason Moves:

Significant Additions: OF Jon Jay, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Koji Uehara, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Eddie Butler

Significant Subtractions: OF Dexter Fowler, RHP Jason Hammel, LHP Aroldis Chapman, OF Jorge Soler, C David Ross

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. LF Kyle Schwarber
  2. 3B Kris Bryant
  3. 1B Anthony Rizzo
  4. 2B Ben Zobrist
  5. SS Addison Russell
  6. RF Jason Heyward
  7. C Willson Contreras
  8. CF Jon Jay

The biggest difference for the Cubs lineup will be newly acquired center fielder Jon Jay taking over for Dexter Fowler, who left for the rival Cardinals. This is a big downgrade for the Cubs going from Fowler’s .840 OPS in 2016 to Jay’s .728 OPS. It is likely that Jay will eventually platoon with Albert Almora, who is a better glove than a bat at this point in his career and super utility player Javier Baez will also work his was into the lineup most nights. It is likely that young slugger Kyle Schwarber will play more than two games in 2017 and assuming he can at least play league average defense in left field, he has a chance to stay as an everyday player and approach 30 home runs. After being a major bust at the plate (although his glove is still amazing) in 2016, Jason Heyward has nowhere to go but up as he has made swing changes this offseason. Any significant contributions from Heyward at all will go along way in helping replace Dexter Fowler’s production.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation –

  • LHP Jon Lester
  • RHP Jake Arrieta
  • RHP Kyle Hendricks
  • RHP John Lackey
  • LHP Brett Anderson

Bullpen –

  • RHP Wade Davis – Closer
  • RHP Hector Rondon
  • RHP Pedro Strop
  • RHP Koji Uehara
  • RHP Carl Edwards Jr.

The Cubs rotation is led by 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta as well as Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks who finished second and third in the Cy Young voting last season. All three are different pitchers, but all equally as effective. Lester and Arrieta are both equally efficient with walk rates below 2.6 per 9 innings in their time with the Cubs, while Kyle Hendricks is an extreme groundball pitcher with a career rate just under 50%. The Cubs amazing infield defense last season was a huge part in Hendricks’ breakout season. Their fifth starter spot is up for grabs as oft injured starter Brett Anderson, Michael Montgomery and failed Colorado prospect Eddie Butler will compete for that final spot. My money is on Montgomery who finally hit his stride in the second half of the season with the Cubs after years of being a top prospect in the Royals organization. Despite losing Aroldis Chapman in free agency, the Cubs still have a really deep bullpen and the addition of new closer Wade Davis should really help solidify things as long as his elbow issues from 2016 are behind him.

Fantasy Analysis:

Stud: 1B Anthony Rizzo, 3B/OF Kris Bryant. It’s rare for one team to have two first round picks, but that’s exactly what the Cubs offer to fantasy owners. Rizzo offers a little more if you are in an OBP league, while Bryant fills up the stat sheet with elite power and adds in multi position eligibility for the cherry on top. I’m taking Bryant just ahead of Rizzo in drafts this year, but both have the ability to carry your team on offense for extended periods of time.

Sleeper: SS Addison Russell. It’s rare that someone with the combination of Russell’s pedigree and 2016 performance (21 homers, 95 RBI) goes under the radar the following draft season, but that is sort of what is happening here. Russell isn’t quite on the level of the few elite shortstops we have in the league right now due to his lower batting average and minimal speed, but due to the lack of depth at the position Russell should be going higher overall in drafts. Russell hitting the middle of the Cubs loaded lineup will drive his counting numbers enough for him to be a top 100 player this season that you can get around pick 135. Russell also has room to improve his batting average as he always was at least a .275 hitter throughout his career in the minors.

Bust: OF Kyle Schwarber. This is a tough one because I like Schwarber’s potential and he is a must have in keeper and dynasty leagues. However for 2017, I cannot get on board with his current draft price of the 20th outfielder and 77th overall player. Schwarber has many factors working against him in 2017. First are the injury issues he has suffered so far in his young career. Second is he is a potential defensive liability and could lose at bats especially late in games as Joe Maddon does not hesitate to make late game switches. Lastly, Schwarber has hit just .143 against lefties in his brief career. That is a number that could quickly change, but if it doesn’t, Schwarber could quickly find himself in platoon and looking at a max of 400 plate appearances in 2017. When almost all of the outfielders going around Schwarber are guaranteed everyday players that will approach 600 plate appearances, Schwarber is too much of a risk at his current price for this season.  

2017 Record Prediction: This Cubs may not be quite as deep as last season, but are still the best team in the league. They’ll be back in the postseason again in 2017 and could find themselves with real chance at repeating as World Series champions. 99-63, 1st in the NL Central.

-Randy Haines

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com and accurate as of 3/8

Fantasy ADP data courtesy of STATS.com and The NFBC

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