Coming off a 97-win season, it’s hard to believe the Cubs have actually improved this off-season. But on paper, the Cubs are a better team than the one that wrapped up the regular season in Milwaukee.
The front office added Jason Heyward to the young core that already included Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. John Lackey and Adam Warren were added to the third best pitching staff in the NL from a year ago. And Ben Zobrist gives the Cubs the best infield in the game.
As Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have cautioned, the Cubs might not top their win total during the upcoming season from a year ago but the front office feels Joe Maddon has a deeper and more versatile roster.
According to Nick Cafardo, the Cubs are the third most improved team of the off-season, behind the Red Sox and Tigers. Cafardo pointed out that by mixing in Lackey, Heyward and Zobrist, the Cubs “can certainly say they’ve separated themselves from the Cardinals and Pirates.”
The White Sox, Mets, Giants, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Astros, Yankees, Nationals and Marlins round out Cafardo’s list of teams that have improved the most this winter.
On the flip side, Cafardo thinks the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Royals, Pirates, Orioles, Cardinals and Angels all took a step back this off-season.
According to the New York Daily News with Yoenis Cespedes back in the fold, the Mets are the best team in the National League followed by the Cubs, Nationals, Giants and Diamondbacks.
With a clear dividing line in the National League between the teams that are competing and the teams that are rebuilding, it could take at least 95 wins to get a spot in post-season tournament this year.
Pitchers and catchers report to Mesa in 26 days … first full squad workout is in 31 days, exactly one month, Feb. 24.
BBWAA Awards Dinner
Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant and Joe Maddon were scheduled to receive their BBWAA Awards on Saturday night in New York. The weather kept Joe Maddon from making it to New York City.
Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta attended the private dinner after the BBWAA canceled the main event at the New York Hilton. And Mike Puma tweeted a photo of Jake Arrieta’s Cy Young Award.
MLB Network will air the BBWAA ceremony Friday, Jan. 29 at 9:00pm CST.
News, Notes and Rumors
• Addison Russell turned 22 years old on Saturday … and Christopher Kamka tweeted a few interesting facts about the Cubs’ shortstop. Russell became the youngest Cubs player with a homer in a 1-0 victory since Phil Cavarretta in 1935 and the youngest Cub with a multi-home run game since Danny Murphy in 1961. Three players in NL history have had a 13-plus home run season while playing 50 percent of the games at second base or shortstop at age 21 or younger … Bill Mazeroski, Joe Morgan and Addison Russell.
• Jack Brickhouse, who passed away in 1998, would have turned 100 on Sunday. Robert Feder posted a tribute to long-time Voice of the Chicago Cubs.
• Matt Szczur held is inaugural baseball camp on Thursday. Szczur wanted to give something back to the youth in the community according to a report from Guy Gargan. The message of his camp … “Szcz The Day” Szczur is excited about the upcoming season, plans to do his best “to take advantage of the opportunity” and stick with the Cubs out of Spring Training.
• Click here for a pretty cool graphic from Daren Willman … Jason Heyward can really cover some ground in right field.
• Charlie Blackmon was caught off guard at first as to why the Rockies signed Gerardo Parra. Blackmon told the Denver Post he understands now and that Parra will only make the team better. The Rockies have been shopping Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and Corey Dickerson all winter for starting pitching. According to the report from Hardball Talk, several teams, including the Orioles, Cardinals, White Sox and Angels are interested in Gonzalez. The Tigers were the team that “showed the most interest” in Blackmon before signing Justin Upton. And the Cardinals have talked the Rockies about Blackmon and Dickerson.
• According to Bruce Levine, the White Sox are also interested in Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon. The question is, will the Southsiders trade their top prospects for a power bat.
• Speaking of the Rockies, GM Jeff Bridich said the team’s reported interest in RHP Yovani Gallardo “has been fairly overblown” according to a report from Hardball Talk.
And last, but not least, Major League Baseball determined the Rangers’ Yu Darvish was not involved in his brother’s illegal gambling operation in Japan.
This Day in Cubstory
2014 – Cubs signed free agent Tsuyoshi Wada
2007 – Cubs signed free agent Tomas Perez
2004 – Cubs signed free agent Jermaine Van Buren
1996 – Cubs signed free agents Bret Barberie and Leo Gomez
1996 – Frandy De La Rosa, born
1994 – Cubs signed free agent Dave Otto
1964 – Rob Dibble, born
1953 – Tim Stoddard, born
1950 – Ron Dunn, born
1939 – Cubs purchased Jim Gleeson from the Yankees for $25,000
1898 – Cliff Heathcote, born
1875 – Bunk Congalton, born