The Cubs did two off-seasons worth of free agent shopping this winter and created countless headlines along the way. The front office raised expectations to an all-time high in the process. And the Cubs kick off their Cactus League schedule this week as a pre-season to win it all this year.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer added depth to a roster that won 97 games a year ago. The front office set out to add pitching to the rotation and in the bullpen, improve the team’s outfield defense and add contact hitters to a dynamic, young offense that led all of baseball in strikeouts last season.
RHP John Lackey signed for two years and $32 million. INF/OF Ben Zobrist inked a four-year, $56 million contract. RHP Trevor Cahill turned down guaranteed starting jobs and re-signed for one-year, $4.25 million. OF Jason Heyward landed the biggest contract in franchise history, eight years and $184 million but can opt out the first time after three years.
The Cubs traded INF Starlin Castro for RHP Adam Warren, signed minor leaguer RHP Andury Acevedo to a Major League contract and acquired LHP Rex Brothers, RHP Spencer Patton, LHP Jack Leathersich, LHP Edgar Olmos and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser.
Over the last 10 days, the Cubs added rehabbing RHP Aaron Crow and LHP Manny Parra to the organization on minor league contracts.
And in a flurry of activity in a 24-hour period, the Cubs traded Chris Coghlan for RHP Aaron Brooks, re-signed OF Dexter Fowler and added veteran outfielder Shane Victorino to an already crowded outfielder with a minor league contract.
With Ian Desmond signing an $8 million deal Sunday to play in Texas for one-year, Jim Bowden was able to hand out the final off-season grades for all 30 teams. And Bowden gave the Cubs an ‘A+’ for the way the front office shaped its roster this winter.
Bowden said the Cubs “had a dominant off-season,” one that was highlighted by the signing of Jason Heyward, the “best defensive right fielder in the game.” Bowden called the John Lackey signing “one of the best-valued-free-agent signings” of the off-season. And Ben Zobrist will shore up an infield that showed a lot of improvement defensively last year when Addison Russell took over at shortstop.
By re-signing Dexter Fowler, the Cubs have a true leadoff hitter that allows Heyward not only to bat further down in the lineup but move to right field. Adam Warren should at least “help shore up the bullpen” if he doesn’t win a spot in the rotation.
Jim Bowden’s prediction for the Cubs: “I predict the Cubs will be the only team to win 100 regular season games in 2016. It’s only a matter of time before Cubs president Theo Epstein becomes the highest-paid baseball executive in baseball history. He’s on his way to a Hall of Fame career.”
The Red Sox were the only other team that received an ‘A+’ from Bowden for its final off-season grade.
On paper, the Cubs have arguably the deepest roster in baseball. Now it’s up to Joe Maddon and the players to turn the projections and predictions into reality.