On a scale of one to 10, Vegas’s overreaction to Joe Maddon becoming the Cubs manager landed somewhere between 25 and 30. Only such an approach to bookmaking could have been used to explain the drop in Cubs odds to win the 2015 World Series from 40-1 B.M. (Before Maddon) to as low as 15-1 following Maddon’s hiring.
With the hope of not getting Cubs fans too excited about 2015 — Maddon: “I’m going to talk World Series next year, I promise you” — here is a look at five holes the new Cubs skipper will not be able to fill. Each one would need addressing to make the North Siders any sort of contender next season.
Between Wellington Castillo and John Baker, the Cubs don’t exactly have the next Johnny Bench on their roster. Rumors have circulated about free agent Russell Martin, but a four-year deal around $70 million may not fit into the Cubs’ budget. In any event, the team needs a stronger backstop moving forward if it hopes to contend.
2. Starting pitching
If you listened closely in July, you could hear the heart of the Cubs rotation softly vanishing into the Chicago night. The trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel made the Cubs farm system fully stocked, but it deprived the team of two durable big league arms. Jake Arrieta (10-5, 2.53 ERA) and Kyle Hendricks (7-2, 2.46 ERA in 13 GS) will lead the charge in 2014, but the lack of frontline starters is glaring on the team.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the Cubs have the chance to pick up Max Scherzer or Jon Lester (or both) on the free agent market if they have that heady Vegas feeling in the front office. As GM Theo Epstein said at the close of the season, the Cubs are shooting for a division title. This would seem like a great time to pounce.
3. Professional hitters
The Cubs were 26th of 30 MLB teams in runs scored in 2014, 27th in batting average, and 28th in on-base percentage. Clearly, they have trouble bunching hits together and lack veteran depth in the lineup. Unless the prospects all come through in 2015, expect more of the same anemic offense ahead. Free agent sluggers like Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez wouldn’t make sense for a National League club (not that the Cubs were considering them), but they need to improve offensively to contend.
Hector Rondon had a great year for the Cubs in 2014 (29 SV, 33 SVO, 2.42 ERA), but a contender needs more stability at the back end of the bullpen. Free agent David Robertson had an excellent year as the Yankees’ closer and could be a good fit for Maddon at the end of the game. Though the market on Robertson has not yet been set, it will become clearer if he declines his qualifying offer.
5. Left field
Chris Coghlan had a brilliant season (.283 BA, .352 OBP, 28 2B) following the injury to Mike Sweeney that opened up a spot in left. The question is whether he or Sweeney will produce in 2015. There are other youngsters on the team that could fill the void in the coming season, but whoever does, Maddon will not be penciling a superstar name into the lineup. In this power position, there is still a big hole to fill.
Epstein and the new Cubs skipper have every reason to be optimistic and set their sights high in 2015. Without major trades or free agent acquisitions, the Cubs’ 15-1 odds to win the World Series aren’t worth the Vegas bet tickets they are being printed on, but they now have one of the best managers in baseball for 2015.