MLB: Did the Cubs Help (or Hurt) Their 2016 World Series Chances?

Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations, Chicago Cubs
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The consensus around baseball, at this stage in the offseason, is that if you declared one team a “winner” over the rest, it might be the Chicago Cubs. The Red Sox signed David Price and made a quality trade with the Seattle Mariners. The Arizona Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke and made a huge deal to acquire Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves, but the Cubs are one of the few teams that added a ton without subtracting much at all.

In acquiring John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward via free agency, as well as swapping infielder Starlin Castro for pitcher Adam Warren with the Yankees, the Cubs jazzed up a team that is already young and boasts elite hitters, the reigning Cy Young award winner, and the reigning Manager of the Year winner. However, does being the champion of the offseason correlate to winning in the postseason?

Whether a team had the best offseason or not is a subjective measurement; there is no real measurement for determining which team makes the best moves or improves their situation the most. Nevertheless, every offseason, there is a collective decision on which team “wins” — and those teams often don’t win much after that.

Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox
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Last offseason, the White Sox went into free agency and signed former Yankees closer David Robertson along with left-handed reliever Zach Duke, first baseman Adam LaRoche, outfielder Melky Cabrera, and traded for starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. The understanding was that these additions would fill many holes on the roster, improving an underachieving team with a solid core behind ace Chris Sale and slugger Jose Abreu.

But the reigning American League champion Kansas City Royals swept the White Sox in the 2015 opening. By mid-June, the Sox were just 28-38. They were never really in the race for the playoffs, as the Royals ran away with the AL Central. Chicago finished just 76-86, which was actually a three-game improvement on their previous record.

The year before the Sox went on their spending spree, the Yankees went wild on the free agent market. They outbid the Cubs on Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, signed former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and brought in veteran catcher Brian McCann. All in all, the Yanks committed a total of $393 million to those three players. The result? The Yankees finished 84-78, and second in the AL East. They missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, after finishing 85-77 in 2013. The Yanks bounced back slightly in 2015, winning 87 games and making the wild card in the American League — then they were dispatched by the Houston Astros.

Ozzie Guillen, Miami Marlins
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Before the Yankees, the Miami Marlins were excited to get fans into their brand-new stadium. They had an uncharacteristic moment in their franchise history, spending money to sign free agents and attempt to turn a bad team into a contender. They brought in veteran manager Ozzie Guillen, signed starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, and closer Heath Bell.

The Marlins got off to a poor start, finished 69-93, and fired their new manager after he made insensitive comments regarding a certain Cuban dictator. After all that money was spent, the Marlins actually dropped three games in the win column from the season prior (their record was 72-90), and they traded Reyes and Buehrle shortly after.

Considering those examples, should there be concern that the Cubs might disappoint everyone after “winning” the offseason? Experiencing some anxiety about a letdown is understandable, but comparing them to previous big spenders is a farce. The common theme among the White Sox, Yankees, and Marlins is that each of these teams were mediocre or downright bad the season prior. They went into the offseason looking for a quick fix to their problems, and settled on spending money as the solution.

The Cubs, on the other hand, are a different story. They had the third-best record in Major League Baseball last season and have a young, unparalleled core of players. Not only did the Cubs spend money to bring in veteran and star players, but they did it in a way that improved upon their weaknesses without weakening their strengths. The Cubs needed help making better contact, as they led the National League in strikeouts last season. Zobrist struck out just 56 times last season in 535 plate appearances, which makes him one of the better contact hitters in the game.

The conclusion is that, unlike previous champions of the offseason, the Cubs were already prepared as a team and organization to compete for a World Series in 2016. The fact that they blew everyone away at the Winter Meetings in Nashville is, well, a little scary for everyone else. If the Cubs miss the playoffs, it’ll be very disappointing for their fans. But at this point, they’ve done all they can to ensure that this won’t happen. They may have “won” the offseason, but they have a legitimate chance of winning the postseason too.

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