Prior to 2016, most Cubs fans would have asked for a World Series title for Christmas. Now that they have that, there are a few other shiny new toys out there to be had. They still have some things have some things they need and a few things they really want. What could those things be?
Here are a few ideas that I think the folks at Clark and Addison would like to see underneath the tree this year.
Epstein’s Christmas Wish: Find MLB’s newest market inefficiency
For years, Theo Epstein has found a way of getting his teams some type of competitive advantage—within the rules set by MLB, of course. He’s looked where others have not and found different ways of doing things to improve not only the major league roster, but the entire organization. Over the years, many others have followed his lead looking for different ways to better position their clubs.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Theo and Jed have cracked open a beer or two and have been thinking of new, efficient ways to improve the Cubs from the ground up that no other front office has thought of. Don’t be surprised if it happens sooner rather than later and expect the rest of MLB to jump on it soon after.
Maddon’s Christmas Wish: A real leadoff hitter
The Kyle Schwarber experiment failed, and while it was cool to watch Anthony Rizzo be the best leadoff hitter in the history of the game for a week, the Cubs’ well-oiled offensive machine wasn’t built to have their slugging first baseman setting the table. Maddon used nine different leadoff hitters in 2017. Maddon even admitted multiple times throughout the season that the lack of consistent production was affecting the rest of the lineup. No, the leadoff spot is not the Cubs’ most glaring need this offseason, but Maddon and the Cubs’ offense would benefit from having a 1-2-3 they could pencil in every game.
Bryant’s Christmas Wish: Reuniting with childhood friend Bryce Harper
The Bryzzo bromance has been a welcome one for the North Side over last four seasons. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are fan favorites both in Chicago and around MLB off the field, while on the field, they’ve become arguably the most feared duo in the game. But is there another bromance on the horizon?
Cubs fans have been watching closely as Bryce Harper has been seen spending (increasing?) time with his childhood friend Bryant on several different occasions, including last month at a Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey game.
Is this a harbinger of things to come? Maybe. Maybe not.
Harper on multiple occasions has stated that it would be cool to play in Chicago with his friend, and a report by Peter Gammons last year stated that if he doesn’t remain with the Nationals, the 2014 NL MVP would want to join the Cubs.
Bryant, Rizzo, and Harper hitting back-to-back-to-back? That sounds a lineup you’d create on MLB The Show, and with the Yankees’ recent acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the road to acquiring Harper has gotten a little bit clearer.
There’s room for more than one bromance in the Cubs’ clubhouse, and I think Rizzo would be more than happy to share the love if this pipe dream ever became a reality.
Rizzo’s Christmas Wish: A top-3 NL MVP finish
In the last four seasons, Rizzo has two top-five finishes, one top-10 finish, and he had a top-15 finish this year (13th place).
The main problem with Rizzo ever making a push for MVP is that he splits the vote with the other half of the Cubs’ bromance, Bryant. The Cubs’ first baseman probably had the best case for the award in 2016, the year Bryant ran away with the award.
What would it take for Rizzo to not only overtake Bryant, but also the other contenders for the award?
One thing that could get Rizzo over the hump make a serious run at MVP would be to hit 40 home runs in a season. No, I don’t believe hitting homers defines an MVP, but in this case, it could raise the eyebrows of voters enough to get a good look. He’s never hit more than 32 home runs in his career (he matched it again in 2017), but it’s definitely an attainable goal for Rizzo.
Almora Christmas Wish: Opportunity to have 500 plate appearances
Almora’s defense has always been his calling card, but in 2017 he began to show the offensive tools that made the Cubs eager to draft him sixth overall back in 2012. After strictly being a platoon player in 2016, Almora proved he could continue to torment left-handers, slashing .342/.411/.486 with four homers while also holding his own against right-handers, against whom he posted a .271/.291/.420 in twice the number of plate appearances.
Is Almora too good to be a platoon player? The numbers and the eye test both say yes. But can he be as effective as he was in 2017 if given 500 at-bats instead of 300? The Cubs are going to have to decide, likely this offseason, what the plan for Almora is. As the team continues to look for another frontline starting pitcher, Almora may be a piece they have move to get it. Nothing would make Almora happier than to be manning center field every day in 2018. Even if that means doing it for another team.
Schwarber’s Christmas Wish: Make people forget about 2015 and 2017
If you asked Cubs fans what the first thing they thought about when you mention Kyle Schwarber, the three answers you would likely receive would be: the hero of the 2015 postseason, his miraculous return in the 2016 World Series, and his disappointing 2017 season.
Unfortunately for Schwarber, the legend of what he did in the 2015 postseason and what he could be in the future has become greater than the current version of Schwarber. Unlike any other player on the Cubs, Schwarber’s value is linked solely to his potential. While he offers power with the ability to get on-base, until he becomes the player Epstein and co. think he can be, he’s a mostly a three true outcome player in the mold of Adam Dunn (who ended up being pretty good himself).
Granted, 2017 was Schwarber’s first full season, and the experiment of making him the leadoff hitter probably didn’t help him either. Is there a reason for optimism that the converted catcher can tap into that potential over a full 162-game season? Yes.
Schwarber finished the last season with a .903 OPS and 18 long balls after being called-up on July 6, so there was definitely an improvement from the miserable start to the season. He’s played 170 games in his brief career, and has hit a whopping 46 home runs with an OPS of .800 in just over a season’s worth of games.
Schwarber may be a victim of high expectations, but 2018 will hopefully be his chance to create new memories of what he is and not what he has been.