It certainly took a while, but this has finally been the offseason we've been waiting for since 2006.
You remember 2006, don't you? Dick Cheney shot a dude. Zinedine Zidane headbutted a dude. Barbaro (what ever happened to that horse?) almost won a Triple Crown. And the Cubs...well, the less you remember about the 2006 baseball season, the better. Outside of Aramis Ramirez having one of his finest seasons and the solid, workmanlike play of one Thunder Matt Murton, the 2006 Cubs were a tire fire full of some of your least favorite names: Michael Barrett's pasty face was offending sensibilities across Chicago. Ronny Cedeno OPS'd .610 (for comparison, Carlos Marmol's OPS was .696 in 24 at-bats). Tony Womack got paid to basically hang out and be 103 years old. Hell, even Greg Maddux posted a 4.69 ERA, his worst in 19 YEARS.
(Surprisingly solid in 2006? Jacque Jones! His triple slash was .285/.334/.499 with 27 homers. Talk about one of the most "underrated solid effort by a guy you swear was putrid" Cubs seasons ever. If Jason Heyward puts that season up this year, we'll be calling him a bargain!)
Did I mention that the Cardinals won the World Series?
And then everything turned in the offseason. Dusty Baker got shitcanned and replaced by Lou Pinella. And the front office decided to make a run at the playoffs by signing Alfonso Soriano to an 8 year, $136 million contract, the 5th largest in baseball history at that point. The Cubs rode the momentum of that offseason to consecutive playoff appearances in 2007 and 2008.
Then we got pretty old and pretty bad. Theo and Jed came in and cleaned house and we knew it would be a while until we would be major players in free agency again. But even then, Cubs fans still hoped to sign a big free agent to build around, something to signal that better times were ahead.
But sometimes, it turns out that the moves you don't make can be as important as the ones that you do make. I remember I was hoping for the Cubs to sign Prince Fielder in the 2012 offseason, but what would have happened to Anthony Rizzo? If we would have gotten what we wanted in 2013 and signed Masahiro Tanaka, it definitely would have hampered what the Cubs were able to do this offseason (and would have looked doubly bad when his elbow finally blew up, which it will this season). Last year's Lester signing was a great start, but no one saw the 2015 season playing out like it did. We still knew the best was yet to come.
And that leads us to the offseason that will officially be wrapping up 2 weeks from today when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. Let's look at the major events of the offseason and my grades for each one.
1. Red Sox sign David Price
This one stung. We knew that the Cubs were going to try and flex their financial muscle this offseason, and as the 2015 NLCS showed, the Cubs were a bit short on starting pitching. I mean, I love Kyle Hendricks, but he has no business being the #3 starter on a team with World Series aspirations. The patented Joe Maddon Connection didn't come through and Price went to Boston.
HOT TAKE: This turned out to be a positive. I was really disappointed initially, but I think it's because I didn't think Heyward was a real possibility. I thought it was basically Price or nothing. But seeing how the offseason eventually played out, signing Price would have prevented the Cubs from doing all the other awesome things they've done this year. And as fearsome as an Arrieta/Lester/Price playoff threesome would be, the Royals showed us last year that you don't need a stacked rotation like the Mets to go all the way. You just need some reliable guys, a great bullpen and a lineup of high OBP guys that can get on base against power pitchers. And while the Cubs are much flashier on offense than last year's Kansas City squad, they made a few Royals-esque moves soon thereafter.
2. Basically trading Starlin Castro for Ben Zobrist and Adam Warren
Sure, Zobrist wasn't technically part of the Castro trade, but both moves were companion pieces to each other. Zobrist's contract is being paid with the money saved by shipping Castro out of town.
HOT TAKE: I was not a fan of this initially. Don't get me wrong, Adam Warren is a decent starter and has the potential to be a really great bullpen arm. But he's not worth getting a decade older at second base. And even with Castro slipping the last few seasons, there's no way that Zobrist's age 34-37 seasons will be better than Castro's age 25-28 seasons. I even posted a very curt Facebook status about it. But we'll revisit this in a moment.
3. Signing Jason Heyward
OHHHH SLAMMMM! The Cubs come up big and beat out the Nationals and the stupid Cardinals and sign Heyward to a deal that turned out to be less money than any other team offered. Some people tried to argue that Heyward wasn't worth all the money the Cubs dished out for him, and I guess I can see that point of view to a certain extent. If you're paying Heyward to be the big slugger in the middle of your lineup, you're going to have a bad time. Heyward isn't going to hit 30 home runs or drive in 120 RBI. But he PERFECTLY fits everything the Cubs desperately needed: someone to play great OF defense next to The Schwarber Project in left field and someone that has a great OBP that doesn't come with an inflated strikeout rate. He'll always be a better real life player than fantasy baseball player, but he is the perfect addition to the team on offense and on defense. For that reason, he was worth every penny.
HOT TAKE: The Heyward signing was great on its own. The side effect is that it made the Zobrist signing better too. Sure, 3-4 years from now Castro will probably be outplaying an almost-40 Zobrist. But we aren't concerned with 2018 or 2019. The signing of Heyward was a clear sign that the Cubs are serious about winning a World Series in 2016 and 2017. And for those two seasons, yeah, I think Zobrist can do exactly what we need him to do: get on base and not strike out. Remember how the Mets rotation carved up the Cubs lineup in the NLDS only to get slapped around by the Royals in the World Series? It's because the Cubs strike out a ton and the Royals have a bunch of high OBP, low K rate OBP machines. Now the Cubs have 2 more guys to do exactly that. The OBP potential of the Cubs without any additions was high enough, with Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber all with the ability to OBP somewhere between .350 and .390. Add Zobrist (.359 last year) and Heyward (.359 too!) to that and holy crap, this lineup is going to run up pitch counts in a hurry. Then all of our big boppers get to feast on the awful bullpens of the NL.
4. Signing John Lackey
And there's the rotation depth we needed. Yes, Lackey is old enough that if he completely fell apart next season, it wouldn't be shocking at all. But that's why it's awesome that we got him on just a 2 year deal. You can eat a bad signing for 2 seasons. Hell, the Cubs ate 5 years of garbage from Edwin Jackson and came out ok!
HOT TAKE: I'm for it. And if Lackey dies in a fire of horrible performance, the Cubs still have guys like Almora and Baez to trade at the deadline for another starter if one is needed. Signing Lackey is a calculated risk, but for only 2 years of commitment, I'm game. And really, who else were the Cubs going to sign? Jesus, Jeff Samardzija got SEVENTY MILLION DOLLARS.
So the Cubs got more defense and OBP and another solid starter to boost the rotation. We're almost the new Royals! Now about that bullpen...
5. Signing Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill
Both guys were nails in the playoffs last year, with Trevor "Fat Baby" Cahill coming up HUGE in the NLDS. Both guys seem like the types that can reinvent themselves from failed starters into great relievers and both seem like solid clubhouse guys.
HOT TAKE: I love it. And for the first time I can remember, the Cubs bullpen is actually going to be a strength rather than a grease fire. Rondon is perfectly adequate as a closer. Strop is solid as a setup guy. Grimm and Neil Ramirez? Good to great relievers! Adam Warren was great when he moved to the pen last year. And now with Clayton Richard in the fold, Travis Wood won't have to throw 3,000 innings a year and wear down like he did in 2015.
This has been as close to a perfect of an offseason as I could have hoped for. I wasn't onboard with every move initially, but all of the puzzle pieces fit together beautifully, with Theo and Jed once again proving that they are much smarter than I am when it comes to running a baseball team.
I could probably outdo Jim Hendry though.