Longtime Wrigley Field PA announcer Pat Pieper, from 1916 to 1974, used to begin every game with his trademark drone, "Attention! ... Attention, please! ... Have your pencil ... and scorecards ready ... and I'll give you... the correct lineup ... for today's ball game." I can only assume his trademark pauses were for dramatic effect.
For the first time in a long time, the roster for the Cubs looks like a bonafide contender as we break camp (last year's surprise notwithstanding). As the club set their final 25-man list a few days ago, several names who would have been shoe-ins in years previous were left on the outside looking in. Such is progress.
Let's take a look at those who manager Joe Maddon will bring north to start the 2016 season for the Chicago Cubs; first, the starters in the infield:
Hot damn! An already potent lineup from last season looks downright Murderors Row-like with the winter additions of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.
Definitely, not a weak bat among the starting 8 position players. Of course, there are some defensive questions when it comes to Schwarber in left field and Bryant's hot corner prowess still must be proven. However, opposing pitchers aren't going to be looking forward to coming to Wrigley Field this year.
Who do we have coming off of the bench?:
Jorge Soler was forced to take a seat, courtesy of the late signing of Dexter Fowler; however, there's no doubt he'd be a starter on most teams. Here's hoping that the young Cuban plays more like he did in last year's playoffs (.417 BA in 12 PA) than he did in the regular season (.262 w/ two DL stints) and earns some more regular playing time.
Meanwhile, the other two guys had to prove themselves this March to earn their spots. La Stella gets the call for his relative youth and his ability to pinch hit, with Maddon going so far as to say he could wake up at 3am and hit anyone. Plus, infield depth is a little low courtesy of someone's injury (more on that later).
As for Szczur, though the outfield picture is quite crowded already, he's the best defensive player the in the bunch (not named Heyward). Additionally, he's out of options and the brass didn't want to risk losing him on waivers.
While the offense looks strong, the old adage says that pitching wins ballgames. Let's take a gander at the 2016 pitching staff:
The starting five look exceptional... but, there are a lot of ifs. If Jake Arrieta can prove last season wasn't just a fluke, if Jon Lester can out-pitch his defensive woes, if John Lackey can keep beating Father Time, if Jason Hammel is fully recovered from last year's leg ailment and if Kyle Hendricks can take another step forward.
That said, if all men pitch up to their potential, they'll make for a more than adequate rotation. They're not the New York Mets, but then again, who else is even close?
How about the bullpen?
We also have our main set up men in Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop, who both had some troubling hiccups at points last year. On the other hand, when they were on, they were darn near unhittable. Consistency is the main thing to watch for here.
Rondon now has two years worth of proven success as the closer. He's making a good case for being the best Rule 5 draft choice ever made by the Cubs.
The final man in the pen is Neil Ramirez - not only the final man in the pen, but the final guy to make the overall cut. The 25th man had an exceptional 2014 campaign, but was rarely healthy last year and is still trying to recover his velocity after that myriad of shoulder issues. He was effective in the spring at 93-94mph; but, if it doesn't continue to climb back to his 98mph peak, he may be in trouble.
Additionally, like Szczur, Ramirez was also out of options, which factored into Theo and Co.'s decision to roster him over an extra infielder. This decision would have been a much easier one if SOMEONE didn't get hurt:
Javy Baez will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list after jamming his finger making a highly inadvisable headfirst slide into first base in ST game. Seeing as he broke his finger and missed a large chunk of time last year doing this same thing, you'd think he'd have learned.
When he does return though, he could become the best super utility man around. He looks destined to become Joe Maddon's new Ben Zobrist (who will stay mostly at second in Chicago).
This is the first time that I can remember where an NRI didn't make the team - again, the result of a much healthier franchise/farm system. However, that doesn't mean there weren't a few who took it right down to the wire:
These men were the final three roster cuts, with fan-favorite Munenori coming especially close to making it thanks to a strong offensive presence (.381 in 50 PA with 7 XBH) in camp and Baez's injury hurting the IF depth.
All three were released and subsequently resigned in the same day, so as to avoid their veteran's clauses. Muni and lefty-specialist Parra will head to Iowa and be ready to grab a shuttle at a moments notice. Meanwhile, Victorino will stay in Arizona to rehab a hamstring injury; his next course of action will be determined as he regains his health.
I would not be the least bit surprised to see all three in the Windy City this summer; as such, I'm ready to add the above cards to my CATRC as needed, except for Kawasaki, which as you can see was borrowed from COMC.
He'll be a media sensation in a market like Chicago
There you have it, your 2016 Chicago Cubs as they'll look when they open the season on Monday on the Angels' turf. Of course, they could look completely different after a couple of weeks - so goes life on the bottom portion of an MLB roster.
I for one cannot wait for the regular season to begin (I'm certain that I'm not alone in that feeling) and I am obviously excited about this year's bunch. If they live up to expectations, it's going to be one helluva summer in the Windy City!
"Have your pencil ... and scorecards ready ..."