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Javier Baez led the Chicago Cubs with just 11 stolen bases in 2019 and one way for the team to get better is to steal more bases next season.
In a boom or bust offense the past couple of years, the Chicago Cubs have struggled to consistently score runs. in 2018, they finished tied for dead last with the Baltimore Orioles in games scoring 1 or fewer runs. The team finished with the fourth-highest OBP (0.333) but couldn’t get the runs in, outside of hope and a prayer for a long ball.
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Flash forward to 2019 and it looked eerily similar, which makes sense given that the only notable roster change was the addition of Daniel Descalso. The Cubs, as a team, posted the eighth-highest OBP (0.331) but finished with just 45 stolen bases, which was second-worst in baseball ahead of the American League leaders in home runs in the Minnesota Twins.
And while I look back to the 2016 season in which the team finished with just 66 stolen bases, the same number as 2018, a good argument can be made that the World Series roster had a more dynamic offense. That team was capable of manufacturing runs in nearly every way other than just the home run. Also looking back to the 2016 season, the St. Louis Cardinals finished with the second-fewest stolen bases (35) and finished with an 86-76 record, just two games better than the 2019 Cubs. Interesting.
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In an offseason that should finally see some changes, one area that the Cubs should look to improve next season is swiping more bases. Javier Baez led the way with 11 stolen bases, followed by Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo with 8 and 5, respectively. That’s pretty bad and while the offensive woes go way beyond just stolen bases, getting runners closer to scoring position would take less pressure off each hitter.
The problem is the current roster doesn’t have the makeup for a team that will be successful in stealing 70+ bases in 2020. There’s no rhyme or reason why 70 was chosen, it’s just a number I would like for them to target. If Nico Hoerner becomes the everyday second baseman, he certainly has some speed on the base paths, as he stole 8 of them in 75 games with Double-A Tennessee, which projects to approximately 17 over 162 games. But Theo Epstein is going to have to take a long look at this roster and likely have to sacrifice some home run power for contact hitters.
A couple who rented their Arizona home to Theo Epstein during spring training in 2015 has filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Cubs president, alleging his dog’s excessive urination damaged their home, according to the Phoenix New TImes.
John and Mary Valentino rented out their Paradise Valley, Arizona, home to Epstein in February and March 2015, when the Cubs were at spring training. Epstein, his wife, two children and 10-pound dog, Winston, stayed at the home.
With the league championship series now underway, we are inching closer and closer to the true beginning of the offseason. Shortly after the World Series ends, player movement begins. The Cubs are likely to use every possible avenue to find players they think can help them a championship over the two remaining seasons of Theo Epstein’s leadership, which of course includes trades.
What’s different about this year is that the Cubs could actually trade major league talent for more major league talent. Then again, they could also use their minor league system to acquire both short- and long-term assets. Yes, you heard that correctly. Despite what you may have been told, the Cubs do actually have enough depth in the system to make deals.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be looking to part with guys like Brailyn Marquez, Brennen Davis, or Miguel Amaya, but there are plenty more who could be moved in the right deal. In fact, if we break it down by position, the Cubs have three very strong position groups in the minors from which they could move players without affecting the system that much.
Right-handed starting pitching
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From Triple-A all the way down to Eugene, the Cubs have plenty of depth with righty starters. While they technically do not have what might be seen as a top-of-the-rotation guy just yet, there are several big arms they’ve taken in the past two years that other teams might see as an asset to their organization.
A few weeks ago, I tried to figure out which starting pitchers were going to each affiliate for 2020. It was a cluster[bleep] of a thought process. There were so many guys that I just gave up after like 10 minutes. When you draft 27 arms in the 2019 draft class, that will happen.
Pardon my French, but the Cubs have catchers coming out their ass. They could deal two or three and still have enough backstops throughout the system. When the Cubs protect a few top prospects for the 40-man roster next month, expect to see Miguel Amaya and PJ Higgins on that list.
The Cubs are just loaded with defensive backstops beyond those two, including Luis Sojo, Jhohnny Pereda, and Erick Gonzalez. Then there are two very young and highly touted catchers they acquired last summer in Ethan Hearn (draft) and Ronnier Quintero (international free agency). Both will be in the lower levels of the system next year.
According to the report, Winston “peed prolifically” in the home, staining the floors, wood door jams, cabinets and furniture while leaving a terrible odor. The Epsteins also allegedly left holes in the drywall, broke cabinet handles, tore a shower curtain and grill cover and more.
Epstein and his family moved out of the home early, per the report, due to a scorpion infestation on the property he claimed the landlords failed to address.
The Valentinos did not refund Epstein’s $5,000 deposit, and reportedly sent Epstein a repair estimate of $51,405 in 2017. They claim they have been unable to rent the property since, and that urine “penetrated through the carpeting and pad to the slab.”
“The Valentinos attempted to re-mediate the premises through major cleaning, power washing the patio and walls, having the carpet cleaned and treated, having the tile cleaned and treated, fumigating the premises and replacing the air cleaners and touching the paint,” the lawsuit said, via the New Times.
Epstein denied the allegations through Julian Green, the Cubs’ vice president of communications, who called the lawsuit “baseless.” Epstein claims his family found the urine stains after moving into the home.
“This frivolous lawsuit would have you believe a 10-pound rescue puppy transformed into a nightmarish Levitan from the 1984 Alice Cooper horror movie and went on a rampage in the rental property,” Green said, via the New Times. “The truth is the real horror story was the house and inhabited creatures that put this family at risk every time they put their children to sleep.”
Whether the allegations are true, Epstein has publicly admitted to having trouble with his dog peeing in the house before.
“Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house,” Epstein told ESPN’s Buster Olney in 2016.
It’s the same logic as when they acquired Nick Castellanos, who is not known for his defense but the Cubs were willing to sacrifice some defense because his bat more than made up for it. And to be honest, he was one of the few bats that was consistently hitting down the stretch.
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So how do they improve this?
Epstein will have to target one or two players in free agency and/or trades that can be useful in improving the dynamic of the lineup. One player that I would personally like to see them go after is Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is under contract, albeit two club options, through the 2021 season and is owed $24 million over the next two seasons. Add to that he would be traded within the division, so Theo would have to get creative to acquire him.
However, the Pirates are, seemingly, now in a full rebuild and under a new manager next season so they could potentially make some veteran players available. Marte finished with a strong 0.295/0.342/0.503 line with 31 doubles, 6 triples, 23 home runs, 82 RBI, and 25 stolen bases. The Cubs have a huge need in centerfield right now with the underperforming Albert Almora and questionable future of Ian Happ.
Happ looked like a somewhat improved player once he returned from Iowa last season as he had a 25 percent strikeout rate in 58 games with the team, which was down from his 36.1 percent in 2018. He doesn’t offer a lot in the stolen base department as he had just 8 over the course of a full season in 2018 and could be moved as part of a trade package.
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Another player that makes a lot of sense and would kill two birds with one stone is Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield, who led the American League in hits as the Royals leadoff hitter. He also stole 20 bases and played in all 162 games which would be a remarkable improvement. He’s extremely versatile as well and could potentially play right field permanently for the Cubs if Castellanos is not retained. Merrifield logged over 630 innings in the outfield this season, so it wouldn’t be a reach either. He’s under contract through the 2023 season at an extremely team-friendly deal of just $4.1 million AAV.
NEXT: Offseason priority of finding a leadoff hitter
As I said, Epstein will have to get creative this offseason to fix the offensive woes. The issues with the starting pitching are known and acknowledged but a slight tweak to the offense could get them back on track.