Well, we did it. We knew we were close last year, and we knew we were building something the year before. Things were dismal the year before that, but we were told to have faith in Theo. I doubted him, because the Cubs were cursed, and I was jealous of him: what makes him so qualified to be a baseball expert? Did he play? Sometimes I think I could do just as good a job as some of these guys, but whatever, no one is ever going to give me a chance. Speaking of doing as good a job as someone:
Joe Maddon: A
I gave Maddon an A+ last year, and he probably deserves the same, but I am dinging him down to an A for giving everyone a collective heart attack over the past few games of the World Series. He will probably win Manager of the Year again, and he deserves it. He made some great bat-shit crazy moves, like the way he moved Travis Wood around into left field so he could hit and then pitch later. I didn't even know you could do that! I mean, I knew you could do that, but there was some other element about it that made it extremely clever. He is the perfect manager for the Chicago Cubs and he has done what so many before him have failed to do. Several managers came into town and were all like, "I am going to be the one to make history with this team." Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella came close, but Joe Maddon is one of the most special managers/head coaches in all of sports. I love him, and as I said last year, I hope he stays in Chicago for another 10 years, or however much longer he wants to keep managing. Having said that, I disagreed with how he used Aroldis Chapman in Games 5-7 and Jon Lester in Game 7. I think when Jake Arrieta saw him walking out to the mound in Game 6 he shouted, "Fuck me!" That is the way I felt over pretty much the entire World Series. Hendricks had settled down and was pitching like the superstar he became this year and removing him kind of screwed up the game, but it all worked out in the end. While I may have disagreed with him, sometimes you just have to trust in Joe because he knows best. I wish I could meet him and give him a hug because he was an absolutely essential component to the championship and he brought great happiness to millions of people.
Jake Arrieta: A
Jake threw the second no-hitter of his career this year, but everyone knows that he was better last year. People talk about the Cubs having 3 Cy Young contenders, but really it was just 2. Jake had a great year, make no mistake, but he was not nearly as dominant as he was last year. As a hitter, he improved, and he probably deserves to win the Silver Slugger. Also, a lot of people started talking about how he wasn't going to be on the Cubs much longer, that he was going to ask for more money than they'd be able to afford. This is sad and I hope it's not true. Jake should stick around at least as long as Lester and Hendricks do. He's now eligible for arbitration, whatever that means. I do arbitration all the time, but I still don't understand what it means in the baseball context. He will be a free agent in 2018, whatever that means (I feel like he's actually a free agent next year). He earned $10.7 million this year. That is a great salary. I hope he doesn't get too greedy. Please, ask for no more than $15 million per year, and the Cubs will pay that. Lester is making $20 million per year. Maybe he'll ask for that, but I hope he realizes that money is not everything, and that he probably already has more than he will ever need. I'd be happy to make $10 million in my entire life, let alone one year.
Anthony Rizzo: A+
While we're talking about money, let's see how much Rizzo made in 2016. $5 million. Now there is a player worth every penny. Rizzo blossomed a couple years ago, but this year he established himself as a bonafide MVP candidate. The only reason he won't win it is because Bryant had more impressive numbers. As a leader of this team, however, Rizzo is going to be taking over from David Ross. Leadership is an intangible that you can't attach a dollar sign to, but damn if Rizzo wasn't the best deal of 2016, I don't know what was. He probably deserves a Gold Glove at first base. I also appreciate the fact that he isn't married because a lot of baseball players get married too early and I think it's boring. My sisters have always conspired to marry Cubs players, and if my youngest sister, 22, could marry Rizzo then I would say I had died and gone to heaven to have him as a brother-in-law. On a similar note, now that the Cubs have won the World Series, I can die (relatively) peacefully.
Travis Wood: A-
I gave Travis Wood a B+ last year and I think his numbers were quite a bit better this year, so I'm giving him an A-. On another note, this is the first GIF I have ever posted on Flying Houses. I think this play says everything about his year. I'm not sure how much he made this year but it was a little bit more than Rizzo, I think, just under $6 million. Wood is a very valuable member of this pitching staff and the team in general. He has become a long reliever par excellence, he can do a spot start as #5 in the rotation, he can hit, and he can field. I hope he stays on this team for the next 10 years. If he does, by that point, he might be even more beloved than that other Wood...
Kris Bryant: A+
Bryant won Rookie of the Year last year, and he will win the MVP this year. His numbers are outstanding. And I was wrong when I said Rizzo was the best deal of 2016. Bryant made a paltry $652,000 in 2016. Bryant is humble, a good person, and yes has gotten even more attractive than he was last year. Last year I suggested more Cubs should give him "sensual hugs." I'm not sure if that happened or not, but if it did, it worked. There is a giant billboard outside of Wrigley Field, an ad for Express, showcasing Kris Bryant the model. He's proven that he's not just a pretty face. He's a superstar. He's 24 years old. Now he's signed through 2016, but he's arbitration-eligible in 2018, and a free agent in 2022. I have no idea what the fuck that means. I guess it means he's going to get a lot more money next year. He's worth $20 million per year. Actually he's probably worth more than that. He also deserves a Gold Glove. As with Travis Wood, I hope that "Brizzo" continues to remain the greatest 2-3 punch in baseball for the next ten years. They belong together, like Banks and Williams, or Sandberg and Dawson. Those guys are Hall of Famers, and unless there's some horrible reversal, these guys will be Hall of Famers in about 20-25 years.
Kyle Schwarber: A+
If you are looking for an even better deal than Bryant, Schwarber only made $522,000 in 2016. Again, I have no idea why he is only signed through 2016, but arbitration-eligible in 2018 and a free agent in 2022, but I guess it means he'll got a lot more money next year. Now, Schwarber does not quite warrant $20 million yet. Maybe a 1-year deal for $10 million. However, I think if he plays a full season, he may actually be better than Kris Bryant. Obviously, Schwarber was the best Cubs story of 2016. After suffering an injury very early in the season, before he had even gotten a hit, it looked like he'd be out til next spring. The day after the Cubs won the NLCS, they announced that he'd probably come in for the World Series. He did that, and he kicked major butt. He should be the World Series MVP, though he didn't have any really huge moments. He just hit extremely well and scored a few runs and made the Cubs a significantly more fearsome team than they otherwise would have been in Cleveland. The Cubs are very attached to Schwarber, and he promises to be an extremely valuable component of this team for years to come (the next 10?).
Chris Coghlan: B-
Again, I don't really know what to say about Chris Coghlan. He was off the team, and then they got him back from Oakland. I gave him a B- last year and nothing has changed. He had a serviceable regular season in the limited time he was with the Cubs, and he had a disappointing postseason. He posted a .000 batting average in the 2016 postseason but did manage to score a run. It seemed like it came down to him and Heyward and Soler platooning in left and right field, none of whom made a very big impact. I think the single most noteworthy thing about him was indirect: instead of demoting him to AAA, the Cubs demoted Tommy La Stella, who had slightly better numbers. La Stella infamously did not report to AAA and instead went to his home in New Jersey, considering an early retirement. Eventually he returned to the fold, went to AAA and then made the roster for the NLDS. Coghlan made the roster for the NLCS and World Series, but whatever, the team won, we should all just be happy.
Jorge Soler: B-
Soler had a weaker 2016 than 2015 in general. His postseason was not nearly as strong. He is signed through 2020, but I think he may be trade bait. I feel like he is not going to be traded immediately in the off season. He's still young, and he didn't play as often as last year, appearing in roughly half of the regular season games. Put it this way, for making just under $4 million this year, he is a bargain in comparison to Jason Heyward.
Dexter Fowler: A
Maybe an A is a bit inflated, but I gave him an A- last year, and I think he played slightly better this season. He was definitely a very important part of the playoffs. His leadoff home run in Game 7 of the World Series was a classic moment in a game that would have many more. Infamously, he was not on the team, and on the verge of signing with the Baltimore Orioles, when he showed up basically unannounced at spring training as a surprise signing. The team did well to re-sign him, and as I said last year, should bring him back. I am not sure exactly how much he got paid this year. One place I saw $13 million and two other places I saw $8 million, which I think was less than last year. I really should stop commenting on salary if I can't report it accurately. I do know that he has already rejected the $9 million mutual option for 2017, so the situation is TBD.
Miguel Montero: B
David Ross: A-
I also copped out last year by saying "He is okay," about David Ross. He was a team leader and a good catcher to Jon Lester, certainly strong defensively, but less of a threat as a hitter than many pitchers. For whatever reason in 2016, that changed. Instead of 1 home run during the regular season, he hit 10. His batting average went from .176 to .229. Okay .229 is nothing to write home about, but he basically just made better things happen this year. Look no further than his RBI total: 32 this year, as opposed to 9 last year--and last year he played in 5 more games. He hit 2 home runs in the postseason, including a big one in Game 7 of the World Series. He's a fan and team favorite all around, and he will be sorely missed.
Javy Baez: B+
Baez significantly increased his playing time in 2016 and put up much better numbers. He was a hero in the playoffs, making excellent plays in the NLDS and earning the MVP of the NLCS along with Jon Lester. His defense became his flashiest attribute, and he established himself as one of the fastest on the team. He cut down on his strikeout ratio--until the World Series. He struck out a lot in the World Series, but he redeemed himself slightly in Game 7. He also earned a quasi-rookie salary of $521,000 this year, and though he is only signed through 2016, he is apparently arbitration-eligible in 2019 and a free agent in 2022. He was trade bait last year, and while he may still be trade bait next year, his stock has gone up a lot. He is a valuable middle infielder and I hope he is another one of these players that will stick around for the next 10 years.
Addison Russell: A-
Jon Lester: A+
Kyle Hendricks: A+
Hendricks was under the radar for the last couple of years, but now that is no longer the case. I don't know if he or Lester will win the Cy Young, but I think both deserve it. Can't they be co-winners? He had the record for the lowest ERA in all of baseball in 2016, he won the clinching game of the NLCS, and he started and pitched wonderfully in Game 7 of the World Series. I disagreed with when he was taken out of the game, but it turned out okay in the end. The single most important thing this team can do to remain successful is to keep Lester, Hendricks and Arrieta together.
Jason Hammel: A-
Hector Rondon: B+
Pedro Strop: B+
Justin Grimm: B
Jason Heyward: C+
Jason Heyward was the most exciting off season pickup, and also had the most disappointing year. He gets a C+ because he played excellent defense and he may very well win a Gold Glove. But his hitting was not where it needed to be, at .230 with 7 home runs and 49 RBIs. Actually, he has not been a big power guy for a while. He did hit 27 homers in 2012, but over the past four seasons he has hit 14, 11. 13 and 7. He will become the highest paid player on the team next year, and it would be nice if he can turn it around.
John Lackey: A-
Lackey became the team's fourth starter and was brought in for his postseason experience. Overall, he performed admirably, with an 11-8 record and a 3.35 ERA, 188 IP and 180 strikeouts. Of course I didn't have quite as much confidence in him as the top 3 in the rotation, but he was a solid pickup that did what he was supposed to do for the team.
Ben Zobrist: A
Willson Contreras: A-
Cubs roster breakdown: Players expected to return, depart for 2017 season. Okay, my feeling on Contreras is this: he is Kyle Schwarber Part 2. Just like Schwarber, he came up around the halfway point of the season as a rookie catcher. He impressed, and he made the postseason roster, and played a critical role in it. It is interesting to compare him to Schwarber because their numbers are close. Kyle had 232 at bats and Willson had 252. KS had 16 homers to WC's 12. WC had a batting average of .282 to Kyle's .246. Kyle had 43 RBIs and Willson had 35. In short, excellent rookie half-campaigns. Not quite Rookie of the Year worthy, but damn impressive. I'll admit, Contreras slumped pretty badly versus the Indians, but he was extremely impressive against San Francisco and quite good against Los Angeles. A lot of people will probably say that you don't need both WC and KS, but they can play other positions too. Also, Contreras bats righty and Schwarber bats lefty, so they kind of are the perfect catcher combination. In summary, another player I hope sticks around for the next decade (but let's not get ahead of ourselves--let him prove himself over 162 games).
Mike Montgomery: A-
Yes, Montgomery was on the mound when the Cubs won the World Series, so he has one of the most special moments to "tell his grand-kids about." He pitched well in 17 appearances during the regular season and started 5 games. Like Travis Wood, he can occupy that #5 starter/long reliever position, but I still have greater faith in Wood at this juncture. He performed admirably in the postseason, probably a little better than the regular season. Guys that step it up (rather than disappear) in the postseason are special players that you hope to keep on the team. So I hope Montgomery stays.
Carl Edwards Jr. B+
Aroldis Chapman: A
There are a few other players I could mention (Matt Szczur, Albert Almora Jr., Trevor Cahill, Rob Zastryzny, Joe Smith, Tommy La Stella) but this feels longer than last year already. It has been a fun ride but I think I am just about ready to stop talking about it--for another 4 months at least.