With young stars, Cubs likely not fading after NLCS loss
CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs’ season had just ended when Anthony Rizzo made a bold prediction.
No, he didn’t promise another championship.
“We’re gonna consistently compete here for years to come,” Rizzo said. “That’s what this organization has been built on. We want to compete for a five- or six-year period, every single year. We’re in position to do that. We’re gonna be in a position next year to make a postseason run, but it’s not gonna come easy and it’s something we can’t take for granted.”
The Cubs started slow this season after beating Cleveland last year to win the World Series for the first time since 1908.
But they looked more like themselves in the second half, posting the best record in the National League after the All-Star break. Chicago finished with 92 wins to capture its second straight NL Central championship and beat Washington in a grueling Division Series.
The Cubs just couldn’t hang with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS and got knocked out in five games. Even so, this team was built to last and doesn’t appear to be fading anytime soon.
Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and rookie Ian Happ are all 25 or younger. Rizzo is hardly an old man at 28. The same goes for 27-year-old Kyle Hendricks.
Even so, some big questions loom for a team with three straight trips to the NLCS.
Topping the list is Jake Arrieta’s future since he has an expiring contract. John Lackey is likely on his way out. Closer Wade Davis has an expiring contract, and the bullpen struggled in the playoffs after a strong regular season.
Here are some things to know heading into the offseason:
ARRIETA OUT?: Arrieta got quite a send-off in Game 4 of the NLCS, if indeed that was his final start as a Cub.
He pitched three-hit ball into the seventh to help Chicago avoid a sweep and got a standing ovation as he walked off the mound.
“He’s so steady,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s kind of like that stoic figure that you’d like to have, kind of unflappable in most situations. So every team wants guys like that.”
The trade that brought Arrieta from Baltimore in July 2013 helped fuel the Cubs’ rise. He is 54-24 over the past three seasons with a 2.71 ERA, two no-hitters and a Cy Young Award in 2015. But he turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency.
ROTATION MATTERS: The Cubs could have two rotation spots to fill with Arrieta and Lackey possibly gone.
One of them could go to Mike Montgomery. He made 14 starts and 44 appearances, finishing with a 7-8 record and 3.38 ERA.
The 38-year-old Lackey has an expiring contract and might retire.
DAILY DOSE: With his booming bat and limited skills in the field, Schwarber’s game appears made for the American League.
Maddon, however, insisted he can be an everyday player in the NL. He said Schwarber has improved his footwork on throws from left field but needs to take better routes on fly balls.
“So the stuff you see to this point that you don’t like maybe is very correctable,” Maddon said. “And when you have a guy that works like he does, you have to believe it’s going to happen.”
Though he hit just .211, Schwarber came on strong near the end of the season to finish with 30 home runs.
CLOSING TIME: The Cubs could be in the market for a closer for the second year in a row.
Aroldis Chapman signed with the Yankees last winter after a midseason trade brought him to Chicago from New York. Davis now has an expiring contract.
Acquired from Kansas City last winter, he converted 32 of 33 saves. But the three-time All-Star was shaky in the postseason with a 4.26 ERA.
NO RELIEF: President of baseball operations Theo Epstein insisted he has not lost faith in Carl Edwards Jr. and Montgomery despite their playoff struggles out of the bullpen. Edwards — like Montgomery — pitched well during the regular season.
“Those two guys who have been the ones struggling this postseason, they got the three biggest outs in Cubs history last year,” Epstein said, referring to the 10th inning of Game 7 at Cleveland. “They both had really good years, and they both finished strong.”