With baseball almost upon us again, I elected to take my Cubs Corner column out of mothballs (from a previous website) and reinvent it for the 2021 MLB season. While I don’t expect the Cubs to do much in 2021 (more on that later), I’d be remiss not to cover them. Hell, I’ve been a die-hard fan for almost 50 years.
Before we start looking forward to 2021, let"s take a final look at the Cubs, as we all got to know and love them, from 2020 – the last year with the core who should have become a dynasty, but never materialized.
Cubs Corner: Pitchers and Catchers Report Date Looming
With the exact date still to determined, the time for pitchers and catchers to report to their respective Spring Training facilities is looming – but so is COVID-19. In a recent article by Overtime Heroics Ben Able, it is now being reported that the Cactus League has asked for a delayed start due to COVID concerns in Arizona.
Thus far, Rob Manfred has vowed a 162 game season, but that"s not a promise he can make (yet), as COVID-19 continues to upset the apple cart. If all goes well, the Cubs are expected to play their Opening Day series against the Pirates (at Wrigley Field) on April 1st; that series will be backed up with another three-game home set against the Brewers from April 5th through April 7th.
Cubs Corner: Is David Ross Being Set Up For Failure in 2021?
First-year manager David Ross served Chicago well, taking the Cubs to the postseason with a first-place finish in 2020. The Miami Marlins, however, proved to be too much, as the Cubs were eliminated during the Wild Card Round.
Fast forward to 2021, and Ross has had most of his most valuable tools stripped out from beneath him. Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini are gone. Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood walked away as free agents, while Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., and others were non-tendered.
With four of their five regular starters gone, the only veteran addition to the pitching staff has been Zach Davies. Alec Mills will likely gain a spot in the starting rotation, but beyond that, there are still rumors floating around about a package deal with Kyle Hendricks and Kris Bryant (to the Blue Jays). The Mets are also reportedly showing interest in Bryant.
The Cubs have said they didn"t plan on competing in 2021, but when you are lined up to be on the par with the Pittsburgh Pirates, something isn"t right. Tom Ricketts has since backpedaled a bit on that stance. Time will tell…
David Ross has the skills to lead the team, and personally, I think he"s far better for the organization than Joe Maddon was. Maddon served his purpose, bringing a World Series Championship to the 2016 Cubs, but after 2017, it was clear that the tail was wagging the dog.
David Ross has the ability to excel, but he can"t do it without a roster that is able to compete. If Rossy can make something out of this 2021 Cubs team, he deserves to be named manager of the year. The Pirates and Reds are both weakened, Milwaukee has pretty much just held firm, and even without guys like Kolten Wong, the Cards still seem to be the odds-on favorites to take the NL Central in 2021. Godspeed, Rossy, you have your work cut out for you.
Cubs Corner: Just Three Notable Additions Thus Far
Not that Zach Davies and some teen-to-twenties rated prospects were worth Darvish and Caratini, but that"s exactly what the Cubs bartered for with the Padres. There"s little doubt they are tanking this season, though the addition of Joc Pederson last week does resemble more of a retool/rebuild.
Yes, pending a physical, Joc Pederson will be playing for Chicago this year, most likely replacing Schwarber in left, when not serving as a backup for Anthony Rizzo at first. Pederson"s 2020 numbers were abysmal but not much worse than Schwrber"s were, save for fewer homers and a handful of RBIs.
The only other notable name added to the Cubs roster for 2021, has been that of veteran Tigers catcher Austin Romine. Romine is no Caratini with the bat, but his veteran presence could further help Willson Contreras with pitch framing, assuming the Cubs don"t decide to trade him as well. There have been some rumors about Contreras going to the Yankees, but a lot depends on what NY elects to do about Gary Sanchez.
Cubs Corner: Is Theo Epstein MLB"s Next Commissioner?
When Theo Epstein walked away from his final tear as the Cubs president of Baseball Ops, he announced he"d be taking the year away from MLB, hoping to return as a team owner. We all knew that wouldn"t last long. While I had Epstein figured as Steve Cohen"s new man (Mets), Epstein wound up taking a job as a consultant for MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred.
With the current CBA expiring at the end of this season, Epstein has been tasked with “putting a better product on the field;" something Manfred has failed to do since his inception into the position. A strike/lockout looms, and Epstein could be the guy to save the day.
Epstein is liked by players, his peers, owners and MLB, and could slide nicely into the Commissioner"s chair, if and when the owners have finally had enough of Manfred. The Commissioner"s job is to put a better product on the field, so why task Epstein with that? Unless, of course, MLB owners are looking for a change. MLB has suffered quite the bad-blood scenario with its players, and Epstein may be the guy to iron all of this out.
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main image credit Embed from Getty Images