Friday, December 8, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Cubs


I got to watch the 2023 Chicago Cubs play a game at Yankee Stadium this year, and I was very pleased with how many pieces had fallen into place. Some of the extra parts you didn't expect to kick into gear, like Miles Mastrobuoni, Mike Tauchman and Javier Assad, put up some excellent stuff against us, even if the Yankees small-balled Drew Smyly away to pick up the W. 

The Cubs, generally, had more to come away with this year than they did in any year since the exodus. Not all of the tune-up signings worked, but Dansby Swanson sure did, and he brought out the best in people like Nico Hoerner, Chris Morel and Yan Gomes. Plus, Justin Steele brought ace material, on a season that should have earned him more Cy Young votes than it did. It was an excellent effort foiled by a messy September, but it's a year this Cubs squad can build on, especially with Craig Counsell in the driver's seat. 

You can tell the Cubs are finding themselves because Patrick Wisdom, who was deemed a necessary and vital player during the dark ages, had less to do this year than ever. Yes, Wisdom still hit 23 homers, but with only a .205 average, and 11 strikeouts in 97 games. He was also a defensive liability, which led to both Nick Madrigal and, eventually, Jeimer Candelario, being plugged in at third longer term.
2024 Prediction: Midyear cut. It ain't 2021 anymore, folks.

After some decent seasons in New York, Jameson Taillon was brought on for a multi-year deal in Chicago, in the hopes that he'd be a solid mid-rotation option for a while. Taillon delivered on the grounds of consistency and innings-eating, making 30 starts and totaling 150 innings, with 140 Ks. His ERA was close to 5, and his 8-10 record wasn't to the standard Stroman and Steele were setting, but he proved a reliable third-man in a season that thankfully didn't require many starting reinforcements.
2024 Prediction: He's due for a lower-ERA season, and I think his first half is gonna impress a lot of people.

I can admit to being one of the people who had counted Kyle Hendricks out, as I saw a start of his in 2021 and it wasn't great at all, despite having so much respect for everything he'd done for this team since 2015. Though he had a later start than usual, Hendricks blossomed into a skilled performer for this Cubs team, even at 33, and his 3.74 ERA was the lowest by a Cubs starter not named Steele. Now going into the last year on his Cubs contract, Hendricks has recouped some goodwill and looks to be a big part of a different-looking rotation.
2024 Prediction: Finishes strong, with a consistent, classic year [down in Ks] that opens him up for a modest end-of-career contract, possibly even still in Chicago. 

With the rise of people like Javier Assad, Hayden Wesneski and Keegan Thompson, it was looking like there was even less of a place for Adbert Alzolay in the Cubs' pitching plan than ever. Then, despite the presence of a few actual closers in the bullpen, Alzolay found himself ahead in the depth chart, and thereby given the ninth. As a closing man, Alzolay found his groove, with 22 saves, a 2.67 ERA and a 1.8 WAR, finally confirming his place on these forthcoming teams.
2024 Prediction: The team trusts him with the ninth permanently, and he becomes one of the league's great closers. 

For my money, one of the most fitting trade deadline deals happened when the Cubs finally staged a reunion between them and Jeimer Candelario, the third base prospect they'd dealt to Detroit in exchange for Alex Avila. Candelario had become a well-loved power bat in Detroit, and had gotten off to an excellent start in Washington, so the trade was set. Upon arriving in Chicago, Candelario, though not to Washington standards, delivered on some solid 3rd base, and hit .234 with 6 homers and 17 RBIs in 41 games. Not bad, but perhaps not the playoff-making performance I figured.
2024 Prediction: I question why exactly the Reds would want to plug someone like Candelario into an infield of mostly youngsters that's relatively set, but I think the hope is that Candelario provides a first-half veteran aid to the team that can be phased out over time, which I reckon will happen. Maybe some June 2023 style numbers at times, but I don't see this working out as well.

With a rare hole in their rotation, thanks to injuries to Marcus Stroman and the demotion of Hayden Wesneski, the Cubs turned to a rookie named Jordan Wicks who had done quite well for himself in Iowa. In 7 MLB games, Wicks went 4-1 with 24 Ks, though his ERA ballooned to 4.41 despite an impeccable debut. With some competition for that fifth spot, Wicks will have to prove himself in spring training to ensure the continuation of his MLB progress.
2024 Prediction: Some Rookie of the Year votes for sure. 

And then you have the golden boy. The Cubs' system's pride and joy for the last few years, a huge-tier prospect named Pete Crow-Armstrong, who got the call for the stretch run this year. PCA is going to be something for the Cubs, let's be clear on that, but through 13 games he could not muster a hit, despite batting a run in and stealing two bases. It's not a damning stat yet, but considering that a similar immediate slump befell fellow Cubs prospect Matt Mervis earlier this year, it's slightly worrying.
2024 Prediction: Not an Opening Day roster pick, but will get back here and make up for this last-month stuff. With apologies to Wicks, PCA might be a ROY favorite for 2024.

Coming Tomorrow- There's only a few D-Backs left I didn't get to during the season. 

1 comment:

  1. Counsell being the only signing the Cubs has made so far is quite concerning. There are still several holes to fill in. Thanks for the recap and Merry Christmas!