Posted by Reese Kaplan at 10:00 AM
Right now the Cubs are sitting atop baseball with the best record in the game by a long shot at 24-6 as of Monday morning. They are doing it with a combination of pitching and power from a core of mostly very young ballplayers that look to ensure them competitiveness for the foreseeable future. They already have a trio of players having eclipsed 20 RBIs (by contrast the Mets have just one), and they’ve also gotten more than 20 from their two-headed shortstop combo of Addison Russell and Javier Baez.
What’s even more impressive is that they’re doing it without the services of Kyle Schwarber, their offensive-minded left fielder, who is out for the year with knee surgery after providing a rookie season in 2015 that helped them secure a pennant with 16 HRs and 43 RBIs in just 236 ABs.
The Cubbies have another hitter out with injury named Christian Villanueva who last season in AAA hit 20 HRs and 95 RBIs, though with a modest .259 average. He’s a third baseman who has Kris Bryant blocking him right now, but as you can see the hitters just keep on coming.
Also dwelling in the minors for Chicago is hefty first baseman Dan Vogelbach who’s hitting .287 for his career and .330 currently for the 2016 season. Speedster Arismendy Alcantara has not yet been caught stealing a base and is tied for the team lead in HRs.
Right now the Cubs have Ben Zobrist and David Ross playing every day who are 35 and 39 respectively, with Dexter Fowler a last minute addition at age 30 on a one-year deal that was necessitated by the injury to Schwarber. He’s off to a fast start, hitting .340 and earning his $9 million paycheck, but it’s probably 50-50 that he’d be back if the Cubs think Jorge Soler or Jason Heyward could handle CF duties.
On the pitching side of the ledger, you start off with reigning Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta. After toiling in Baltimore in mediocrity for the first four years of his career, he found his mojo in Chicago and has been nothing short of amazing since his first full season in 2014. He’s reeled off full seasons of 2.53 ERA and 1.77 ERA in back-to-back years and thus far in 2016 is pitching to a Bob Gibson-like 1.13. At age 30, he’s earning over $10 million. Next year he’s arbitration eligible. In 2018 he’s eligible to be a free agent. I’m sure Scott Boras is drooling over whatever Arrieta gets as a baseline for his client, Matt Harvey.
After that comes a slew of veteran hurlers. The Achilles heel to Chicago’s eventual success may indeed be the age of their rotation. John Lackey is 37 and thus far pitching to a 4.02 ERA. He’s around for one more year at $16 million after this one. Jon Lester is younger at age 32 and thus far been brilliant. The Cubs have him locked up through 2020 at a minimum. Jason Hammel has been pretty mediocre throughout his career but at age 33 he’s turning in his best stretch of work thus far with a 4-0 start and a 1.85 ERA. The Cubbies hold a $10 million option on him for next year. The lone sub-30 year old in the rotation is right hander Kyle Kendricks who is entering his third big league season and pitching well with a 3.10 ERA. Given the huge investment the Cubs have in older arms, you can bet they’re banking on a lot from this budget option for the next few years until his big payday comes due.
In the bullpen the Cubs have a dominant reliever by the name of Hector Rondon who has simply gotten better and better since making his debut at age 25 in 2013. That year he posted a 4.76 ERA in middle relief. He followed that up with taking over closer duties in 2014 and responded with 29 saves, a 4:1 K to BB ratio and a tidy WHIP of just 1.058 while lowering his ERA to 2.42. Last year he reached 30 saves and lowered the ERA to 1.67 while approaching a 5:1 K to BB ratio. This year he’s even stingier, with a 0.67 ERA though his K numbers are down a bit. He’s earning $4.2 million this year, arbitration eligible in 2017 and potentially a free agent in 2018.
Going forward the Mets are going to have the edge in pitching but they will need to address some of the offense. Lucas Duda is going into arbitration eligibility next year and then potentially a free agent. Neil Walker is a free agent at the end of this season. You have Asdrubal Cabrera for one more season. Curtis Granderson is likely gone (or at least no longer a starter) after 2017. If Yoenis Cespedes continues as he’s started he will likely see if he can join Miguel Cabrera, Zach Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and David Price in the $30 million per year club.
The Mets’ guaranteed offensive nucleus is Michael Conforto. David Wright is a question mark due to health. Juan Lagares is still more about defense than offense. Wilmer Flores is the opposite. Travis d’Arnaud has yet to prove he can stay healthy. Kevin Plawecki hasn’t proven he can hit.
Gavin Cecchini has had one solid season thus far in the minors. Brandon Nimmo hasn’t even put one together (and has his own health issues). Dilson Herrera has put up very nice numbers in the minors but has looked overmatched in two brief trials in the majors. The rest of Las Vegas is AAAA filler types. In the lower minors you do have some interesting bats in Wuilmer Becerra and Dom Smith, but neither are yet showing much in the way of power. Still, solid contact is nothing to sneeze at.
If, as they say, championships are won with pitching, then the Mets fans can relax. They have that in abundance now and for the foreseeable future. Still, the offense does look a little shaky going forward, particularly if some of the eligible free agents do choose to depart and health maladies continue to afflict some key players.