The 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs will begin their quest to repeat as champions this week as they start their spring training schedule Feb. 25.
With the celebration parade and their White House visit behind them, their home opener on April 10 versus the Los Angeles Dodgers will cap off their magical 2016 season. The Cubs will raise their championship flags and have their ring ceremony on national television before the game.
Keeping their roster together was very important for their future, Chicago started by re-signing president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to a five-year contract. Over a month later, the retooling process began with the departure of their all-star centerfielder.
In his last game as a Cub, Dexter Fowler led off game seven of the World Series with a home run to straight away center that propelled the Cubs to their first championship in 108 years. On Nov. 6, Fowler declined his mutual option for the 2017 season and later signed with longtime Cubs rival St. Louis Cardinals.
On the same day, this past November, Chicago declined to exercise the option of starting pitcher Jason Hammel. The Cubs also decided to not pursue closer Alrodis Chapman in free agency, who would re-sign with his former team, the Yankees.
With their leadoff spot and centerfield position open, along with a back-end starting pitcher and a closer, Chicago used free agency to reload their roster. Their first solution came from within the organization.
Relief pitcher Mike Montgomery closed out the 10th inning for Chicago in game seven to earn the save and was a vital part of the bullpen throughout the postseason. Montgomery who has starting experience in recent years will transition back to a starting role to become the Cubs fifth starter and provide them with a second lefty to their rotation.
This internal move left a need for another arm in the bullpen. In early December, Chicago made a bold trade for closer Wade Davis in exchange for right-handed slugger Jorge Soler. With the return of Kyle Schwarber, there was simply not enough at-bats for Soler in 2017.
Davis has been all-star closer the past two seasons in Kansas City, helping the Royals win the World Series in 2015 with four postseason saves in 10.2 innings, racking up 18 strikeouts.
In mid-December the Cubs signed right-hander relief pitcher Koji Uehara to a one-year deal. The former all-star closer with the Boston Red Sox, will turn 42 near the start of the season but will provide a much-needed veteran presence in the bullpen.
With Chicago confident in their new rotation and bullpen, their focus moved to the top of the lineup and centerfield. The leadoff spot is expected to be occupied by Schwarber or 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, as both display high on-base percentages, typical of Manager Joe Maddon.
The Cubs went out and signed former St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Jon Jay to a one-year contract. Jay provides legit competition in centerfield with young prospect Albert Almora Jr. The two are expected to share playing time and will often bat near the bottom half of the order.
The addition of Kyle Schwarber, made adding pitching pieces rather easy. Chicago quietly re-signed pitchers Jake Arrieta, Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm, along with bringing back fan favorite David Ross as a special assistant of baseball operations.
The Cubs did more than fill their roster over the offseason, reloading while keeping their main core players intact. In 2017, expect the Cubbies to be flying the blue “W” a lot, along with being favorites to repeat as champions.