Tha Sports Junkies 101

Chicago Cubs Bright Future Just Became Brighter

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Chicago Cubs

With the resigning of top executives, the Chicago Cubs future looks brighter than ever

Earlier this week, the Chicago Cubs announced a 5 year contract extension for president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. Most baseball fans know Epstein simply by his name but to Cubs fans, he is often referred to as the mastermind behind the Cubs recent success. Epstein is in part responsible for this record-setting team that the north side runs on the field everyday. In just 5 short years, Epstein has brought this team from worst to first by tearing this team down and rebuilding it from scratch.

Epstein of course has not been alone in the rebuilding of this franchise. General manager Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod have also had big roles in rebuilding this Cubs team.

On Friday, the Cubs announced that Hoyer and McLeod would also receive 5 year contract extensions making all three executives signed through the 2021 season. That 2021 season is very important because All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant will also be free agents at seasons end. That is still 5 years away though and many Cubs fans are not even looking that far down the road.

The 2016 version of the Chicago Cubs is arguably the best in franchise history. They have already won 102 games and could produce both the NL Cy Young and NL MVP. Some experts believe the NL MVP will come down between Rizzo and Bryant. These two are big buddies and have been nicknamed “Bryzzo” due to the fact that they bat 2nd and 3rd in a very dangerous Cubs lineup.

It is easy to see why many think the MVP race runs through the north side this year. Bryant leads the Cubs with 39 home runs and a .293 batting average. Rizzo is not far behind with 32 home runs and a .292 batting average. Both of these superstars were drafted under the reign of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Rizzo of course was drafted in Boston and followed Hoyer to San Diego and then to Chicago. It was not until he reached Chicago that his career really took off and he changed into an All-Star first baseman.

Bryant on the other hand could have very well ended up a part of the Houston Astros. They had the first pick in the 2013 draft but skipped over Bryant who was then picked up by the Cubs with the second pick. All he has done since his MLB début on April 17th, 2015 is hit 65 home runs and record 201 RBI’s. Remember that he did not play a full season in 2015 but was kept down in the minor leagues for about 2 weeks at the beginning of the season so the Cubs could pick up another year of control on him. This was a smart move by the front office to make sure that “KB” stays with the Cubs as long as possible.

Bryant and Rizzo are just two examples of great moves by Hoyer, Epstein and McLeod; but this Cubs team is far deeper than just two players. There is All-Star shortstop Addison Russell who the Cubs acquired when they traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics in 2014. Russell was one of the A’s top prospects and has developed into one of the best defensive shortstops in the game today. He leads the NL with a 2.7 defensive WAR and ranks 5th in assists. His double-play mate Ben Zobrist was acquired this offseason from the Kansas City Royals after winning a World Series. Zobrist was an All-Star second baseman this season but can also play left field when needed. After the injury to Kyle Schwarber on April 7th, the Cubs have used many players to play left field. Among them are: Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler,  and even pitchers Travis Wood and Pedro Strop.

Part of what makes this Cubs team so great is the fact that most of them can play different positions and still produce at the plate. Take Kris Bryant for example; he has played third base, left field, right field, and first base. Talk about an MVP, a player that can play 4 different positions and hit 39 home runs is very rare these days.

All this goes back to the executives. Hoyer, Epstein and McLeod have pieced together this Cubs team to make it the best possible team day in and day out. Manager Joe Maddon has endless amounts of combinations that he can run out depending on the situation. With the return of spark plug Dexter Fowler, this Chicago Cubs team has scored 790 runs (3rd most in the majors) and recorded a .343 OBP (2nd in the majors).

As if this Cubs team was not already good enough, Epstein and Hoyer went out this offseason and signed gold glove outfielder Jason Heyward. Not only does Heyward provide great defense but the move also got Heyward away from the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Heyward has not produced very well at the plate this season as he is only hitting .228 with 7 home runs. His bat has not been missed but he will need to kick it up a notch if he wants to remain in the lineup.

Heyward was not the only player the Cubs took away from the Cardinals this offseason. Pitcher John Lackey was brought in to provide a veteran presence to a rather young Cubs rotation. Lackey has a lot of postseason experience and paired with Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, this Cubs rotation becomes really scary.

Kyle Hendricks is the 2016 version of the 2015 Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta. Arrieta posted a 1.77 ERA last season earning him Cy Young honors for the first time in his career. Hendricks is following that same path. With his last start, Hendricks lowered his ERA to an MLB best 1.99. He is firmly in the discussion for the award and if he can lower his ERA even further, he may become the winner. Hendricks will have one more opportunity to lower that sparkling ERA. That chance will come on October 2nd against the Cincinnati Reds.

Hendricks is another perfect example of a great move made by the Cubs front office. Right before the 2012 trade deadline, the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Hendricks and another player. The potential that the Cubs executives saw in Hendricks is paying off 4 years later.

Yes this team can hit the ball and yes this team can throw shutouts but the real test for a team comes defensively. The Cubs are the only team in baseball with a positive defensive rating at every position. That is crazy to think about with  all of the mixing and matching the Cubs have done this season. Addison Russell is already one of the best defensive players in the game not to mention the gold glover patrolling right field. Kris Bryant was never known for his glove but has proven people wrong and developed into a great defensive player both at third base and in left field. His fellow corner infielder Anthony Rizzo is arguably one of the best first baseman in the game of baseball. Night after night, fans can watch Rizzo dig balls out of the dirt and make great plays on balls bunted in front of the mound and occasionally even makes plays on balls hit into the stands. All this adds up to the Chicago Cubs having a .983 fielding percentage on the year.

Just about every Cubs player that is on the roster was either drafted or signed by Epstein and Hoyer. You would be hard pressed to find a player that has been with the Cubs more than five seasons. It’s the ideal that Epstein brought to the Cubs in 2011. He completely got rid of all the old players and drafted and signed the ones he knew would fit into his system of baseball. That system is winning and that’s what brought an end to the Boston Red Sox World Series drought under the control of Epstein.

Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod have been working together for a while now and they know how to build a World Series team. In Chicago, they have assembled a team that can hit, pitch and defend at record levels. As I stated earlier, this is the best Cubs team the franchise has ever seen. The scary part about it is the fact this team can be good for another 3, 4, 5 or even 6 years. With the contract extension of Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod that bright future for the Chicago Cubs just got a lot brighter.