Last offseason it was the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox or Chicago White Sox, seasons previous it was the Los Angelas Angels of Anaheim; the amount of teams that have “won” in December only to lose in the summer stacks higher than the Sears Tower.
That tower resides in Chicago, however, and don’t count on another level being added next season after the Chicago Cubs and Theo Estein will officially leave Nashville, TN the clear winners of the Winter Meetings this year.
No, the Cubs offseason will translate to the “W” flag flying high throughout the season.
The Cubs “splashy” moves the last two offseasons are more about supplementing defeciencies in a lineup than it is about trying to create a lineup through free agency. Last year the Cubs needed a frontline starter as well as a left-handed starter, no surprise, Jon Lester is their top target.
This offseason, the Cubs needed mid-rotation pitching depth as well as improved outfield defense and contact/on-base skills throughout the lineup. Guess what? The targets are Lackey, Heyward, and Zobrist. All of whom check each box for the Cubs.
We did an in-depth analysis on how many wins the acquisitions of Zobrist, Lackey, and Adam Warren improved the Cubs roster by. Well, if you haven’t heard yet, the Cubs landed this Heyward guy a little earlier today. The two-fold benefit of signing Heyward to an 8 year, 184 million dollar contract is that it takes him off of the rival Cardinals roster.
We will have a full write up on the Heyward signing and what it means for the Cubs later, but for now we pose the question: If a team isn’t able to WIN games in December, is it possible for a team to LOSE them?
Typically free agent signings do not have such a significant impact on a division opponent as this offseason signings have on the Cardinals. A quick summary. Before losing to the Cubs last postseason, the Cardinals won the NL CENTRAL by 2 games over the Pirates and 3 games over the Cubs.
After beating the Cardinals, the Cubs would go on to be swept out of the playoffs by the Mets. Are the Cardinas partially to blame for that? Absolutely.
In baseball home field advantage is given to division winners regardless of win/loss record. So despite the fact that the Cubs had the best record left of all playoff teams when baseball was down to their final four, the series kicked off in New York. After losing both games in the big apple, the Cubs had their weak mid-rotation pitchers going up against the Mets studs at home.
Had the first two games been in Chicago could the outcome had been different? Of course it could have. We aren’t saying it would have, but there is a significant difference in ballparks between the Mets home field and Wrigley and a young pitcher such as Harvey having to perform in front of the hostile Wrigley Field crowd is a little more difficult than playing in front of your own fans.
My point? The Cubs need to win the division and make sure the road to the World Series in 2016 goes through Wrigley Field. What better way to do that than stealing wins away from the Cardinals in the offseason.
The Jason Heyward signing takes away a projected 4.7 wins above replacement for the Cardinals next season while John Lackey deal steals another 2.9 Wins. Last season the two combined for 9.6 Wins Above Replacemet Player.
Now let’s not kid ourselves, the Cardinals will bring in replacements for these players.
Let’s say the Cardinals bring in Alex Gordon to play RF. He is projected to be at 3.5 WARP next season. Then let’s say they sign Mike Leake, that’s another 2 WARP.
I’m not suggesting either of these moves take place but what I am doing is giving a realistic value that can be expected to replace Heyward and Lackey, and it’s towards the high-end.
So with the acquisitions of Heyward and Lackey, the Cubs take away a projected 7.6 WARP from the division-rival Cardinals and two players that were worth nearly 10 actual wins last season.
If the Cardinals were to acquire Alex Gordon and Mike Leake to replace those players they would recoup 5.5 WARP.
Last year the Cubs lost the division by three games, which cost them home field advantage throughout the NL Playoffs. Now, in theory they just stole 2.1 wins away from the Cardinals before any pitch has been thrown.
Throw in the moves to add Ben Zobrist, Adam Warren and the bullpen depth? It may be fair to say that while the Cubs haven’t necessarily WON any games this offseason, the Cardinals definitely have LOST some.