As the 2018 fantasy baseball season approaches, we take a look at the biggest news and story lines from each club. We’ll feature one team each weekday … and we’ll finish up on Feb. 16, the first day all teams will have their pitchers and catchers on the field for workouts.
Series index: Schedule for all 2018 team previews
The two-time defending NL Central champions have one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the game. However, manager Joe Maddon’s penchant for using many different lineups — while increasing position eligibility — can sometimes lead to reduced playing time.
The offense is once again built around franchise cornerstones Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, while the pitching staff must fill an important hole created by the departure of free agent right-hander Jake Arrieta.
2017 at a glance
Record: 92-70 (1st in NL Central)
Hitting: 4th (5.07 R/G)
Pitching: 7th (3.95 ERA)
Park Factor, scoring: 5th (1.131)
Park factor, HR: 15th (1.005)
RP Brandon Morrow
SP Tyler Chatwood
Morrow looks like the odds-on favorite to close with free-agent Wade Davis leaving for Colorado. He has been plagued by injuries throughout his 11-year career, but was a major cog in the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen a year ago — posting a 2.06 ERA and 10.3 K/9 rate as a setup man.
As a member of the Rockies rotation, Chatwood was a victim of the Coors Field Effect — posting an ERA of 6.01 at home and 3.49 on the road last season. (The difference was even more pronounced in 2016: 6.12 in Colorado, 1.69 elsewhere.) He’s a heavy ground-ball pitcher, which should help in the Windy City, but doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff (6.1 K/9 rate in his career).
Players to watch
3B Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
C Willson Contreras
SP Jose Quintana
Bryant’s power numbers dropped a bit from his MVP-winning 2016 season, but he still hit .295, with 29 homers and 111 runs. The biggest difference was an increase in walk rate from 10.7% to 14.3%. That shouldn’t be a bad thing.
Rizzo has been a model of consistency, with almost identical totals in homers (30+), runs (90+) and RBI (100+) in each of the last three seasons.
A good case can be made for Contreras as one of the top three catchers in fantasy. He slugged 21 home runs last year, despite missing a month with a hamstring injury. With no clear backup to siphon playing time, he’ll give fantasy owners a huge advantage in counting stats.
Quintana will likely slot as the Cubs’ No. 3 starter, but he’ll be the first one taken in fantasy drafts. Moving to the NL in midseason, the left-hander, 29, went 7-3 in 14 starts for the Cubs and posted his first 200-strikeout season.
2B/SS Javier Baez
OF Kyle Schwarber
After years of serving as a super-utility player, Baez will likely be the everyday second baseman. He hit 23 homers a year ago and improved his slugging percentage to .480. Though his 28% strikeout rate is a concern, he still contributes some serious pop from a middle infielder. And he’ll still carry his dual eligibility into the season.
Speaking of striking out, Schwarber whiffed at a 31% clip last year. Couple that with a .244 BABIP that was 10th-worst among players with at least 400 plate appearances, and you have one terrible season. But … he did have 30 homers and posted a .910 OPS at home. Entering his age-25 season, any improvement vs. lefties could bring significant results.
Closer: Brandon Morrow
Next: Carl Edwards Jr.
Health is the biggest issue for Morrow, but his fastball/slider combo produced outstanding results in a comeback 2017 season. The Cubs could still sign someone else to close, but Morrow can handle the job.
Edwards (2.98 ERA, 12.7 K/9) thrived in a setup role, despite an elevated walk rate. He held opposing batters to a .134 average.
It’s anyone’s guess how Maddon will arrange his outfield. Schwarber and Ben Zobrist could platoon in left. Albert Almora and Ian Happ could split time in center. Defensive standout Jason Heyward could spend more time on the bench if his hitting doesn’t improve.
No Cubs outfielder reached 500 plate appearances last season. That could be the case again in 2018.
SP Adbert Alzolay
You really have to dig to find a Cubs prospect even close to contributing in the majors. Happ marked the end of the bumper crop once he was promoted last season. Perhaps Alzolay, 22, makes the jump from Class AA by next season.
Projected batting order
1. CF Ian Happ/Albert Almora
2. 3B Kris Bryant
3. 1B Anthony Rizzo
4. C Willson Contreras
5. LF Kyle Schwarber/Ben Zobrist
6. SS Addison Russell
7. RF Jason Heyward
8. 2B Javier Baez
1. LHP Jon Lester
2. RHP Kyle Hendricks
3. LHP Jose Quintana
4. RHP Tyler Chatwood
5. LHP Mike Montgomery