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SportsMonday: Cubs Will Not Finish Last

Any system that determines the Cubs will finish under .500 and last in the division in 2019 is goofy.

There is a great chance there will be more issues for this team than there were last year - veteran pitchers are a year older and they didn't add a big time arm or two in the bullpen like we thought they would, so more turmoil there is slightly more probable than not.

But this team won 95 games last year. It won 95 with its best hitter missing 60 and struggling with the after-effects of an injured shoulder for half of the rest of them. It won 95 with an absolute ace pitcher sidelined virtually throughout. There might be something I'm missing but I don't think so.

I have one reservation. We need a promise from that "best" guy, Kris Bryant, that he is through with sliding head-first, especially into first base for gosh sakes. If Bryant refuses to make that promise, then maybe there is a 1 or 2 percent chance the Cubs plummet to the basement.

If Theo and Jed have proven anything during their Cubs tenure, it is that they will find ways to make moves to improve the bullpen when necessary. If one of the Cubs' veteran starters gets hurt, as they are more likely to do with every passing year, they have Mike Montgomery at the ready to step in. I'm not even talking about Tyler Chatwood until he is able to give the team, I don't know, three outings in real games that don't suck?

At this point, Kyle Schwarber is a platoon player. He hasn't hit left-handers well enough to justify his playing left field ahead of Ian Happ or Ben Zobrist or whoever else might be in the lineup against a southpaw starter.

But he is a hell of a platoon player. He had 26 home runs last year and kept his on-base percentage above .350 for much of the season. The switch-hitting Ian Happ is the same way although with less power. The Cubs desperately need for one of those two to take one more step up and establish themselves as a well-above-average everyday player to feel better about their prospects for the next three or four years, but for the coming season, incremental improvement will be fine.

I was hoping the Cubs would trade Albert Almora for a prospect or two (I thought there would be some team out there willing to deal for a young, well-above-average defensive centerfielder). That would have opened up a spot for a better-hitting rightfielder (signed as a free agent or acquired in a trade) than they've had and enabled Jason Heyward to switch to playing mostly center, which is where he should be given his weak bat.

That didn't happen, but it doesn't change the fact that with the outfielders they have, the Cubs can match up against anyone, and they have good players at the ready every day to substitute in against opposite-handed relievers later in games.

Yes, the lineup didn't work for the last month of last season. But my guess is that was an anomaly. Let's see what this crew can do in the coming season, especially with a healthy Bryant in the middle of the lineup taking pressure off other guys.

Speaking of possible trades, what is Victor Caratini still doing here? Yes, he was decent as a backup, switch-hitting catcher last year, but he isn't going to reach his potential backing up Willson Contreras and playing a game or two a month at first base. Get what you can for him and track down a veteran backstop.

Then again, I wonder if the Cubs will hang on to Caratini because they are worried about Contreras's long-term viability. A number of Cubs struggled down the stretch last year, but Contreras was the worst of the worst. He says he knows how to frame pitches better (rotate your glove rather than trying to pull the Little League move of moving it sideways), but when he gets even a little fatigued, he completely loses track of the sorts of little details that make a good catcher great.

He is one of the many players Theo was referring to when he said that, at this point, the Cubs leading lights are who they are going to be. The Cubs will be judging all of their players on what they are this season, not what they might be a little further down the line.

Baseball baby! It will be here soon.


Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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