When the 2020 MLB Pro season began, the Chicago Cubs had moderate expectations – do better than 2019, and treat every season as sacred. They accomplished both of those goals. The former: 67 wins was an increase of 6 from the year prior, good for a grand total of 14 more wins when compared to field manager Mitsuo Kawakami’s first season in 2018. The latter: when the team found themselves just 5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals, they made a few roster moves to see if they could close the gap, acquiring veteran relief pitchers and promoted top prospect LF Yordan Alvarez.
The moves did not pay off, but it was a reassuring signal to the clubhouse and the fanbase that GM Justin Jabs was back, paying attention, and eager to get back to competitive baseball sooner rather than later.
67-95 put the Cubs back in the cellar of the NL Central Division and gives them the 4th overall pick in next year’s draft, behind Detroit, Atlanta, and Boston. Though they came short of their updated late-August goal of 73 wins, the team still had a few individual performances to celebrate after the final out of the season.
CF Ed Harris did not dissapoint in his sophomore campaign. The first full season of his career brought a team-leading 5.1 WAR, .308/.394/.432 triple slash, and 125 OPS+. He tired down the stretch, playing 157 games in total and hitting .209 in September which brought his on-base-percentage below the coveted .400 mark. Still, he finished 4th in the NL in batting average, 2nd in OBP behind former Cub Steve Winter, 6th in runs with 99, 2nd in stolen bases with 41, and 2nd in walks with 84. The Cubs hope to keep Harris fresh for the 2021 campaign so he can maintain his production for the entire season.
LF Yordan Alvarez joined the Cubs organization in September 2019 at the end of the international signing period. After tearing up the Winter Leagues with a 1.206 OPS and smashing the ball in 29 AA games, the Cubs decided to bring Alvarez to the majors on May 11th. It took him a month to catch up to major league pitching. But as the Chicago summer heated up, so did Alvarez, and he proved himself as a mainstay in left field for the Cubs for years to come. 19 homers and 110 hits in 110 games started turned out to be an impressive rookie campaign.
Rounding out the outfield, RF Candon Myles had another great season in 2020. He has always been able to smash right-handed pitching (to the tune of a .297/.373/.455 line in nearly 300 career big league games), but this season he broke out of his slumps against lefties, too, batting over .300 with an .810 OPS.
3B Pablo Sandoval proved to be a fine addition to the Cubs clubhouse, mentoring younger players while outperforming his 2019 numbers on the field. He hit more home runs, collected more RBIs, posted a better OPS, OPS+, and WAR in 30 fewer games than he played for Atlanta and Seattle last year. In 2021, Pablo’s yearly salary drops from $30 million to $15 million, giving the Cubs extra budget room should they find anything they like on the free agent market this year.
1B Bill Lowe‘s name was floated at the trade deadline this year, but the Cubs found no takers, and kept plugging him in at the #3 spot in the lineup. He responded with 102 RBIs, good for 4th in the NL. The Cubs hope to eventually slide Sandoval over to 1B and bring up top prospect Jake Burger to play 3B. Burger still needs more seasoning and the Cubs are happy to play Lowe until the time is right or perhaps the NL adopts the DH.
The rest of the infield was not as regular as the corner spots. 2B Yosuke Sasaki went to the All-Star Game this year but finished the season batting barely above .200 – a “three true outcomes” played without the pop who lead the NL in both walks (92) and strikeouts (203). Backup infielder Gioskar Amaya got way more playing time than expected after defensive-wizard SS Julian Garcia struggled to start the season. Both posted negative WAR. The Cubs started Spring Training 2021 early this year, giving MI Shaun Keppinger a look for 17 games in September. The key prospect from Milwaukee in the 2018 Zach McAllister trade struggled, but will still get consideration in March. C Jose Felix did his best to keep up with the pitching staff, but his bat may have finally fallen to the wayside, relegating him to a backup role in 2021 depending on how the 32 year old spends his offseason.
Next time… a look at the pitching! Perhaps.