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Early Winner of MLB Free Agency? The Chicago Cubs

It’s been an exciting past few weeks for baseball fans. The Winter Meetings have come and gone, and we’ve already witnessed the unexpected in the Shelby Miller trade which sent the Diamondbacks 1st overall draft pick and Dansby Swanson to the Braves. On top of dealing away their top prospect, Arizona continued their trend of making moves by signing Zack Greinke, who was viewed by many as the top free agent this offseason. Even though we haven’t made it to Christmas yet, many of the top players have already been scooped up, and a handful of the best by the Cubs.

Chicago has already negotiated deals with John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward. In addition to those signings, and to justify their acquisition of Zobrist, the Cubs traded away shortstop Starlin Castro to the Yankees in exchange for Adam Warren and a player to be named later.

John Lackey was dominant in St. Louis last year, but wasn’t able to beat the Cubs in the Divisional Series (Cubs fans may remember him yelling at everyone after allowing a Javier Baez home run). Now he won’t have to worry about beating them since he joined them. Lackey posted a 2.77 ERA last season, the best in his career, at age 36. Lackey will be making $16 million each of the next two years in Chicago, which is sure to leave some fans skeptical because of his age. With a career ERA of 3.92, the addition of Lackey does look like a good idea on paper. If he can recreate what he was able to accomplish in 2015, the Cubs rotation will be a three-headed monster with Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and now John Lackey.

 Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs brought in Ben Zobrist on a 4 year, $56 million deal, likely to fill their void at 2nd base, and after getting rid of Starlin Castro shortly after Zobrist’s signing, it became pretty clear that he will be their everyday 2nd baseman with no competition. This allows Addison Russell to make his return to shortstop permanent and gives the Cubs a better defender at second than Castro. Plus, Zobrist is reunited with manager Joe Maddon who spent nine years with him in Tampa Bay. Besides serving as just a defensive upgrade, Zobrist brings a good eye and a ton of walks with him. He won’t hit for average, being just a .265 career hitter, but his career OBP is .355. Zobrist will be an integral part of the Cubs offense in 2016 and serve as a major veteran presence in a young clubhouse.

The third and most expensive move of the offseason for the Cubs was the signing of Jason Heyward. Chicago locked him up for 8 years and $184 million even though there were rumors that other teams had offered Heyward over $200 million (side note: I had projected him to go for 8 years and $192 million in my free agency article, so I was pretty close). It appears that Heyward will make the move from right field over to center field, which would allow the Cubs to keep Jorge Soler in their everyday lineup. Heyward was a three-time Gold Glove winner in right, which shows how much they believe in Soler out in right if they brought in Heyward to play center. There’s really no question about Heyward’s hitting ability. He will likely hit near the top of the order, so his stats won’t be too flashy, but he’ll put up solid numbers in the extra base hit category and have a high OBP. Also worth noting, Heyward had the second highest WAR among right fielders last season, only behind National League MVP Bryce Harper. The Cubs outfield will be a scary trio including Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, and Jorge Soler.

All Chicago has done this offseason is improve on an already stacked offense and add two key pieces to their pitching staff. This is a team that was a few victories away from the World Series and they look to be even more of a threat next year. Their biggest divisional foe will be St. Louis and they tried to neutralize that threat by signing two of their best players from a year ago. Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein are pulling all the right strings in the front office this offseason. They have built a club that looks to be the NL front-runner in 2016.

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