We’re less than a month away from spring training, and boy if you’re feeling short on narratives, just you wait. As soon as the Cubs convene you’ll see plenty of, “What do we do now?” stories or “Do fans care now?” and the rest. There will be plenty of stories on how being a fan and on the Cubs is different now, and whether it’s as special or more special or whatever else.
Other landmark championships weren’t quite followed up The 2005 Red Sox made it to the playoffs, barely, and then were thwacked by the White Sox. The 2006 White Sox in a lot of ways were actually better than the 2005 Sox, but didn’t catch lightning in a bottle with the rotation as they did in ’05.
What I think this Cubs organization realize, and I wonder if the fans are starting to catch on, is that this year brings a unique opportunity, and hence urgency.
The Cubs are bringing back almost the exact same team as the one that was the best team in baseball last year. They’ve lost the closer, but brought one in who was the best in the game not so long ago. There is room for improvement in places, as a full season from Schwarber and any kind of bounce-back from Heyward could make up for whatever might slide from last year.
Which means the Cubs are in a unique position to repeat. And no one’s done it in 17 years. It’s only been done three times in 40 years, if you consider the Yankees run from 98-2000 as one (and we will because, fuck the Yankees). Whereas other sports require more than two championships to be considered to be walking among the giants, anyone who repeats in baseball now is that. The 2016 team will be remembered forever, but this is a chance here and I’m sure the Cubs will know it.
As their Chicago compatriots the Hawks can tell them, the opportunity to repeat is a rare one. The Hawks had to gut their first championship team immediately. Their second one was an odd bounce away from doing it. Their third one was a basically a roping together of a bunch of chances and surges coming together just long enough to win and then fell apart the next season. They’re unlikely to be in a position like that ever again, and it’s debatable whether they can even win one again.
While I am very confident the Cubs will win another World Series or two or four, what’s not guaranteed is being able to bring back the whole team again. In the future, the Cubs could have more free agents to be on their team, where this year it was basically Dexter Fowler and Travis Wood. The farm system might not be as stocked in the future to go get what they need, relying on repetitive performances from those already the major league roster. This might not happen again.
Also adding to the urgency is this is the last year the Cubs will have this rotation. Based on his comments at the convention, you have to believe it’s highly unlikely that the Cubs are going to hand Jake Arrieta the contract he wants and could get. While teams have become smarter about what it means to hand out contracts to pitchers, especially ones over 30, that doesn’t mean someone won’t. You have to believe the two Texas teams wouldn’t be shy about bringing Jake home. The Yankees will have a ton of money and a bunch of kids maturing. There will be suitors. Lackey is also going to go as well, most likely, leaving the Cubs with an aging Lester, Hendricks, and possibly Montgomery? That’ll depend on this season obviously, but what is Monty’s ceiling anyway?
Sure, that long-awaited trade for a younger starter probably comes to fruition. Or does it? The Sale ship has…ugh, sailed. The Quintana one is about to. Chris Archer? Sonny Gray? A Met? Possibly a fed up Gerrit Cole? Are any of these guarantees?
No pitcher ever is, but we can be pretty sure that Arrieta is going to be at least good this season and that Lackey will take the ball and probably not let you down (at least pitching-wise, not personality-wise). There will be more questions when they’re gone.
If Maddon needs a theme, perhaps it should center around seizing what’s in front of them and affirmation of what came before.