Most of the positive energy is going in the direction of the Chicago Cubs, a team that took huge steps last season. They built on their season, which culminated with an appearance in the National League Championship Series. Adding free agents Jason Heyward (.293 batting average, 13 home runs, 60 runs batted in, .797 on base plus slugging), Ben Zobrist (.276, 13, 56, .809) and John Lackey (13 wins, 10 losses, 2.77 earned run average, 175 strikeouts, 218 innings pitched) certainly boosts their chances, especially since they signed away Heyward and Lackey from the division rival Cardinals. They also added complimentary pieces, such as re-signing center fielder Dexter Fowler (.250, 17, 46, .757) and trading for relief pitcher Adam Warren (7-7, 3.29, 104 Ks, just under 132 IP). While the addition of Warren is a positive one for the Cubs who can use him as a seventh or eighth inning reliever, or even as a starter in a pinch, it did come at a cost. The New York Yankees managed to net infielder Starlin Castro (.265, 11, 69, .671) in return for Warren just about straight up. I understand the Castro was expendable, but there is no doubt the Cubs could have gotten more in return for the 26 year-old.
What makes the Cubs additions so impressive is the fact that this team already possesses a ton of talent. 2015 National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant (.275, 26, 99, .858) emerged on the scene joined by catcher turned outfielder Kyle Schwarber (.246, 16, 43, .842). Of course, the Cubs also have star first baseman Anthony Rizzo (.278, 31, 101, .899), a player who has become one of the top two first baseman in the National League. Shortstop Addison Russell (.242, 13, 54, .696) was moved to his natural position last season, clearing the way for the Castro trade. Russell will become a better offensive player, he will hit for a higher average this season and will hit 20 plus home runs as long as he remains healthy. Catcher Miguel Montero (.248, 15, 53, .754) is back with the veteran David Ross (.176, 1, 9, .518) playing in his last big league season.
The Cubs lineup I would go with is Fowler CF, Zobrist 2B, Rizzo 1B, Bryant 3B, Heyward RF, Schwarber LF, Russell SS, Montero C. Manager Joe Maddon has some options with starting right fielder of 2015 Jorge Soler (.262, 10, 47, .723) playing in a backup role. Top infield prospect Javier Baez (.289, 1, 4, .732) will get a lot of playing time as well at multiple different positions. Another interesting player to look at is Arismendy Alcantara (2-26, 1 RBI, .303 OPS). His 2016 numbers were shameful, but he is another young talented Cubs player who can play multiple positions.
The Cubs, by the way, also have the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner in Jake Arrietta (22-6, 1.77, 236, 229) coming off one of the more dominating seasons in recent memory. Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34, 207, 209) was brought in on a big deal in the prior off season. Lackey is a big improvement as the number three starter, with 2015 forth and fifth starters, Jason Hammel (10-7, 3.74, 170, just under 172 IP) and Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95, 176, 167) get to slide back in the rotation, making it the every bit more formidable.
The Cubs bullpen is still suspect, though right handed closer Hector Rondon (6-4, 1.67, 30 saves, 78 Ks, 69 IP) established himself as a very reliable piece. Adding Warren helps as he joins righties Justin Grimm (3-5, 1.99, 67 Ks, just under 50 IP) and Pedro Strop (2-6, 2.91, 81, 68). Left handed pitcher Travis Wood (5-4, 3.84, 118, just under 101) made a very good transition to the bullpen from the starting rotation. In spite of the fact that both pitched very well last season, it seems a reach to expect the same out of veteran journeymen Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill, especially considering they were both nearly out of baseball within the last year.
The Cubs have brought up a lot of their young players with Bryant, Schwarber, Baez and Soler currently part of the big club. I think Alcantara can be a valuable piece. The best player I have seen in the minors in the Cubs system is outfielder Billy McKinney. However, don't expect to see him at Wrigley Field unless there are multiple injuries.
The Cubs are absolutely the team to beat as they possess the best roster in the entire sport. Their pitching is stronger and they do not seem to have a weakness in their starting lineup. However, this is a team that strikes out way too much and is in need of another dependable bullpen arm. Las Vegas put the Cubs over/ under at 90.5 and I think they will top that with a 93-69 season, first place in the National League Central. This will also give them the best record in the National League as well as all of baseball. The only thing for the Cubs to do is "win the whole thing," something that is obviously not easy for anybody to do. If the Cubs won the World Series, it would be great for the entire sport and the history of the game.