Five Ways The 2015 Cubs Could Burst Your Bubble

We’ve all been pleasantly surprised and riding a Cubs high for most of the second half of this season.

That was until the refusal to score runs that has followed the shutdown of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. It’s with good reason, too. For the first time in probably five years, the Cubs have a collection of talent on the roster that’s worth sitting down and watching with interest.

And it only gets better from here, right?

The kids are arriving, Castro and Rizzo are All-Stars, the pitching depth (rotation and bullpen) is solid, and they have financial flexibility to add two or three high-quality players in the offseason. In an NL Central that features no true dominant team, it leaves us only to drool over the potential of 2015.

At the very least we have a right to expect that they aren’t selling at the trade deadline, right? But before we start requesting time off from work in mid-October of 2015, maybe we should discuss a few of the potential events that could obliterate our Cubs optimism for contending in 2015.

Here are my top 5.

1. The Cubs don’t sign any top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers

The Cubs have done a good job of refilling their rotation with solid pitching after trading away two of their five starters in each of the last three seasons. Realistically, as currently constructed, the Cubs have a mediocre-at-best rotation. Jake Arrieta has pitched like an ace this year, and we can probably expect that he will repeat a similar performance in 2015.

Kyle Hendricks has been fantastic, and while he’s not likely to be this dominant long term, he’s certainly earned a spot in the rotation. But after that? If the over/under was set at 0.5 on number of pitches thrown in a Cubs uniform by Edwin Jackson in 2015, I’d bet the under. Travis Wood has had his issues and I believe Felix Doubront is auditioning for the chance to replace him.

Guys like Doubront, Jacob Turner, Dan Straily, Dallas Beeler, and Tsuyoshi Wada are great to have as a 4th or 5th starter or waiting in the wings in case of injury. So that realistically leaves the Cubs with two rotation spots to fill if they are really going to be competitive. They need at least one of those spots to be a top-of-the-rotation kinda guy, like Jon Lester. Supposedly, there is mutual interest there.

But what if the Cubs open 2015 with a rotation of Arrieta, Hendricks, Wood, Turner, and a Jason Hammel-type guy signed on a one year deal? Buzz…killed. That’s not to say the Cubs won’t try to sign Lester or one of the other good pitchers available, but there’s no guarantee they land one.

2. Javier Baez gets sent back to AAA

Those of us watching closely have seen Baez succeed, struggle, and make adjustments. He’s still not hitting the ball consistently yet, but he does have six walks in his last eight games. That’s progress. And in an ideal world, Baez will light up the box score the last few weeks of the season to reward us for our patience.

But there is a good chance he won’t. And there is an equally good chance he could struggle to make contact in Spring Training next year, requiring the Cubs to consider letting him start 2015 at AAA. Which is, of course, not the end of the world. But it would still be disheartening.

Could you imagine the reaction of casual fans and local media if Baez and Kris Bryant start the season at AAA with Luis Valbuena and some replacement-level guy are in the Majors? Bring on the narratives and ugly storylines! Without intentionally pissing all over your parade, just imagine if Baez continues to struggle at AAA. I just got violent chills.

3. The Cardinals trade for Giancarlo Stanton

Obviously, this one is no sure thing; it’s probably just as realistic (on paper) that the Cubs trade for Stanton as the Cardinals do. And, of course, it’s entirely possible the Marlins don’t trade Stanton at all. But it’s worth mentioning that the Cardinals have the pieces to land Stanton.

An article on Yahoo Sports seems to outline how the Cards could pull off such a swap. While I disagree with the amount of prospects they surmise it would cost to complete this deal, the premise is sound. The suggestion is that Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk, and Carlos Martinez would be all that is required to get Stanton to St. Louis.

Not only is this soul crushing, as the Cardinals add a 25-year-old MVP (possibly) to their lineup to go along with Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, and Matt Carpenter, but it stings extra hard because every Cubs fan will imagine how easily the Cubs could top that offer.

For starters, Taveras is a top prospect that has struggled adapting in the Major Leagues. Grichuk has decent pop but a ceiling of a platoon guy hitting against lefties. Martinez has great stuff, but is likely a late-inning bullpen guy. An offer of Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, and Neil Ramirez should at least match that deal, and I think any Cubs fan would do that in a heartbeat.

Back to the original point, though, which is that a trade like that would make any move the Cubs make in the off-season look like lipstick on a pig. The Cards will be favorites in the NL Central in almost any scenario next year, but this dooms the Cubs to fighting for a Wild Card spot at best.

4. Injuries

It’s the same story for everyone but it’s worth mentioning. The Cubs lost Anthony Rizzo to a back injury a few weeks ago, and subsequently lost Starlin Castro to a sprained ankle. Since Castro went down, the Cubs are 1-6 with 2.28 runs scored per game. That’s bad.

While the Cubs have an impressive base of talent built up, it’s not a lie to say that an injury or two can sink their ship. Soler has had his struggles with staying healthy, as has Addison Russell. It can happen to anyone, really. If they lose any one of their big hitters, potential free agents, or Jake Arrieta to a serious injury, Cubs fans will being one-foot-off-the-ledge.

5. The Cubs build a team worthy of high expectations and then fail

This one isn’t the worst in reality, but it would probably bring about the worst storm of media angst, fan tirades, #FireTheos, and Sports Talk Live poll questions of idiocy. A young team with a lot of talent that struggles while growing together and learning isn’t really the worst thing in the world.

But nonetheless, the balloon would be burst. If the Cubs sign Lester (or another guy on equal level), another good starter, a few quality veteran bats, and put Baez, Bryant, and Soler in the opening-day lineup, fans and media outlets would be predicting anywhere from 83-90ish wins. While 90 wins isn’t likely or fair, low-to-mid 80’s in wins wouldn’t be out of the question.

But if those young guys struggle, as young guys tend to do, and veterans battle injuries and ineffectiveness, the 2015 Cubs could be a massive 70-plus win disappointment. Again, this is perfectly okay, even though it might be painful to watch. It’s a common part of the growing process. How many years did we hear that the Royals were going to be good before they actually became so?

Sorry to be the wet blanket that puts out your white-hot Cubbie fire, but we should all be prepared for these situations. I’d be willing to bet that at least one of these five scenarios is extremely likely to happen.

My suggestion? Continue to enjoy the ride, but understand the process. If the Cubs happen to be good next season it’s a cherry on the sundae. Just don’t cry if they aren’t.

You should’ve expected it.

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