The Rundown: Cubs Better With or Without Bellinger, Farm System Considered Elite, Orioles and Dodgers Are Baseball’s Best Teams Right Now

I don’t want to write about Cody Bellinger or Scott Boras today. The Cubs are still the favorites to sign baseball’s best remaining free agent, the Phillies could make a late run, and there will be a mystery team. The Orioles have a new ownership group and if they want to make a big splash after trading for Corbin Burnes, Bellinger would do it.

The Cubs are a better team this year, with or without Bellinger, and I can give you eight reasons why.

  1. Craig Counsell has replaced David Ross. Carter Hawkins said Counsell “focuses on unintended consequences in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time,” which is geek-speak for “he won’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” Ross cost the Cubs a few wins last year, games that Counsell wouldn’t have given away. Counsell will also do much better with Chicago’s young talent than Ross did. The way the former skipper handled Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario in September was tactically indefensible. You could rightfully include Matt Mervis, but Jed Hoyer deserves partial blame, too.
  2. The players who will be gone and rightfully forgotten, including Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, and Tucker Barnhart. Those three generated -2.5 WAR in 489 plate appearances, which greatly reduces the impact of losing Bellinger.
  3. The Cubs will get a full season of Christopher Morel, though he won’t play much third base. Nick Madrigal could be a 3-4 win player if he can get a full season of at-bats. He lacks the power you want from the position, but he does everything else very well. Madrigal needs to stay healthy, and if he can hit 35 doubles and steal 15 bases, he’ll be impossible to remove from the lineup.
  4. Shōta Imanaga makes the rotation a lot stronger, even with the loss of Marcus Stroman, who had a very strong first half followed by a horrific second half. Jameson Taillon will be much better this year, and the Cubs also get a full season of Kyle Hendricks. I’m also excited to see how Counsell and Justin Steele work together. I love the way Chicago’s new manager got the most out of Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta. I can’t wait to see what he does with Steele, Cade Horton, Ben Brown, Javier Assad, and Jordan Wicks. Keep your eyes peeled on Hayden Wesneski, too.
  5. The bullpen will be much better this year. Counsell is a big factor, but Adbert Alzolay is primed for a breakout season. He didn’t get his first save in 2023 until May 6. Héctor Neris will be a big addition if he can lower his walk rate, and he, Julian Merryweather, and Mark Leiter Jr. give Chicago a decent back end. I’m most excited to see Daniel Palencia, however, and I believe this summer will be Keegan Thompson‘s redemption season.
  6. Seiya Suzuki will garner MVP consideration in 2024. I believe his second half was legitimate, but I also believe Counsell will get more from Suzuki than Ross ever would have.
  7. The Cubs are still strong up the middle. Crow-Armstrong, Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner, and a combination of Yan Gomes and Miguel Amaya are going to make Chicago’s pitchers very comfortable, and their defense will frustrate the hell out of opponents. Give Hoyer credit for immediately recognizing how to keep offenses honest after MLB adjusted shift rules.
  8. I believe in youthful exuberance. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching Crow-Armstrong, Canario, Horton, Wicks and Michael Busch. I’d love to see Mervis have a “take that” campaign, too. A core will emerge, and Morel will be their ring leader. They’ll have some growing pains, but Wrigley Field is going to be electric more often than not this season.

I said it last year and I believe it more this year, but the Cubs should win 90 games with the current roster thanks to Counsell alone. Bellinger may not return, but new heroes will emerge, I promise.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Chicago baseball will never be as fun as it was with Yu Darvish and Anthony Rizzo, but better days lie ahead. The ultimate troll job, however, would be Darvish returning to the Cubs and taking uniform number 44.

Climbing the Ladder

I’m going to make some 2024 team leader predictions.

Batting Average: Hoerner
Overall Power: Suzuki
Strike-Zone Discipline: Hoerner
Stolen Bases: Crow-Armstrong
Doubles: Ian Happ
Triples: Crow-Armstrong
Home Runs: Morel
WAR: Hoerner
Strikeouts: Imanaga
Wins: Steele
Saves: Alzolay
Holds: Palencia
Infield Assists: Swanson
Outfield Assists: Suzuki
Impact Rookie: Busch

Central Intelligence

Tuesday Stove

Sometimes prospects fail to live up to the hype, and Bobby Brownlie is a great example.

Mookie Betts  predicts the Dodgers will win the World Series, but anything less could make Los Angeles the game’s biggest bust ever.

Shohei Ohtani will bat third in L.A.’s lineup, and says he’ll be ready by Opening Day.

The Orioles are predicted to win 104 games as AL East favorites. That team is almost entirely built on draft picks and trades for minor league players.

The tragic story of Negro League phenom Dobie Moore is worth a read.

Extra Innings

Ban the shift? Okay then.

Rounding Third

A few good sources told me the Bears will be building a new stadium in Chicago’s new 78th neighborhood rather than moving to Arlington Heights. I cannot say it’s a done deal, but a couple of financial executives told me the decision is close with the full support of the NFL and Mayor Brandon Johnson. Jerry Reinsdorf is trying to snake the property away for the White Sox, but he’s going to fail.

I’m going to write it up for Bears Insider this week once I can confirm without alienating my source. I may write it up as a failed attempt by the White Sox owner and founder, paving the way for the Bears to get a stadium deal.

Stealing Home

We discussed BLTs yesterday, but let’s talk sub sandwiches today. My favorite: Roast Beef, Turkey, and Monterey Jack on Turano bread with diced onions, tomatoes, and pickles. Add some oil and vinegar and also a little oregano. Chef’s kiss.

What’s your go-to sub, grinder, or dagwood? No wraps allowed, please and thank you.

Apropos of Nothing

Is there anything more annoying than the Google vignette ads? I’ll sit down and wait for your answers.

They Said It

  • “You want [the front office] to put together the best roster possible. The way that they believe doing that is having some deals that are flexible in their structures. I was a guy that signed a shorter, more flexible deal so that they could do some of this stuff and I wasn’t hanging on long term. If they want to move on from me in three years, that’s their prerogative and they can do it. They’re going to build the team in the best way that they see fit. As players, we trust Jed and Carter to do that and give us a chance to compete at the top of the division and into the playoffs.” – Happ
  • “The question I got a lot was, ‘Was it a failure of a year? Yeah, we did fail. We came up short in the end. But I do think that we’ve got a growth mindset as a group that allows us to take it in stride.” – Hoerner

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

I’m going old school today in honor of Twitter friend @MusicMentor.


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