The Chicago Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 years, but there may be more to come for the now-former lovable losers in the near future.
Theo Epstein is the mad scientist of Major League Baseball. After propelling the Boston Red Sox to its first World Series win in 86 years, Epstein went to Chicago looking to snap yet another title drought as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations. The team spent three years rebuilding in the NL Central basement, but emerged in 2015 as one of the most fearsome squads in the league.
The Cubs lost in the NLCS that year, but as you all know, they would rebound by winning it all in 2016. The calendar has now turned to a new year, but the Cubs are still regarded as the team to beat heading into next season. Epstein didn’t just build this team to win a championship, he built it to win several.
Last season, the Cubs were the only team in baseball with six players that finished with a bWAR above 4.0. Dexter Fowler, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals in December, is the only one of the group not returning to Chicago next season. The other five, however, are all under team control through 2020.
Jon Lester has four more years left on his contract and a $25 million mutual option for a fifth. Fellow Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks won’t be able to sign with anyone else until after the 2020 season. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell are all signed to team-friendly deals that will keep them wearing Cubs uniforms through 2021.
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Epstein didn’t stop there. Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber are locked up through 2021 as well. Jason Heyward — for better or for worse — will be on the team’s payroll through 2023. Even veteran utility man Ben Zobrist will be with the team for the next three years.
This is a young team that already has two years’ worth of postseason experience and a championship trophy to show for it. Their core of All-Stars will be together for at least the next four years, and most for even longer. That’s a scary thought for other teams across baseball, particularly in the National League.
The Red Sox made the biggest splash of the offseason by trading for Chris Sale. The Nationals are returning their fearsome rotation and will be looking for a bounce-back year from Bryce Harper. The Indians bolstered their potent lineup with Edwin Encarnacion and the Dodgers signed all three of their premier free agents to keep their window of contention wide open.
None of these teams are the favorites to win it all in 2017. The Cubs were favorites from the start last season and responded by going on a historic championship run. They will enter next season as everyone’s pick to do it once again. The way things are looking right now, it could very well be that way for a long time.