Some call it ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ while others claim it’s ‘El Niño’ (Spanish for ‘The Niño’). But the furnace fueling an unseasonably warm December in Chicago comes from the frenzy of tactical nuclear free agent strikes firing from 1060 W. Addison.
Theo Epstein & Co. set their sites on the heart of ‘arch’ nemesis St. Louis and hit the Cardinals hard, stealing away key cogs of an already faltering machine the Cubs dismantled in the NLDS just two months ago. Pardon the war references, but they are apropos in a very baseball way as the Cardinals’ two leaders in WAR last year will be wearing Cubs uniforms in 2016.
First came the John Lackey salvo, the only Cardinals starter to wrest victory from the Cubs juggernaut that pummeled the redbirds into submission in four games. His low-risk, two-year deal and 2.77 ERA/5.59 WAR will slot in nicely as a #3 starter behind Arrieta and Lester.
Next came the Ben Zobrist body blow of a signing, who was a classic Cardinals target and would-be Cubs killer. The super utility man grew up as a St. Louis fan and was the catalyst for their in-state rival Kansas City Royals run to a World Series title. Zobrist’s versatility was coveted by Cards GM John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny, so it must’ve been gutting to lose out to the Cubs.
But finally, the big haymaker was the upset signing of Jason Heyward. St. Louis reportedly offered more money to the 26-year old who’s 6.54 WAR led all Cardinals in 2015 and ranked 5th among all NL position players. Choosing Chicago was a real kick to the seeds for the ‘best fans in baseball.’ If there was any doubt St. Louis fans feel their grip on the NL Central slipping away, just take a gander at the Best Fans St. Louis Twitter feed.
While the Cubs are clearly winning the offseason, history shows that doesn’t always lead to winning it all. Epstein only has to look 10 miles down the road to see the carnage that was the 2015 White Sox as a cautionary tale. Their splashy signings of Jeff Samardzija, Adam Laroche, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, and Zach Duke had the baseball world (and myself) convinced they would make a run at a World Series. Instead, it was a total disaster culminating in just 76 wins and finishing in 4th place, 19 games behind the Royals.
But there is a fundamental difference between the strategies of the teams on opposite sides of town. The White Sox were attempting to bolster an offense and bullpen almost devoid of talent who won only 73 games the year prior. The Cubs, on the other hand, are adding the final pieces to a roster replete with proven talent that won 101 games on its way to the NLCS last year.
Of course, there are no guarantees. As a wise man once told me: “Sometimes it doesn’t work out despite all the moves looking good.” But it’s sure going to be fun to watch.