So by “young Cubs players” I mean guys 25-years-old and younger as of now. Anyway, let’s establish the untouchables out of all the position players.
Untouchables: these guys aren’t going anywhere
Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras
These are pretty self-explanatory, but Rizzo is just rock solid year in and year out on offense and defense. Even with his awful first two months, Rizzo finished 2018, with an .846 OPS. Solid even in a down year for him. Plus, Rizzo is still under contract through 2021, making $40 million total in the next three years.
Baez just kept his rise going in 2018, finishing off his career year by being the best player on the team. He’s not going anywhere and will be in year one of his arbitration this offseason.
Bryant was the same MVP-type caliber player through May and then his shoulder got screwed up. A full offseason of rest and a new workout regiment and he’ll be good to go in 2019. Without the injury, Kris Bryant is still the best player on this team.
Contreras had a weird season. Before he, like everyone else on the Cubs fell on their face in the second half, his OBP was at .369, above his career average. Then, he was awful after the break and all his numbers were sub-par. Yet, his power numbers were down all year long. His slugging dropped 100 points, hitting 10 home runs in 474 at-bats. That was after Contreras hit 21 home runs in 2017, in only 377 at-bats. Theo Epstein called this season a fluke for Contreras. That won’t happen again. Willy’s going to be back.
The other guys
Looking at the other position players, you have Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Tommy La Stella. Zobrist is in the final year of his deal, while La Stella’s heading into his second arbitration year. Heyward was better in 2018, but if the Cubs can deal his big contract away they’ll gladly do it in a second. However, that’s unlikely, so Heyward, Zobrist and La Stella will be back.
The same goes for David Bote. Despite his terrible showing to the end year at the plate, Bote still gives the Cubs great defense in the infield and has the ability to play in the outfield too. So, he’ll be back on the bench in 2019, to backup the infield.
That brings us to four players who aren’t really safe heading into 2019, and three players who may be on the move.
First, let’s talk about Kyle Schwarber. I already shared my thoughts on his status going forward. He’s not in the untouchable category for the Cubs, but since his MLB debut in 2015, he ranks fourth in home runs and walks on the Cubs. That’s while essentially missing all of the 2016 season.
Yet, we all saw the quote from Theo Epstein last week, saying the front office can’t go on evaluating players on talent alone and have to look at the production, while also separating personal feelings.
It’s been known that Schwarber has been Theo’s favorite draft pick, but this is really the first time it appears that Schwarber being traded can be a real possibility. But again, Theo also said the Cubs have to get back to drawing walks and hitting for power. That’s what Kyle Schwarber does. So, I still think he’s back.
Most likely to be gone
You know who doesn’t walk or hit for power and hits lots of ground balls? All things that Theo specifically called out when dissecting the 2018 Cubs’ offense? Albert Almora Jr.
That’s just not the type of player Almora has ever been and to some extent it’s worked for him. He’s a career .289 hitter during his 2.5 seasons with the Cubs. Makes great plays in center field and does have a solid role on this roster. But boy does Almora really suck when he’s going bad.
And to be fair, most players are streaky on offense, but at least you have some guys who can still rely on grinding out at-bats, drawing walks or hitting for power. Almora’s lone redeeming quality on offense is that he hits for average. When he goes into his slumps he’s an automatic out because he doesn’t walk and doesn’t hit for power.
Remember how bad Heyward was in 2016? He ended that season with a a .631 OPS. Almora had a .547 OPS after the all-star break. And he’s pretty stubborn about his approach, being really aggressive and again it’s worked to an extent, but it just isn’t good enough to be a full-time player for the Cubs.
That goes for Ian Happ too. The strikeouts are fine. The problem with him was the loss of power in 2018, and just all the soft contact. He does at least walk, though, drawing 70 free passes this year and is still only 24-years-old. Happ is under team control for five more years, so in my opinion he has the most trade value on the guys I think will most likely be gone by next year.
And that brings us to Addison Russell.
Again, Theo brought up production over talent. Russell’s been tabbed as being the best defensive infielder in the organization since the Cubs trade for him in 2014. Since then he’s had one good year on offense, hitting 20 home runs in 2016. He’s been great at shortstop most of the time, but the production hasn’t matched the talent.
Add in the 40-game suspension by MLB after its investigation for domestic violence and there’s just no way Russell can be part of the future when Theo tried his hardest to sound sincere about the allegations and the problem of domestic violence as a whole.
It would just be a bad look for the front office.
So, Happ, Almora and Russell are most likely the big names not to return next year. Of course, that’s just one fan’s opinion and more likely than not maybe only one of three doesn’t return.