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March 6, 2014

Changing Speeds

The Optimist's Guide to the 2016 Cubs

by Ken Funck


You may think I have a bounce in my step because spring is on the way, but every sense available to me during this winter without end says you’re wrong. You could argue it’s because baseball is being played again in Arizona and Florida, but I'm not there to witness it, and even the densest cluster of pixels can't impersonate a warm breeze. No, it was Kris Bryant's first spring training at-bat that made me so giddy, the one that ended after nine pitches when the young third baseman blasted a towering drive to straight-away center. Before Bryant launched that ball into the mesosphere, I was the same skeptical Cubs fan I had always been, longing for but never truly expecting greatness. By the time it landed on the berm past the center field fence, however, I started to feel something I hadn't experienced in so long I nearly didn't recognize it: belief.

Actually, it wasn't just Bryant's mammoth blast that released a decades-long backlog of baseball dopamine into my pleasure-starved brain. There was plenty of foreplay leading up to that moment, what with Albert Almora's double down the left field line earlier in the inning, and the sight of fellow top prospects Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Arismendy Alcantara sharing the diamond with them. The Cubs may have been trailing 13-1 late in a meaningless spring game, but when I saw them all sporting real Chicago Cubs laundry, the actual uniforms, and saw Bryant launch his moonshot, I could finally see, and believe in, the outlines of a World Series to come. And then the topper: Our own Jason Parks, who is in Arizona, writes home with nearly pornographic descriptions of Almora’s swagger, Bryant’s power and approach, and Baez’s superstar potential. Okay, Cubs. I’m sold.

Of course, there's still plenty of work to be done. The 2014 Cubs are almost certainly going to be a bad team, and while our prospect gurus currently rank their farm system as the second best in the land, their comparative shortage of young impact talent already on the big-league roster drops them to 10th in our 25-and-Under Talent Rankings. As wonderful as it may be to dream on Chicago's young batting prospects, the Cubs remain dangerously short on pitching, and until they wrench that particular shaft into alignment they're not going anywhere. However, after watching Bryant’s massive blast, I’m fully convinced that that problem can will be fixed, and in relatively short order, through the liberal application of significant financial resources, minor-league depth, front office savvy, and luck karma the power of inevitability. Now is not the time for pessimism. Be bold, Cubs fans, and mighty forces will come to your aid. Dare to dream.

Below you'll find an optimist's view of the 2016 Cubs, showing a proposed future batting order, rotation, and closer for a team that is ready to compete and has the look of an eventual champion. You’ll also see a timeline detailing how they can get there. First, though, let me differentiate between my newfound optimism, which has at least some tenuous connection to a possible future, and the sort of wide-eyed enthusiasm that engulfed me the last time I truly felt the Cubs could win a championship if only they made a few moves. For some perspective, here's the possible championship roster I would have envisioned back then:

1. Don Kessinger, SS
2. Joe Morgan, 2B
3. Billy Williams, 1B
4. Ron Santo, 3B
5. Jimmy Wynn, LF
6. Johnny Bench, C
7. Jose Cardenal, RF
8. Rick Monday, CF

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