Cubs: Hey, We’re Champions!!! So, Now What?

We Are Regal Radio co-founder and former Los Angeles Dodger scouting personnel Sean Terry salutes the Chicago Cubs and their historic victory

Nothing Will Be the Same…

Pardon the Drake reference on this one, but I couldn’t find a more fitting a metaphor to convey the swell of emotion spent by the team, and fans alike, that went into a marathon season and trek to the championship plateau.

The blood, sweat, and tears reference is used in sports all the time but seeing the way that metaphor played out through the resolve displayed by the team in a Game 7 World Series had to be the defining moment for the modern-era Cubs baseball – it certainly was for this Cubs fan.

As a lifer, I have to preface my loyalties by drawing you in a bit to let you know who I am and where I come from… I was born on Chicago’s north side and spent the earlier years of my life in the Uptown neighborhood, residing in the “Twin Towers” located right off Lake Shore Drive and Wilson Avenue.

As a child in those years, I spent the first few years of my gleeful youth as the youngest of five children and a host of older cousins, trying to keep up with the older kids at Clarendon Park. It was in these north side roots where the seedlings for my love of the game of baseball was first planted.

It was where I first came to embrace piggy softball at Clarendon Park. It was where I learned what that random X on a wall was all about – playing strikeout was instilled in my DNA. When there was no chalk, there was large patches of grass that would dug up from the ground and used by the old heads to draw a green scratch coat from which the competitive games of strikeout drew legend.

At a young age, seeing the ball boom off a bat with a majestic trajectory out to nowhere is what stuck with me. At the ripe age of four, it would be the 1984 Cubs season that swept the passion for the Cubs into our household – only to be solidified by a very engaging 1989 squad that was full of swagger, personality and a handful of African American starters (Andre Dawson, Shawon Dunston, Jerome Walton, and Dwight Smith) who looked like me, inspiring my zest for the game.

My time as a North Side resident was short-lived before I would find myself on the opposite side of town but my uprooting to the south side didn’t change much when it came to baseball.

There are many like me – baseball enthusiasts, passionate consumers of the game who happen to reside on the South Side. The CTA’s Red line is the train line that connect two worlds within the City of Chicago, seemingly connecting two different worlds and creating a schism at the same time. Thanks to the realization of a quest the Cubs had been after for 108 years, that divide has been now been eviscerated as evidenced by the five million fans that poured into Grant Park last Friday afternoon.

The game has changed in Chicago…

Stadium Sound and a Fight to Survive

Just a week removed from the World Series and the closing moments are already a blur – since replaced by trips to Disney World, ball busting SNL skits, and a few ‘Bryzzo’ appearances scheduled for the likes of daytime television, such as “Ellen,” with seemingly more high-profile appearances to come.

Over the next couple weeks, we’ll have these remaining Q&A moments and see Cubs players and coaches questioned about the crazed state of Wrigleyville (inside and outside the stadium) and what the culture of the following was like this season.

While there were no Bartman appearances during the post-season, there were plenty references to everything bad associated with his name, especially when things appeared bleakest with the Cubs down 3-1. With their backs to the wall and the team in need of some extra motivation; it was the Cubs fan-base (a notoriously jovial gathering when we’re up, despondent and on pins & needles when we’re down) who brought the energy needed to change the momentum at home and propel the Cubs to their 19th 3-game win streak of the season and the most important of the playoffs.

For the in-stadium fan base, the kumite (ˈko͞oh’miˌtāy) moment arrived during Game 5 when the normally worrisome home crowd evolved and morphed into something totally different.

It happened organically as a crowd total harmony and symbiotic unison harkened the spirit of a political science teacher named Mr. Stein, to take attendance and teach the Cleveland Indians all about the inner-workings of voodoo economics: Adler, Anderson, Anderson, Bueller….Bueller…Bueller.

But instead of chanting “Bueller,” the unison rang the accord of a dude named, “Bauer,” – the Indians reliever responsible for opening the flood gates that enabled the Cubs to kick the door open and get back into the series. The Bauer chant not only took the pressure off the moment, but it also incited the most infectious moment in the playoffs – casting an almost juvenile delinquent-like moment across Wrigley, so much so, that fans seemed to forget the Cubs were a couple outs away from elimination.

Instead the energy shifted to bring the fans to a place that seemed to take the pressure away from the boys long enough to do what they did all season long, win.

That shift in momentum is what carried the Cubs into a Game 6 win, and is what the team used to belly deep and invigorate their spirits during the biggest test of the season.

Game 7: rain delay, team huddle, seize the moment.

If history has taught Theo & Company anything about reversing curses and changing history, it most certainly has proven that once the moment has been realized, the pulse of the fan base will change forever. If you thought the culture for the Cubs changed after getting close to the cigar before a Bartman moment led to their epic 2003 collapse, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

With championship experience comes championship expectations and moving forward you best believe the drunken revelry of a championship off-season will spill into the 2017 season for the Cubs. In order to keep the clap rolling, the Cubs will have to take full advantage of the championship window now that it’s open and cement their legacy as the next modern era dynasty in professional baseball.

Questions for Another Day

As I’ve mentioned in the past, chapters in baseball history can play out like sways in the ocean, a fact most visibly evident with defending champions and while fans and players alike will continue to bask in the glory of this regime’s first championship, the decision-makers will shift into “Next Year” as nothing stays the same in baseball.

A repeat to summit for a defending champion often means redefining the grit and hunger of a team when at a point in time when it’s easiest to fall on the laurels of last season. As Theo & Company have stated, this isn’t their first trip to the rodeo, and they know better than most how the quest and hunger for a championship in one season can quickly turn into pot bellies filled with fried chicken and sixers of craft beer the next season.

The phenomenon of creating change to keep guys hungry will be none different for the Cubs, and the shift is apparently already underway. In the coming weeks the Cubs will see David Ross officially file MLB retirement papers, while the team has already declined an option year on starting pitcher, Jason Hammel, and will be faced with the impending free agency on team catalyst and center fielder Dexter Fowler.

With more changes expected, here’s a quick list of the story lines to keep on the radar for the winter season (Hot Stove Baseball) and ahead of Spring Training 2017:

Arms on the Farm vs. Free Agency

The decision to decline Jason Hammel’s option year was a no-brainer, and somewhat of a forgone conclusion by most who’ve followed the team these past two seasons. The mercurial No. 5 starting rotation pitcher would have cost the Cubs $12.5 – instead the team settled on a $2 million buyout which essentially frees $10 million for the Cubs to play with to figure a replacement plan for their 15-game winner.

That said, the No. 5 will be up for grabs next year and the earliest notion has the Cubs slated to promote from within. The obvious nod points to their bullpen ace this postseason, Mike Montgomery. While that very well may be the case, I fully expect the Cubs to explore other options as Maddon values having a swing guy out the pen capable of going long relief when needed and no one did it better in limited time than Montgomery.

The Cubs have a couple names down on the farm who’ll likely be given a look:

  • Paul Blackburn (AA): 9-8, 3.27 ERA, 99/35 – K/SO Ratio
  • Jake Buchanan (AAA): 12-8, 4.34 ERA, 105/38 – K/SO Ratio
  • Rob Zastryzny (AAA): 7-3 with 1.21 WHIP in a swing role

But, I wouldn’t put money on any of the above name (including Montgomery) being in the starting rotation next season given the importance of solidifying rotational depth ahead of 2017 and 2018 (the year Jake Arrieta becomes a free agent).

2017 is a particularly weak free agent class for pitchers but with an embarrassment of riches with positional players, expect to see the Cubs be major players in the trade market this winter to perhaps catch lightening in a bottle. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?

Catching Depth: Replacing the Loss of Ross and the Schwarber Effect

By now, most fans who followed the Cubs World Series run are aware of the awkwardness that came with a Miguel Montero interview where he openly questioned Maddon’s communication and use of the catcher during the season. Given his age, declining production, and obvious disconnect with Maddon, I expect Montero to bemoved despite being under contract for 2017.

Kyle Schwarbe

Kyle Schwarber

And while Willson Contreras has been all but penciled in as the Cubs starting catcher next year, Maddon has also proven to be a trailblazer in managing pitchers by aligning starters with their preferred receiver, making the catching position somewhat of a specialist role. That trend will likely continue as a compliment to Contreras’ likely 100-110 starts behind the dish next season.

David Ross’ retirement eliminates a very large veteran presence from the Cubs next season, requiring the Cubs to identify another veteran specialist capable of handling the Cubs most meticulous and maniacal starter, Jon Lester.

The Schwarber effect will clearly be something to watch for as all signs indicate he’s still slated to catch in a supporting role for 30-35 games next season. Albeit a small dose, that 30-35 game sample size will likely make or break how long the experiment with Schwarber as a MLB catcher will continue.

Expect to see the Cubs play the market over the winter and identify another veteran presence to replace the loss of David Ross.

The Returning Core and New Roles

Javy Baez catapulted to rock star status this post-season, as he had his fair share of big hits and made a highlight reel of defensive wizardry at second base. It’s safe to say his off-season should be fun!

That said, next season will see the bar of expectations raised for Baez as Maddon will look for consistent play and returns from Baez in exchange for his anointment as the everyday second baseman. The move places pressure on the 23-year old Baez and the focus for off-season should be avoiding any off-field issues (No Patrick Kane moments, please!) and how he continues working on his plate approach to validate a higher spot in the batting order next season.

The ripple effect to Baez’s anointment also means the Cubs will have to find a way to keep Ben Zobrist locked in and content, primarily as an outfielder. The musical chairs will likely continue, as mixing and matching is ingrained in Maddon’s DNA – but keeping veteran guys happy is no easy task. Expect there to be some long conversations this off-season between the coaching staff and front office around how to juggle the Cubs moving parts.

Adding fuel to the fire are a couple minor leaguers, Ian Happ (AA – second base) and Jeimer Candelario (AAA – third base) who will be knocking hard on the door to fill the role as a utility infielder to replace the role filled by Tommy LaStella. LaStella likely sealed his future fate as a Cub earlier this season by proving himself as the lone locker room distraction this year when he balked at a minor league assignment.

The Cubs will have to decide quickly on the direction of their utility needs next season as the free agent market in this area is particularly lean. If they decide to go the veteran route, the one name that resonates as a potential fit is former Cub, Luis Valbuena.

Valbuena is coming off a hamstring injury, but his lefty bat and ability to play multiple infield positions checks off the prerequisite list of needs for Maddon, and his familiarity with the organization along with his spirited personality would seem to be a good for the Cubs.

Maddon’s Motivational Tactics

With the post-season giving way to the off-season, Joe Maddon will most certainly be using the time to hit the reset button and catch his breath after a grueling and emotional campaign. In guiding the Cubs to a World Series championship, skipper Maddon certainly earned himself a long vacation – one that will likely see him pull out the family RV, aka, Cousin Eddie 2.0 and hit the road for a few kicks on Route 66.

Kristin Decker/WGN Radio Joe Maddon getting acquainted with the World Series trophy.

Kristin Decker/WGN Radio
Joe Maddon getting acquainted with the World Series trophy.

Along the way, Maddon will be tapping into his inner Shangri La (or, perhaps checking into the Shangri La RV Resort in Yuma, Arizona) to figure out his personnel needs for next season and craft his motivational approach to next season.

While the monkey is indeed off the Cubs back, next season that void will be replaced by the biggest bullseye in all of professional sports, and see the Cubs go from the hunter to the hunted. For a young team that will experience its shortest off-season to date and coming off the emotional pull of a championship run, the leap to Spring Training will likely feel like a sprint in itself.

I fully expect the taste of beer & champagne to be motivation enough for the players to get up for October, but managers in Maddon’s position get paid to be tacticians of preparedness. There’s a ton of moving parts to consider, and one helluva course to navigate before the Cubs even reach next post-season.

Hopefully, Maddon hasn’t exhausted all his ideas to motivate and congeal his team over the past two seasons – there was the petting zoo for a boys day off, mimes leading the team stretch at Spring Training, magicians in the clubhouse… and of course the team séance around the Shaggin’ Wagon – but, going into next season Maddon will have to dig into a bag of tricks to see what he can find to get the band back together for one more gig.

In the meantime, he can kick back and enjoy the realization of those visionary riches and the first of many rings to come – hopefully by pouring a glass of Opus One (Cabernet) and giving himself a pat on the back.

Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; Sean Terry can be followed at @craftbeersochi

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