The Chicago Cubs missed the playoffs last season for the first time in five years, but despite an avalanche of rumors about potential change on the horizon, the team is largely unchanged from a year ago.
What should Cubs fans keep an eye on this spring? What roster battles will dominate the headlines at camp? We tackle those questions and more with our “Five Big Questions” surrounding the Chicago Cubs as Cactus League play approaches.
What will “Manager David” bring to the table?
While former manager Joe Maddon tried to use a more “hands-on” approach last season, new skipper David Ross seems adamant about ratcheting up the intensity in spring training.
Over the first weekend at camp, Ross had players participate in live batting practice sessions with real umpires, his first attempt to set a different tone for his players during the spring season. Players have also openly discussed showing up early to meetings, and players like Javier Báez have discussed changing their pregame approaches from what they were doing in previous years under Maddon’s more laid-back style.
Fans will likely keep a sharp eye on Ross as he looks to put his mark on the team, and it will be interesting to see just how adamant the skipper is about changing the culture of the Cubs.
Who will win the fifth starter’s job?
With Cole Hamels now pitching for the Atlanta Braves, the Cubs have some big questions at the back end of their rotation.
It would appear at this point that Tyler Chatwood would have the inside track to earning the job, but there are plenty of other pitchers who could aim for the starting role. Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay will certainly be involved in the competition for the job, and Jharel Cotton could also get an opportunity to audition for the role, especially early in the spring.
Who will be the Opening Day starter at second base?
The Cubs had a revolving door of players at second base last season, and it appears as though that will once again be the case in 2020, as the team didn’t exactly shell out big bucks to address the position.
Nico Hoerner, who was called up by the Cubs in September after a slew of injuries decimated the team’s depth, should be considered one of the favorites for playing time, but the team could also choose to take it more slowly with him, as he’s had only 457 plate appearances in the minor and major leagues since being drafted in 2018.
If that’s the case, then Cubs fans could see a platoon situation at second base, as David Bote and Daniel Descalso could both see playing time at the position. New acquisition Jason Kipnis could also force himself into the conversation, as he’ll look to rebound after a tough end to his lengthy tenure with the Cleveland Indians.
Which bullpen longshots will pay off?
The Cubs have made it a point over the years to bring in a large group of veteran relievers to try to compete for important bullpen jobs, and that could once again be the case this time around as the team has used a variety of methods to acquire arms for their pen.
The team used free agency extensively, bringing back Brandon Morrow on a minor-league deal and signing Jeremy Jeffress to a deal. They also utilized the trade market, acquiring Casey Sadler from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they even used the Rule 5 Draft to acquire Trevor Megill.
Outside of Rowan Wick and Craig Kimbrel, the bullpen is very much in flux for the coming season, and the spring will provide a great look at how the Cubs are hoping to set things up for their relievers in the coming year.
Will the team reach more deals for the Marquee Sports Network?
The Cubs’ new TV network, which will carry nearly all of its spring training games and all of its locally televised regular season games this season, will officially launch on Feb. 22, but not everyone will have access to it when the network goes live.
Those customers with AT&T, DirecTV, Mediacom and Spectrum will all have access to the network, but the team is still working to reach deals with a wide variety of streaming services and, most importantly of all, with Comcast, the largest cable provider in the team’s coverage area.
On Monday, the Cubs announced that Marquee has reached a deal with Hulu, but cautioned that a deal with Comcast is not likely before spring training games start on Saturday.
“(It’s) pretty difficult, you’d think, here on Monday to get done by Saturday,” President of Business Operations Crane Kenney told the Chicago Tribune.