With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Cubs squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?MESA, Ariz. -- After the Cubs won the World Series in 1907, they reported to Spring Training in '08, using the West Baden
With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Cubs squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?
MESA, Ariz. -- After the Cubs won the World Series in 1907, they reported to Spring Training in '08, using the West Baden Springs (Ind.) Hotel as their base. The '07 championship was the franchise's first, and the Cubs would repeat in '08, meeting the Tigers for the second straight year in the World Series.
With the Cubs coming off their first championship since then, what will be the difference for the team heading into 2017? The obvious answer is that they're the defending champs, and the target that manager Joe Maddon asked them to embrace in '16 will be even larger.
As far as the Cubs' roster goes, the biggest changes in 2017 affect the start and the finish of the game.
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This season, the Cubs will have a new leadoff man after William Fowler signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with their rivals, the Cardinals. Fowler set the tone, sparked by Maddon's "You go, we go," message before every at-bat. The center fielder ranked sixth in the National League in on-base percentage (.393) and was tied for 23rd in runs scored (84).
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Kyle Schwarber, healthy after tearing two ligaments in his left knee in the third game of the regular season, is a possible option to lead off for the Cubs, who also could insert Benjamin Zobrist into the No. 1 spot. Zobrist ranked second on the Cubs in on-base percentage (.386) behind Fowler.
Albert Almora Jr. and new addition Jonathan Jay were projected to share center field. Almora is coming off a rookie season in which he batted .277 in 47 games, while Jay batted .291 in 90 games with the Padres this past season. Neither has the on-base numbers that Fowler does, and one of them could wind up batting ninth if Maddon decides to insert the pitcher in the No. 8 spot in the lineup.
The other change is the closer. In late July, Albertin Chapman replaced Hector Rondon as the Cubs' closer when the hard-throwing lefty was acquired from the Yankees. Chapman has rejoined the Yankees, signing a five-year, $86 million contract, and even though Rondon returns for 2017, it's now Wade Davis' job to save games for the Cubs. Chicago traded outfielder Jorge Soler to the Royals for Davis in early December, and the right-hander will be reunited with Maddon, who was his manager in Tampa Bay from '09-12.
Last season, Davis completed 27 of 30 save opportunities and posted a 1.87 ERA in 45 games. He did miss time with a right flexor strain, so Maddon will have to see how much of a workload he can put on the right-hander. With Rondon back as well as Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara, C.J. Edwards, and Justin Grimm in the bullpen, Maddon will have other options, depending on the situation.
One other notable change in 2017: The bullpens at Wrigley Field will be under the bleachers and not along the foul lines. Here's hoping none of the relievers are claustrophobic.
The West Baden Springs Hotel no longer exists, and the site is now the French Lick (Ind.) Resort, which flew a "W" flag during the World Series to support the Cubs. Maybe Maddon will have the team stop by for good luck.
Spring Training begins on Feb. 14, with pitchers' and catchers' workouts at Sloan Park in Mesa. Full-squad drills get underway on Feb. 17.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.