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Inbox: How Cubs could earn an 'A' for offseason

MLB.com @MLBastian

After eight years of answering fan questions about all things Indians, it's time to debut my first Cubs Inbox as the club's new beat reporter for MLB.com. I have appreciated the warm welcome from Cubs fans since announcing the change earlier this month. And, for those who may have missed it, I also wrote on my blog about what readers can expect from me moving forward. Now, on to the Inbox.

After eight years of answering fan questions about all things Indians, it's time to debut my first Cubs Inbox as the club's new beat reporter for MLB.com. I have appreciated the warm welcome from Cubs fans since announcing the change earlier this month. And, for those who may have missed it, I also wrote on my blog about what readers can expect from me moving forward. Now, on to the Inbox.

Tweet from @wfarmer23: Give me a realistic "A" graded offseason that does not include Bryce or Manny.

Addressing an offense that posted an 86 Weighted Runs Created Plus (14 percent below league average) across the final two months combined would certainly be ideal. That said, given the height of the Cubs' payroll before even making a move this offseason, the likelihood of adding a free agent like Bryce Harper seems slim.

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Never say never, I guess, but it really sounds as though much of the lineup improvement will need to come via positive regression from core hitters already in place. That is, unless the Cubs can pry open some at-bats and dollars via trade. In that way, I'm not sure I'd be confident slapping an "A" grade on the offseason until we can see if Kris Bryant returns to form or some of the other batters make the offensive jumps necessary to justify a quiet winter for lineup upgrades.

If Harper isn't walking through the door, the Cubs' focus will need to be on addressing their middle-infield situation and bullpen. If Chicago can do that, and also get its offense back on track next summer, that would make for a successful winter.

We'll know by Friday whether Addison Russell is tendered a contract. His off-field issues aside, Chicago could definitely upgrade the 79 OPS+ posted by the shortstop over the past two seasons combined. Javier Baez can stick at short and the Cubs can find a fit for second base. Ben Zobrist or Ian Happ could slide back to that spot, of course, but the market includes Daniel Murphy, DJ LeMahieu and Jed Lowrie, among others.

Two names that could be a fit for the Cubs' bullpen -- and two I'm very familiar with from my years in Cleveland -- are lefty Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Miller is coming off an injury marred campaign, but his reputation obviously carries weight. Allen was a reliable, versatile late-inning arm for the Indians, but he had a career-worst showing in 2018. Due to their circumstances, both relievers could come at a discount, and either would add a wealth of veteran experience.

Are the Cubs looking into signing a veteran backup catcher? I think it is necessary.
-- Andres M., Socuellamos, Spain

After reading up on Socuellamos, I feel like I should be sipping a glass of Spanish wine while answering your question. Yes, the Cubs are in the market for a veteran backup catcher behind Willson Contreras. One thing I've been told is that the team felt it was lacking some veteran leadership in the clubhouse last season. That might be something that comes along with adding a veteran catcher. But if the Cubs do not find the right fit, they would be fine with going into 2019 with Victor Caratini as their No. 2 catcher again.

Do you see the Cubs being aggressive on Andrew Miller or Zach Britton this offseason?
-- Zach G., Omaha, Neb.

I definitely think the Cubs should be aggressive on relievers of that type. While handedness does not matter if you acquire a lights-out arm, Chicago definitely could benefit from adding a lefty as a late-inning complement. If Brandon Morrow is healthy and Pedro Strop keeps doing his thing, that's a great end point for the relief corps, but it'd look a lot sturdier with one more experienced southpaw injected into the mix.

You covered Michael Brantley for years while covering the Indians. Do you see a fit for Brantley to be the leadoff guy for the Cubs?
-- Greg K., Hartford, Wisc.

This is good. We've worked in Indians-related content in three of the first four questions. Thanks for easing me into things, everybody. Brantley would be a great fit for any team. He's quiet, but a good clubhouse leader, and played a big role in Francisco Lindor's growth as a hitter. Offensively, Brantley hit .309 last year while leading the Majors in lowest swinging-strike rate (four percent), as well as highest contact rate (90.9 percent) and contact rate in the strike zone (97.3 percent). Brantley is fine in left field, but not an elite defender by any means.

The issue here wouldn't be fit in the lineup -- teams can make room for good hitters -- but fit on the field. Brantley would need to play left. Well, that's where Kyle Schwarber has found a home. If not left, Brantley could maybe play first. Some guy named Anthony Rizzo occupies that spot. There's no designated hitter and Brantley's days as a center fielder are long gone. So, I just don't see it as a roster fit for Chicago unless the club cleared room via trade.

Welcome to the Cubs family again. I read your blog about coming back home and, man, I can't imagine what you were going through on Nov. 2, 2016. That's actually one of my questions: How did you feel during that World Series? You were the Indians' beat writer, but also a Cubs fan.
-- Alex L.

I get this question a lot, but the key here is I was a Cubs fan when I was growing up in Chicagoland. After 14 years as a beat reporter, I'm not a "fan" of any one team. I'm probably more of a baseball fan than I was as a kid, especially with the wealth of information available at our fingertips these days, but I don't live and die with a team. During the 2016 World Series, I reflected back on my late Grandpa Bastian (a Cubs fan born in 1909) and his role in getting me into baseball as a kid. At the same time, my young son just saw his Indians lose in Game 7. That part was hard. For me, personally, it was just an awesome World Series to write about and an experience that created lifelong memories.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

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