With Many New Faces, Cubs’ Roster Looks to Compete in NL Central

The North Side franchise is meant to be rebuilding, but a playoff spot still looks very possible in 2022.

By Marcos Gonzalez

The days of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant on the field for the Cubs are a thing of the past. The core that brought Chicago their first World Series victory in 108 years in 2016 are nothing more than a memory. Anthony Rizzo will enter his first full season as a member of the Yankees. Baez will be on the Detroit Tigers, kicking off the first year of his new six-year deal. Bryant will kick off his Colorado Rockies tenure after a successful stint with the San Francisco Giants. 

Despite the loss of their three biggest names, the Cubs surprised the baseball world when they dished out over $114 million on twelve major league free agents. This massive free agent class was headlined by Japanese star Seiya Suzuki, who posted a .317/.433/.639 slash line while blasting 38 home runs for the Hiroshima Carp in 2021. 

The Cubs’ pitching staff, though it boasts lots of potential, will likely be the team’s weak point Spending on veteran starter Marcus Stroman certainly strengthened a group that was already headlined by Kyle Hendricks, who received the opening day nod from skipper David Ross. Southpaws Justin Steele and Drew Smyly are also expected to contribute to the starting rotation. After a promising 2021 campaign and 2022 spring training, the Cubs are hoping Steele can provide consistency from the third starter spot. A leap from him would be enormous for this Cubs team and their playoff chances. Another newcomer, Wade Miley, will be expected to contribute as soon as he is reinstated from the 10-day injured list. 

The bullpen has even more question marks than the rotation. One of the biggest questions Ross had to answer this spring was who would be closing games for the team in 2022. The team is familiar with Rowan Wick and what he has to offer, but David Robertson and Mychal Givens both have extensive experience closing games. Journeyman Jesse Chavez, initially considered somewhat of a long shot to make the team, could be the dark horse to take the spot after a solid spring showing. So far this season, however, Robertson has gotten the bulk of the Cubs’ save opportunities; Ross, it seems, has chosen to go with experience over potential.  

The catcher position is one of the few positions for the Cubs that has very few questions surrounding it. Despite already having a well above-average catcher in Willson Contreras, the Cubs spent big on catcher Yan Gomes. This move will allow Contreras to take a break from catching without taking his bat out of the lineup, thanks to the recent rule change in Major League Baseball that sees the introduction of a universal designated hitter in the 2022 season. 

The rest of the infield has unbelievable potential, but also presents a lot of risk. Will Frank Schwindel’s success from last season carry over into the new campaign? Will Patrick Wisdom be able to cut down on his strikeouts? Will Andrelton Simmons hit enough to keep his spectacular glove on the field? Will Nick Madrigal be the same player he was for the White Sox before injury ended his season in 2021? If things go favorably for the Cubs, fans can expect a fun season. If not, things could go south quickly. 

Finally, the Cubs outfield will be what most fans have their eyes on—particularly in right field, where Suzuki should be playing on a daily basis. Suzuki possesses an elite eye at the plate, as well as a strong, powerful swing. Ian Happ is expected to reclaim his spot in the outfield as well, leaving one more spot for either newcomer Clint Frazier or veteran Jason Heyward. Frazier, the former Yankee, impressed many around the organization in spring training, while Heyward’s contract and glove have kept his roster spot safe for a few seasons. Rafael Ortega also figures to factor into the Cubs’ plans this year, despite a weak spring. 

The Cubs took an unexpected approach to the offseason, adding more free agents than any other team. However, they are still left with a lot of questions, particularly from a pitching standpoint. If everything goes right, however, there’s no reason the Cubs couldn’t make the playoffs, which is why I am projecting an 84-78 record for the 2022 season.