Cubs spring training 2017 preview_ predictions, players to watch and more _ bleacher report

Just three times in the last 30 years has a team managed to win consecutive titles, as the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000 and the Toronto Blue Jays won it all in 1992 and 1993.

Even with the departures of Dexter Fowler, Aroldis Chapman, Jason Hammel, Jorge Soler, Travis Wood and a handful of others, it’s hard to find a hole in the roster without nitpicking.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will once again anchor a dynamic young offense, while the trio of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks atop the rotation stacks up to any staff in baseball.

The bullpen lost one of the game’s best closers in Chapman and replaced him with another in Wade Davis, and the relief corps as a whole looks deeper than it did a year ago.

Replacing closer Aroldis Chapman looked to be the top priority when the offseason began, and the Cubs did just that when they shipped Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Wade Davis.

Davis will earn $10 million in the final year of his contract before reaching free agency next offseason, so he’s a short-term solution. Brick fence designs Provided he’s healthy after dealing with forearm issues last season, there’s no reason he can’t again be one of the game’s best late-inning weapons.

Veterans Koji Uehara (one-year, $6 million) and Brian Duensing (one-year, $2 million) were also signed to further bolster the relief corps, while left-hander Caleb Smith was selected in the Rule 5 draft.

On the position-player side of things, Jon Jay was brought in to give the team a platoon option to pair with Albert Almora Jr., as those two will replace Dexter Fowler in center field.

Jay should have no problem making good on a one-year, $8 million deal as long as he stays healthy. Little league baseball field dimensions He’s always been a solid defender with good gap power and solid on-base skills, and he’ll take some pressure off Almora in his first extended MLB action.

That may seem like a daunting list of departing talent, but for the most part, the Cubs have done a nice job plugging the holes that free agency left on the roster.

Fowler, Chapman and Jason Hammel all appear to have clear replacements with the free-agent additions of Jay and Davis and Mike Montgomery set to move into the starting rotation.

Soler was expendable as the fifth outfielder, and while David Ross will certainly be missed in the clubhouse and on the field, the team can return to a more traditional two-catcher roster with Kyle Schwarber also seeing the occasional start in the crouch.

With that in mind, finding some capable starting pitching depth and upgrading the lefty reliever situation appears to be all that remains on the offseason to-do list.

Candidates (11): Corey Black (NRI), Maikel Cleto (NRI), Brian Duensing, Pierce Johnson, Conor Mullee (NRI), Felix Pena, Fernando Rodriguez (NRI), David Rollins, Jose Rosario, Caleb Smith (Rule 5), Rob Zastryzny

After carrying three catchers for most of the 2016 season, it appears the Cubs will go against conventional thinking once again this coming season when it comes to building their Opening Day roster.

“Epstein said the Cubs expect to carry an eight-man bullpen this year to accommodate the kind of depth he wants to create as the Cubs embark on what they expect to be a third consecutive seven-month season,” wrote Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

As it currently stands, the 24-year-old is probably the next man up if a starter were to go down with an injury, but that could change before the start of spring training with the addition of some cheap veteran depth.

If they do add another arm, Zastryzny might be a more appealing primary left-hander out of the bullpen than league-average veteran Brian Duensing or Rule 5 pick Caleb Smith.

Zastryzny made eight appearances out of the MLB bullpen last year, posting a 1.12 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 16 innings while recording his first MLB win. Garden snake baby That was enough to earn him a spot on the NLCS roster against the lefty-heavy Los Angeles Dodgers.

Felix Pena pitched well enough down the stretch for a long look this spring, while non-roster invitee Fernando Rodriguez pitched well over 90 total appearances with the Oakland A’s the past two seasons and could be a dark horse for a roster spot.

Prediction: The Cubs sign a veteran starter to serve as Triple-A depth and open the year with Zastryzny pitching out of the MLB bullpen. Little league pitch count rules 2016 Smith beats out Duensing for the final bullpen spot after a strong spring, leaving Duensing as expensive depth after he goes unclaimed on waivers and accepts a Triple-A assignment.

With a fastball that touches 99 mph and a wipeout slider, he posted 10.5 K/9 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but he backed that with a 6.1 BB/9 rate and 1.59 WHIP.

However, while serving as a closer in the Puerto Rican Winter League, Black converted 12 of 13 save chances with a 0.43 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and a 17-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21 innings.

The 23-year-old hit . Home design ideas for small spaces 333/.417/.542 over 309 plate appearances in Triple-A last season, and while he has no clear path to an everyday job at the next level, he could settle into a utility role with the ability to play second and third base.

After pitching to a 7.75 ERA and 1.89 WHIP over 40.2 innings in 11 starts last season, he moved to the pen and posted a 3.22 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 22.1 innings, while his strikeout rate spiked from 8.9 K/9 to 14.1 K/9.

Felix Pena pitched well down the stretch after receiving an August call-up last season, posting a 4.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 13 strikeouts in nine innings of work over 11 appearances.

He has late-inning stuff with a mid-90s fastball and a quality slider, and he’s another example of a former starter who has benefited from a move to the bullpen.

However, after hitting .288/.384/.469 with 40 extra-base hits in 422 plate appearances in the upper levels of the minors, he’s ready to step into a supporting role if the opportunity presents itself.

Taken No. Outdoor furniture plans free download 6 overall in the 2012 draft, Albert Almora Jr. Wyevale woodbridge became something of a forgotten man while guys like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Javier Baez raced up the organizational ladder and onto the MLB roster.

While he may never be a true impact player at the plate, he’s a Gold Glove-caliber defender, and he should provide enough average and on-base skills to eventually slide into an everyday role.

The 22-year-old hit .277/.308/.455 over 117 plate appearances in his first MLB action last season, earning a spot on the postseason roster as a defensive replacement.

The dynamic 24-year-old spent most of 2016 in a super utility role before taking over as the primary second baseman during the playoffs, and there’s a good chance he’ll return to the utility spot to begin the 2017 season.

Trimming his strikeout rate from 30.0 percent to 23.0 percent was a step in the right direction, but there’s still work to be done. Frances bean cobain art The elite bat speed and plus raw power are there; he just needs to make more consistent contact and bring a better overall approach to the plate.

While the 27-year-old spent the majority of last season pitching out of the bullpen —making 42 relief appearances and seven starts —he broke into the league exclusively as a starter.

As a rookie for the Seattle Mariners in 2015, he went 4-6 with a 4.60 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 64 strikeouts in 90 innings. Rooftop bars near me Not overly impressive on the surface, but included among his 16 starts were a pair of complete game shutouts, as he’s capable of dominating when his curveball is on.

The left-hander was 1-1 with a 3.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 35.2 innings over his seven starts last season, and he’s certainly a candidate to play a significantly larger role in his first full season on the North Side.