Rozner: Maddon must be giddy when thinking about Cubs lineup

  • Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, left, manager Joe Maddon, middle, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein have been busy improving an already strong roster this off-season.

    Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, left, manager Joe Maddon, middle, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein have been busy improving an already strong roster this off-season. Associated Press

Updated 12/12/2015 8:48 PM

In this, the season of giving, you need not remind Chicago Cubs fans of how much they have already received.

And it would be greedy to ask for a center fielder, another starting pitcher and maybe a bullpen arm, right?


No, not at all. It's prudent.

The Cubs are the favorites to win the World Series, and they didn't get there by tiptoeing into the winter meetings. They're clearly going for it all, and they can still get better.

Joe Maddon's not satisfied and he has no reason to be as long as he keeps asking and Theo Epstein keeps giving.

Talk about an early Christmas, Maddon must be giddy as he tinkers with lineups and dreams about the possibilities -- and wow, there are so many possibilities.

You've probably written one down already, with the signing of Jason Heyward opening up the chance to do almost anything.

Heyward has hit second more than any other spot during his career (996 plate appearances), followed by third in the order (587) and leadoff (570). Next is fifth (396), sixth (313) and seventh (281), followed by cleanup (179), eighth (76) and ninth (31).

Maddon could make a case for placing Heyward anywhere in the order except for eighth. Knowing Maddon, he could probably sell that, too.

Seriously, you could bat Heyward almost anywhere and easily explain why it makes sense.

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In a perfect world, Addison Russell would succeed leading off, followed by Heyward, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Miguel Montero, giving the Cubs a righty-lefty flip throughout the lineup.

Can you imagine that? Schwarber as a No. 6 hitter, or Soler as a No. 7 hitter? That is some lineup and not much of a break for the opposition.

Not that teams seem to care anymore, but Russell hasn't displayed the OBP to merit leading off, though Maddon and Epstein would prefer someone who sees a lot of pitches, and Russell was seventh in the National League in 2015 in pitches per plate appearance -- as a rookie.

More likely, Heyward will lead off, followed by Zobrist, Bryant, Rizzo, Schwarber, Soler, Montero and the pitcher, with Russell ninth, where he got 84 percent of his at-bats in 2015.

But Maddon will mix and match until he finds what he likes, and except for seeing Bryant third and Rizzo fourth, you can expect constant change, the likes of Heyward, Schwarber, Zobrist and Soler moving all over the order.


What has to be frightening for the opposition is that Schwarber could hit as low as No. 2 or as far down as fifth, six or seventh. Seriously, seventh?

Schwarber would be my early pick to lead the league in home runs in 2016 after hitting 16 in only 232 at-bats as a rookie, and 15 of those came from the two hole, where he saw 81 percent of his at-bats.

It's a scary lineup with so many possibilities, and that's barring any further improvements.

As for the pitching staff, the Cubs are one serious starting pitcher from feeling really good about their staff for next season. If they add another starter along the lines of John Lackey or better, the Cubs are four deep with genuine competition for the No. 5 spot.

Adam Warren, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks and Trevor Cahill can compete for starts and give the Cubs options if there are injuries.

In the bullpen, Epstein has been adding arms since the NLCS ended, and don't be surprised if that process continues through spring training.

The Cubs are in an envious position with a powerful lineup that should score a lot of runs in 2016, but this is hardly a perfect team.

Epstein knows the Cubs are in the driver's seat and his history suggests he will not stop now that it appears as if the Cubs have jumped in front of the pack on paper. He doesn't need to be reminded that the Cubs finished third in their division last season and 97 wins wasn't enough to avoid a coin flip.

Epstein doesn't want to risk being in that game again and he's not going to stop working until he feels more comfortable.

Of course, there are never any guarantees. Injuries can take apart a season fast and put a shocking end to dreams of confetti and parades.

So at a time when thoughts turn to candy canes and sugar plums, decorations and presents, Epstein is thinking more about the heat of summer and the July 31 trade deadline, setting in his mind those targets that he may not be able to hit before Christmas.

Rest easy, Cubs fans, though you look for more under the tree and have visions of what might be, your president is still at work -- looking to stuff one more big box with one more lovely red ribbon.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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