Hot Off the Presses: The January issue highlights how the Cubs fared in MLB’s awards season

VLJanuaryCover

First things first: I am not a huge fan of the offseason. Though I love tracking player movement and watching teams rebuild on the fly—A.J. Preller and Jerry DiPoto have single-handedly kept each of the last two hot stove seasons simmering—give me June temperatures and the crack of the bat any day of the week.

But I will say the baseball offseason is by far the best offseason in sports. I don’t play fantasy baseball or football, but I imagine my winter obsession with personnel swaps, team payrolls and front-office maneuverings must rival a full-blown DraftKings addiction. I spend most of the down months glued to Twitter scanning for action and talking to people in the know to get a sense of which way the winds are blowing throughout the league.

That’s why I always look forward to the winter issues of Vine Line. Sure, I miss baseball and interacting with the players—honestly, I start jonesing for Spring Training by about mid-November—but by the first months of each new year, most teams have made a big move or two, and fans have a sense of which direction their favorite organization is heading.

Is the team a contender/acquirer or an also-ran/seller? Rebuilding or reloading? Spendthrift or miserly?

My first winter with the magazine in early 2012 was a little bit of an outlier. At that time, the organization was still transitioning, dumping unwieldy contracts and working on developing the farm system. But by the beginning of 2013, things were coming into focus.

In January 2013, we featured President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein on the cover, and wrote about the Scott Feldman and Scott Baker signings. Though it was impossible to know it at the time, that was a big moment. Feldman would turn out to be one of the most astute and significant acquisitions of Epstein’s tenure, as the veteran right-hander was eventually (and amazingly) traded in a deal for newly minted Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

“There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next,” Epstein said in that 2013 issue. “One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time. … At some point in the future, if we have a bunch of those players who are entering their prime and improving together and we supplement that with some impact signings from outside the organization, we could really see a lot of improvement in a hurry.”

Our January 2014 cover showcased Rick Renteria, who helped forge the foundations of a winning culture at Wrigley Field before being replaced by Joe Maddon, and February 2014 featured new draftee Kris Bryant. Maddon was our December 2014 cover model, and he was followed in January by major free-agent signee Jon Lester.

If you track these moves—and these issues—year by year, you can see the formidable current Cubs core being constructed and Epstein’s words from 2013 proving prophetic. Last season, the Cubs delivered a young wave of talent to Wrigley Field in the form of Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. And that talented quartet complemented the young veteran group of Arrieta, Anthony Rizzo and others that was already in place. Add Maddon and Lester from outside the organization, and it all equaled 97 regular-season wins—an impressive 24-win improvement over the previous year’s 73-89 mark.

This offseason, the evolution of the Cubs has continued with the acquisitions of free agents Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist, the re-signing of last year’s bullpen stalwart Trevor Cahill, and the trade of Starlin Castro for Adam Warren. In the January issue, we discuss these moves and what they mean for the Cubs’ immediate future. We also celebrate the organization’s near-clean sweep of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards, talk to players about coping with the constant demand for autographs and look back at the Cubs’ move to Wrigley Field a century ago.

Of course, the offseason activity is far from over. Keep track of all the hot stove action on Twitter at @cubsvineline. And subscribe to Vine Line at cubs.com/vineline.

Also, visit us next weekend at the Cubs Convention, where you can subscribe at a great rate, win autographed memorabilia and more.

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