The new baseball season is upon us. And there is a lot of talk as to whether the Chicago Cubs can become the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to repeat. While we will have to wait until November for that answer, there is another question burning in my mind regarding the Cubs: Just how good is their infield?
When you say the names Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist, along with Javy BA?ez, you are talking about some of the best players in the game today. And possibly, in the history of baseball several years down the line. What makes this group so unique is how young they are outside of Zobrist. And, how accomplished they already are. In this age of free agency, players often move around quite a bit. But this Cubs crew is locked in for the next several years of what could be historic baseball.
There were some great infields in the game throughout the years. What would you think of an infield that featured Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper, and Jim Gantner? Molitor and Yount are both Hall of Famers. Cooper was a big-time thumper in the day. Gantner’s not in the same class, but was still a good player. They were part of the famous Harvey Wallbanger’s Milwaukee Brewers crew from 1982. They were together for a few years, but when you view the numbers, they don’t wow you like the Cubs players do.
How about Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Dave Concepcion with Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine from 1975? Again, two HOF guys along with a cinch third in Rose if he didn’t bet on baseball. If Concepciona��himself a borderline HOFera��is the worst of the bunch, that’s pretty good. But they only played together for two years before Perez left for Montreal in 1977.
Still not impressed? What would you think of an infield that included Derek Jeter, Robinson CanA?, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira? Probably three HOFers in the group if Rodriguez’s steroid use doesn’t keep him out, along with a really good player in Teixeira. They first came together in 2009 when Teixeira joined the Bronx Bombers, and they played together for four years. 2009 was their best with another nice season in 2010 before injuries and age started to take a toll.
From my youth, I remember the St. Louis Cardinals with their quartet of Bill White, Ken Boyer, Dick Groat and Julian Javier. Not quite as awe-inspiring as the aforementioned groups, but still an exceptional infield in their day.
The crew generally recognized as perhaps the best of all-time is the Los Angeles Dodgers side from the 70s. One that included Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell. They played together from 1973-1981, and that’s the main reason they are often referred to when this conversation comes up. But there is not a Hall of Famer in the bunch. Longevity matters, and it’s a big reason why I think the Cubs infield is destined to become the best ever.
I first thought of their relevancy from an historic perspective last year after seeing how good Bryant already was two seasons in. He might just be the best player in baseball and arguably the face of the game right now. If he’s the league MVPa��and Rizzo is already a three-time All-Star and MVP candidatea��just how good is this group?
Russell was an All-Star starter at 22-years old in 2016, and showed the pop in the playoffs that make projections of him being a future 30-35 home run hitter not off-base. Add in the veteran Zobrist, a glue guy who adds leadership along with clutch hitting, and you have a dynamic infield. That’s without even mentioning the human highlight film in BA?ez. He started every game in the playoffs at second, combining with Russell for as good a double-play combination as you can get. Since Zobrist has been designated the starter, I will combine the two into Baist.
Excluding Zobrist, Rizzo is the old man of the group at 27, and is under contract through 2021. This infield should be together for at least five more years with BA?ez eventually taking over. Both Rizzo and Bryant are capable of belting 40 dingers. I already mentioned how much power Russell has. And when BA?ez came up, he was thought of as a guy who could slug 40 or more. That might be tempered down a bit as the Cubs try to get him to control his swing, but he still has awe-inspiring power.
What makes this group unique is not just the power numbers or general hitting ability. It’s also the extraordinary defense they are capable of playing. Rizzo won a Gold Glove last year at first. Russell was in the running down to the last minute at shortstop, and in my opinion should have brought home the hardware. When you add in BA?ez, who could probably win the award at three different positionsa��second, short and thirda��you have a bunch of hoovers playing for you. If Bryant is your worst defensive infielder, that’s pretty impressive.
You might think I am ‘baist’ in my opinion about how good they already are, but imagine how much better they could get once they reach their prime. They are undoubtedly the best infield in the game today, with only the Houston Astros offering up competition. With JosA� Altuve at second and Carlos Correa up the middle, that’s a strong start. Alex Bregman looks like he could be a keeper at third. But, first base remains the weak link. And I think the ceiling is higher for the Cubs players when you figure in defense along with baseball smarts.
Bryant’s a great base runner to go along with everything else he does on the field. Meanwhile, Russell is mature beyond his years and on the brink of breaking out into a possible MVP candidate sooner rather than later. Rizzo is the emotional leader of the team and is an on-base machine. Baist is a combination of veteran savvy and flair. Brushing his teeth is probably a must-watch event if BA?ez is doing it, while Zobrist is just a boring veteran who does everything right in the field.
If this truly turns out to be the best the game has ever seen, that’s historic in terms of baseball being our oldest team sport. And right now on paper, the potential is there. You never know what can happen. Injuries could always potentially derail a career. Or, maybe they never reach their ceiling. Baseball is a funny game, but there’s nothing funny about this group of athletes.
The Cubs are built to compete for a title for the next several years. And, their infield is the No. 1 reason why. In baseball, fans always talk about what era was the besta��who are the best players, why today’s game was better than yesteryear. That’s why I didn’t bring in players from the early era of baseball. It’s because the game was so different then.
I think this Cubs infield is one for the ages. One that fans will be talking about for years to come. And their future is as bright as Kris Bryant’s smile.