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The Chicago Cubs: The New NL Central Favorites?03:51
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Former Boston and Oakland ace Jon Lester will return to Wrigley Field in 2015 -- this time as a member of the Chicago Cubs. (David Banks/Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
Former Boston and Oakland ace Jon Lester will return to Wrigley Field in 2015 -- this time as a member of the Chicago Cubs. (David Banks/Getty Images)

During the last MLB offseason, Chicago Cubs headlines were dominated by the creation of Clark the pants-less mascot. The Cubs ended their 2014 season with a wretched 73-89 record. And the team hasn’t been in the World Series since 1945. They haven't won it since 1908, so you could say the Cubs and their fans were due for a little good news.

Will Leitch has written about the Cubs’ busy and promising offseason for Sports on Earth, and he joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: This week, the Cubs signed former Boston and Oakland ace Jon Lester to a six-year deal worth a staggering $155 million. The Cubs also hired former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon back in October. Is this what you mean when you say in your article that “the Cubs suddenly feel like they know what they’re doing?”

The rest of the division has always kind of referred to the Cubs as kind of the sleeping giants. This was the move where the sleeping giant woke up.

Will Leitch, Sports on Earth

But there was still a sense — Cubs fans, you know,  are kind of notoriously known for waiting until next year or next year or next millennium. Whatever it takes. They have understandably, maybe, lost a little bit of patience. ... The rest of the division has always kind of referred to the Cubs as kind of the sleeping giants. This was the move where the sleeping giant woke up. Bringing in Jon Lester shows just how much power this franchise actually has. And it appears they're actually now ready to wield it.

Hiring manager Joe Maddon was the first strike in a busy offseason for the Cubs. (David Banks/Getty Images)
Hiring manager Joe Maddon was the first strike in a busy offseason for the Cubs. (David Banks/Getty Images)

BL: Well, you have said of the Cubs, “They’re here,” so I gather you think that all these other minor moves that they've made in addition to these major moves, add up to what? Being a contender?

WL: I think so. I think it can be as early as this year. I mean, this was a mess of a franchise when [Theo] Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the general manager, took over. The main thing they've done that was very intelligent -- if you look at the world of baseball now, it's not a hitters' league. Pitchers are easier to find almost. They're fungible and they get hurt quicker, but they're generally easier to find. Hitters, particularly power hitters, if you have those — and you have young ones — that is now the most valuable commodity in baseball.

The Cubs have spent the last three years meticulously putting those guys together. Lester doesn't make them from a bad team into a good team. The foundation was already there and already coming. Lester's the thing that pushes them over the edge.

BL: Well, they better be able to improve in terms of hitting. They hit .239 as a team last year and struck out more than anybody else in the major leagues. How do Maddon and his staff improve on those numbers?

[sidebar title="Time Crunch: Leagues Work To Shorten Games" width="630" align="right"]As baseball’s average game soars beyond three hours, MLB is experimenting with putting pitchers on the clock — and several other time-saving rules.[/sidebar]WL: The team — when you look at the stats of the 2014 Cubs, that's not actually the same team. It's better to look at maybe August and September stats. There were two NL Central teams to make the playoffs, and for the month of September, for a while you could make the argument that the Cubs actually may have had the best team. They certainly had the best young hitting.

I think they're contenders in 2015 but I think they're division favorites perhaps in 2016 and even the years moving forward.

BL: You are, of course, on record as a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. Given the rivalry that exists between the Cubs and the Cards, I wonder if you're just giving us a bit of reverse psychology to pump up the Cubs a little bit too much?

WL: I wish that were the case. I hope that's the case. Maybe I'm subliminally doing it. But I will say Cardinals and Cubs are such kind of a great baseball rivalry that we've never really seen in the postseason before. I remember watching the Red Sox and the Yankees in their great rivalries of the mid-aughts and wondering what it would be like.

It would be something to see, and I would love it as long as the Cardinals won of course, 'cause I'm not prepared to live in a world where the Cubs have won the NLCS over the Cardinals and are in the World Series. I don't known if I could go to my hometown in Illinois again without hanging my head in shame.

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This segment aired on December 13, 2014.

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