The general consensus is that this is just the beginning: The Chicago Cubs are World Series champions, and with such a young core of position players plus deep pockets and a smart front office, they're going to remain the team to beat for the foreseeable future. Here's that young foundation with 2016 season age and the season through which the Cubs retain player control:
Anthony Rizzo, 26: 2021
Jason Heyward, 26: 2023 (Heyward has opt-out clauses after 2018 and 2019)
Kris Bryant, 24: 2021
Jorge Soler, 24: 2020
Willson Contreras, 24: 2022
Javier Baez, 23: 2021
Kyle Schwarber, 23: 2021
Addison Russell, 22: 2021
Albert Almora, 22: 2022 (or 2023, depending on 2017 service time)
As Dave Cameron wrote at FanGraphs, the Cubs ranked third in the majors in plate appearances from players 25 and under, which doesn't even include Rizzo or Heyward. Most importantly, these guys were good. Cameron writes that the Cubs received 18.4 WAR from their 25-and-under position players, the seventh-best figure since 1947. Keep in mind that figure doesn't include anything from Schwarber, who missed the season, and only part-time production from Contreras, who didn't debut until June 17 and shared playing time.
As Cameron writes:
This is an historically great group of young hitters. Having some great young hitters doesn't guarantee anything -- for instance, the 1978 Expos rank atop the young hitter WAR leaderboard, and then had a two year run of 90 win teams that didn't reach the World Series, before fading -- but it's the best place to start building a franchise. The 2015 Mets were exciting because of their young arms, but as 2016 showed, arms break, sometimes all at the same time.
That's what I'm curious about: Why didn't the 1978 Montreal Expos develop into a dynasty or even a playoff mainstay? Let's look at some of these other teams with great young position players.
1978 Expos (76-86): The Expos didn't even finish over .500 in 1978 but were led by two future Hall of Famers in Gary Carter and Andre Dawson. Plus, they had Ellis Valentine, Warren Cromartie and Larry Parrish, all under 25. The farm system would also churn out Tim Raines, a third potential Hall of Famer, and Tim Wallach, a five-time All-Star, in 1981.
Yet this team would make the playoffs just once, in the strike season of 1981. They won 95 games in 1979, missing out on the playoffs on the season's final day, and 90 in 1980, eliminated on the next-to-last day. The team had an ace in Steve Rogers -- third among all pitchers in WAR between 1975 and 1983 -- and the farm system produced Scott Sanderson in 1979 and Bill Gullickson in 1980, both of whom would go on to win 160-plus games in the majors, plus Charlie Lea in 1980, who started the 1984 All-Star Game.
What went wrong? Valentine shattered his cheekbone in 1980, although he hit well when he returned. After a slow start in 1981, he was traded to the Mets for Jeff Reardon. Cromartie just wasn't that good; he had 4.4 WAR in 1978 but peaked at 2.7 after that and left for Japan after 1983. Mostly, however, the front office couldn't patch the team's glaring holes. Shortstop and second base remained problems. The pitching was always solid -- from 1979 to 1984 it ranked second, third, third, third, fourth and second in the NL in runs allowed per game -- but not quite dominant enough. Even though Carter, Dawson and Raines were big stars, the Expos never got over the hump.
1971 Pirates: Cameron's article mentions the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, who won the World Series. Their young talent wasn't quite as impressive as the Cubs' -- their two best players were veterans Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente -- but they did feature Al Oliver, Dave Cash, Richie Hebner and Bob Robertson, with Richie Zisk and Dave Parker joining the club in 1973.
The Pirates remained a strong team through the decade, winning division titles in 1972, 1974 and 1975, only to lose in the NLCS each season. They won 92 and 96 games in '76 and '77, only to lose out to the Philadelphia Phillies. They finally got back to the World Series in 1979 with a different team (though Stargell was still around) and beat the Orioles to win their second title of the decade. Their story is what could happen to the Cubs: A lot of good seasons, but some that fall short in the playoffs.
1975 Red Sox: The Boston Red Sox, with rookies Fred Lynn and Jim Rice finishing first and third in MVP voting, reached the World Series, losing in seven games. The lineup also featured Dwight Evans (23), Rick Burleson (24) and Cecil Cooper (25). Carlton Fisk was just 27. Yet this team wouldn't make it back to the postseason until 1986 (Evans and Rice were still around).
The Red Sox were partially victims of the era, when only two teams made the playoffs. They won 97 games in 1977, 99 in 1978 and 91 in 1979. Today, they would make the playoffs as a wild-card team with those win totals. Evans didn't really become a big star until 1981. Cooper was traded for George Scott. Lynn was great in '75 and '79, but not as great other seasons. After 1980, Burleson, Lynn and Fisk all left as free agents, and the pitching was mediocre until Roger Clemens came on to the scene.
1977 Royals: The Kansas City Royals won AL West titles in 1976, 1977 and 1978. The '77 team featured George Brett, Al Cowens, Darrell Porter and Tom Poquette, all 25 and younger, plus 26-year-old Frank White, with Willie Wilson coming aboard in 1978. They would reach the World Series in 1980 with 97 wins but were inconsistent after that -- under .500 in 1981, 90 wins in 1982, under .500 in 1983, 84 wins in 1984 (enough to win a weak AL West) and then 91 wins and a World Series title in 1985. Brett, White and Wilson were still there.
So a nice run, but not quite a dynasty. Cowens had his best year in 1977 (he went from 23 home runs, 112 RBIs and second in the MVP voting to five and 63). Porter developed drug and alcohol problems, and the Royals let him leave as a free agent. Dennis Leonard, the team's best pitcher, would get injured after 1981, and they had mediocre rotations until Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza came up in 1984.
2007 Brewers: This team won 83 games with an impressive group of young position players: Prince Fielder (who hit 50 home runs), rookie third baseman Ryan Braun (.324, 34 home runs in 113 games), shortstop J.J. Hardy (26 home runs), right fielder Corey Hart (.295, 24 home runs) and second baseman Rickie Weeks (16 home runs). Hart, at 25, was the oldest. Braun would have to move to the outfield because of his defense, but otherwise this group compares pretty well with the Cubs' core. If you transplanted the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers to 2016, you might even take their group of young players over the Cubs'. They would win a wild card in 2008 and a division title in 2011 but also finished under .500 in 2009 and 2010.
Obviously, the pitching staff never had a Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta or Kyle Hendricks. Weeks never became the big star everyone projected. Hardy was traded after 2009 for Carlos Gomez (who didn't have his breakout season until 2013) and that created a hole at shortstop. Fielder would depart as a free agent after 2011.
One team not on the list is the 1991 Atlanta Braves. They had gone from worst to first that year to reach the World Series but had just one 25-and-younger position player in David Justice (Ron Gant was 26). That team, of course, was built around 25-and-younger starters Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery. The Braves would go on to make the playoffs 14 consecutive seasons, and while they added Greg Maddux to the rotation, they also had a constant infusion of good young players -- Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez in 1994, Chipper Jones in 1995, Andruw Jones in 1996, Rafael Furcal in 2000. They would, however, win just one World Series despite all those trips to the playoffs.
All this is to point out that there's no guarantee the Cubs win a bunch of World Series. Dexter Fowler has already declared his free agency, and if he leaves that could mean Almora takes over in center field. A lineup with Almora, Heyward, Baez and Russell could have serious OBP problems if Heyward doesn't bounce back, Baez doesn't learn the strike zone and Russell continues as a low-average hitter. That puts a lot of pressure not just on Rizzo and Bryant but also on Schwarber to become a big star with the bat.
Also, the Cubs had the second-oldest pitching staff in the NL this year. As Cameron pointed out in his article, the Cubs had the fewest innings in the majors from pitchers 25 and younger. Arrieta could leave as a free agent after 2017. Lester will be 33 and has over 2,000 big league innings. I like Hendricks, but it's possible and even likely that 2016 will be his career year. The big advantage for the Cubs is they'll always have the financial means to re-jigger the pitching staff via free agency as needed.
Still: Winning a World Series is hard! Even this year, there were many innings that could have swung the other way and led to the Cubs falling short -- from the ninth inning of Game 4 of the Division Series all the way to the ninth inning of Game 7, when a tired Aroldis Chapman got away with several bad pitches against the top of the Cleveland Indians' lineup. Even Ben Zobrist's go-ahead double was the first extra-base hit he had on a ground ball all season while batting left-handed.
So the Cubs were a great team in 2016. They were great -- with some good fortune -- in the playoffs. The Cubs will have their parade Friday. Then I suspect Theo Epstein and company will be back at work Saturday, figuring out how to make the 2017 Cubs even better.