The Chicago Cubs ... ahem, the world champion Chicago Cubs return as the favorites to win the World Series again in 2017.
The best team doesn't always win the World Series, of course, but in 2016, it did. And while it did involve a few sizable investments in the roster to get there, it was more the culmination of a long rebuild, in which short-term fixes were generally eschewed and the objective was to contend for five years, six years or even longer.
Chicago does have a few losses coming this offseason, and the Cubs will never go into a season with the mean projection being 103 wins, but here's the bottom line: The 2017 organization stands just as strong as the 2016 one. Were he to leave, impending free agent Dexter Fowler would be the team's biggest loss this offseason -- Aroldis Chapman is better but was part of the team for only a third of the season -- but Fowler was considered a short-term addition anyway. The Cubs seemed perfectly happy playing Jason Heyward in center field before the opportunity to bring back Fowler fell into their laps.
The Cubs also get a full-season return of Kyle Schwarber, the left-handed bat they were missing to go along with Anthony Rizzo's in 2016. And it's way too early to call the Heyward contract doomed. He was terrible this year, but he's not old and has had better seasons in the past. With Heyward's glove, he doesn't have to be an offensive superstar to be a valuable player; if he just gets back to the 110 OPS+ range, which is still likely, he'll be a plus to the 2017 team as the Cubs try to repeat.
Unusual for a high-payroll team winning the World Series is that even with the loss of players to the Yankees in the Chapman trade, the Cubs still retain a strong farm system. This gives the organization flexibility in the coming years and means that the holes that pop up for the franchise this offseason are simpler to fix, either from within or by trading prospects for a more experienced solution.
The Cubs were at the top of our Future Power Rankings this year, and after doing what no other Cubs team in living memory has done, they're certainly not going to drop as a result!
With that, we take a look at the preliminary ZiPS projections for the 2017 season. Obviously these projections will change tremendously as players re-sign, sign or are traded, but here's what things look like right now.