It’s been a good week for the Chicago Cubs. On Tuesday, they swooped into the bidding on coveted second baseman Ben Zobrist and inked him to a four-year, $56 million deal. Then on Friday, news came that the Cubs had also agreed to an eight-year, $184 million contract with outfielder Jason Heyward, likely the best player on the free-agent market this winter. In conjunction with Chicago’s existing stable of young talent, the additions of Heyward and Zobrist have at least one well-known algorithm projecting them to be the best team in baseball next season.
It wasn’t long ago that we wrote enthusiastically about the Cubs’ chances to snap their 108-year championship drought, only to see them swept in the NLCS. We don’t (completely) want to put the stink on them again, so we’ll be brief. FanGraphs’ depth charts call for Chicago’s roster to produce a collective 52.6 wins above replacement (WAR) in 2016. After adjusting things so that all of MLB has 2,430 total wins,1 that roughly works out to a true-talent projection of 99 wins for the Cubs — a ridiculously high number.
What does it mean for Chicago’s chances of breaking The Curse? According to the relationship between talent forecasts and World Series odds, which FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver and I researched for a trade-deadline article earlier this year, a team with 99-win talent will win a championship about 15 percent of the time:
That means there’s still an 85 percent chance that the Cubs won’t win it all. There are plenty of difference-making free agents that could help shift the odds back toward Chicago’s rivals before opening day, and the team still plays in the NL’s toughest division (it may be comforting for Cubs fans to know that according to SRS, the NL Central is still weaker than every AL division — or it may not). But for now, the Cubs are MLB’s best team — on paper, at least.