Cubs should focus on re-signing Wade Davis, let Jake Arrieta walk

The only way up for the Cubs in 2018 is at least to make it to the World Series, and the retooling begins next week at the general mangers meetings in Orlando, Fla.

Adding starting pitching and a closer are the focus of this offseason, which figures to be interesting after the Cubs’ flaws were exposed during the postseason.

The first big question the Cubs face is whether it’s feasible to keep either Jake Arrieta or Wade Davis, both of whom received qualifying offers. Bidding wars are inevitable, and signing both seems impossible.

Arrieta will get his seven-year megadeal from someone, perhaps even the Dodgers, so it’s easier to write him off. Thanks for the memories, Jake, and don’t forget to tweet.

The Cubs’ focus should be on re-signing Davis, the best available closer on the market who will get five years and probably more than $70 million.

The in-house options are insufficient. Carl Edwards Jr. looked shaky in the postseason, while Justin Wilson didn’t even make the National League Championship Series roster. No other free-agent closer is close to Davis, who is 32 but looking for his first big payday after beginning his career as a starter.

If he stays, Davis would be reunited with Jim Hickey, his former pitching coach with the Rays, for whatever that’s worth. Davis seemed to enjoy his season on the North Side but seldom spoke publicly about it, so who knows what he really thought?

The Astros, Cardinals and Diamondbacks are among those in the market for a closer, and usually money or years are more important to a free agent than any relationship with a coach or a city. So expect Davis to ask for and receive the moon.

Does he deserve the kind of deals Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million) or Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) received last year, or something in the neighborhood of the more “modest” four-year, $62 million deal Mark Melancon got with the Giants?

Of those three, only Jansen came close to living up to his huge contract.

As good a bet as Davis seems, he did have command issues in 2017 and was overextended in the postseason, leading to Maddon’s series-turning decision to let John Lackey face Justin Turner in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS.

The Cubs haven’t exactly had a strong record when it comes to giving closers multiyear deals, from Dave Smith to Mel Rojas to Carlos Marmol.

But the alternatives to re-signing Davis aren’t exactly appetizing.

Beyond Davis/Arrieta, the Cubs’ makeover technically began during the World Series when they replaced three coaches on Joe Maddon’s staff in awkward fashion. Chris Bosio, John Mallee and Gary Jones were all great guys who made major contributions to the Cubs’ 2016 championship and newfound status as a prime-time team, Maddon and President Theo Epstein both agreed, but new “voices” were needed to take the Cubs where they need to go in 2018 and beyond.

Their inelegant exits figure to be long forgotten by spring training, and we’ll see if hitting coach Chili Davis can fix Jason Heyward’s swing and pitching coach Jim Hickey can work on Edwards’ command.

Barring any major surprises, to get back to the Series the Cubs once again will have to outlast the Brewers and the Cardinals in the National League Central and then figure out how to beat Dave Roberts’ Dodgers and Dave Martinez’s Nationals in the postseason.

Even if they lose both Arrieta and Davis to free agency, the Cubs can accomplish the first goal without doing much heavy lifting. Most of the everyday players will be back and eager to make amends for their postseason no-shows.

They will get a mulligan, thanks to 2016 and a new-and-improved hitting guru in Davis.

So who can knock the Cubs off their perch in the Central?

The Brewers, let’s not forget, are still in rebuild mode and will be without starter Jimmy Nelson for most of the season. With the lowest payroll in baseball and 10th-highest attendance in 2017, they have money to spend. But will they significantly diverge from the prescribed course with a big free-agent signing?

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are caught in the middle, refusing to rebuild despite trending downward the last two years. They will try to patch things up this offseason, as the White Sox did for years, before finally giving in a couple of years from now.

The Pirates’ window is closed, or more precisely, was slammed shut while ownership dawdled. And the Reds? They will be the Reds.

So pencil in October, no matter what changes are in store. This was a team built to contend annually, and the Cubs will do just that. Whatever they do this offseason, they’re probably not as far off as their postseason drubbing by the Dodgers suggested.

The fallacy the Cubs lost to a far superior Dodgers team in the NLCS evaporated after the Astros solved the Los Angeles bullpen, including the seemingly untouchable Jansen. And somehow the Astros pitchers figured out a way to shut down Turner, Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig.

The Cubs simply didn’t perform when it mattered most. Now the brain trust can relax and rebuild a staff that can beat the Dodgers and Nationals in October, then an American League team that’s presumably not the Astros, who will bear the burden of the dreaded World Series hangover.

psullivan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

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