We’re through the looking glass, people. We can tell by the way we’re gawking in awe at the Chicago Cubs, a team that hasn’t won a World Series since Ford was introducing the Model T.

And, heck, we could be gawking in even more awe at the Cubs in the near future. They’re already great, but apparently they want to be flawless.

This winter has already seen the Cubs take a roster that produced 97 wins in 2015 and augment it with Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and a couple of bullpen additions. Cue Sahadev Sharma of Baseball Prospectus to sum it up: “It’s rare that a team has a perfect offseason, but what the Cubs have done…is as close as one can get.”

But wait! There could be more. As Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported after the Heyward signing, the Cubs may not be satisfied with their starting rotation just yet:

About this, there are two things everyone should understand.

First, the Cubs are eyeing some sensible targets.

The Padres seem to be in full sell mode, and Ross is their top trade chip. Things are a little different in Cleveland, where the Indians may have no interest in trading Salazar, a young, talented starter with five years of club control left. But they do need help on offense, and dealing Carrasco may be their best hope of getting it. He’s not as young or controllable as Salazar, but he is equally talented and may be in even more demand than Salazar.

Second, all this being said, the Cubs don’t actually need Ross or Carrasco.

Seriously, though. They don’t.

If we were to hop in a DeLorean and go back to when the Cubs got bounced from the National League Championship Series by the New York Mets, we’d find club boss Theo Epstein with a relatively short shopping list for the offseason.

“We want to continue to add impact pitching, we want to continue to add starting-pitching depth at the big league level,” Epstein said, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.

This mission would appear to be accomplished.

In Lackey, the Cubs added a veteran starter who’s coming off a 2.77 ERA over 218 innings in 2015. He’s only the Cubs’ No. 3 pitcher behind aces Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester and is followed by two solid starters in Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel. Behind them is a depth chart that includes swingman extraordinaire Adam Warren and former All-Stars Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood.

So, what we’ve seen is a club that was already elite taking care of its one big need. It’s no surprise to see Mike Petriello of MLB.com point out that the Cubs project to produce more wins above replacement than any other team in 2016:

Elsewhere, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs points out that much of Chicago’s projected WAR is coming from its starting rotation. As of now, only the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ rotation is pegged for more WAR in 2016.

Now, WAR projections definitely aren’t gospel. They’ve been known to go awry, and it’s not impossible to imagine that happening with Chicago’s rotation. Arrieta may be coming off a Cy Young season, but it was one that required a hell of a workload. Lester (31) and Lackey (37) are older pitchers. Hendricks and Hammel are what they are: back-end starters.

So, though another starter isn’t entirely necessary for the Cubs, it’s not a bad idea either. Especially if said extra starter is Ross or Carrasco.

Ross is really good. The 28-year-old right-hander owns a 3.03 ERA across 391.2 innings over the last two seasons. Walks are his Achilles’ heel, but those can be easily downplayed when one racks up as many strikeouts and ground balls as he does. Courtesy of one of the nastiest sinker/slider combinations in the business, Ross is tied for 13th in strikeout percentage and ranks second in ground-ball percentage since 2014. 

Carrasco is also really good. The 28-year-old right-hander owns a 2.99 ERA over 252.2 innings in 40 starts since moving into Cleveland’s rotation at the end of 2014. Using a hard fastball, an electric slider and a vanishing changeup, Carrasco has racked up more strikeouts than all but eight other pitchers since he became a starter, per Baseball Savant.

Of course, success on one team doesn’t necessarily lead to success on another team. But for either Ross or Carrasco, that shouldn’t be a concern with the Cubs.

In San Diego, Ross has succeeded as a ground ball-oriented pitcher despite not having a great infield defense behind him. With Kris Bryant at third, Addison Russell at short, Zobrist at second and Anthony Rizzo at first, the Cubs have one of the best infield defenses in baseball.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Carrasco has succeeded as a strikeout-oriented pitcher despite not having a great strike-framer catching his pitches. In Miguel Montero, the Cubs have a catcher whom Baseball Prospectus rated as a top-five framer in 2015. 

Point being: A move to Chicago could well result in either Ross or Carrasco getting even better than he already is. And with either of them aboard, the Cubs rotation could boast as many as four No. 1 starters in the next couple of years. 

That’s a scary thought for the competition in its own right. But when placed in context of what else the Cubs are working with, it becomes even scarier.

We’ve already discussed how loaded the Cubs are, as we noted last week that signing Heyward to a $184 million contract seemingly completed the ensemble, particularly where the Cubs lineup was concerned.

Heyward and Zobrist are joining a lineup that rode a power uprising to a .754 OPS in the second half of 2015. All the Cubs offense was really missing was at least one table-setter who could handle patience and contact. In Heyward and Zobrist, Chicago’s lineup now has two of those. In addition, Heyward figures to give the Cubs the good center field defense they were missing in 2015.

Elsewhere, the Cubs are returning the key members of a bullpen that, if you ask FanGraphs, actually produced as much WAR as the Kansas City Royals‘ bullpen in 2015. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm give Chicago’s bullpen three power arms, and Warren, Cahill and Wood give it depth.

With all this being the case, the only potential downside of an upgrade to the Cubs’ already awesome rotation with Ross or Carrasco is that they would have to take a part or two out of the roster they already have. Would they have to part with any major leaguers they would miss?

Well, it seems certain that acquiring Ross or Carrasco would require the Cubs to surrender MLB-caliber talent. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has reported that the Padres want a young, controllable shortstop. In Cleveland, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer and others have noted the Tribe’s need for outfield help.

It’s not hard to narrow down which players would interest San Diego and Cleveland. The Padres would probably want a package built around Javier Baez. The Indians would probably want one built around Jorge Soler. Which is a complication, of course, as both figure into the Cubs’ plans going forward.

But could the Cubs survive without either of them? Probably, yeah.

It wasn’t long ago that Baez was viewed as an elite prospect, but these days he’s being groomed as more of a utility player. Soler was also an elite prospect not long ago, but his rough 2015 season raises the question of whether the Cubs are better off using Chris Coghlan as a regular in right field. 

So, yes, the Cubs probably could survive just fine if they had to give up Baez or Soler. And considering they have a farm system that Jim Callis of MLB.com ranked No. 4 in baseball as recently as mid-August, there’s always a chance the Cubs could deflect talks to younger players instead.

Granted, because the Cubs don’t actually need Ross or Carrasco, they could just back off and say, “Thanks, but we’re good.” Which would be true. They’re plenty good. More than good enough to win the World Series in 2016, in fact.

But it won’t be surprising if the Cubs actually go through with acquiring Ross or Carrasco. That would require determining that “more than good enough” isn’t actually good enough. After 107 years of waiting for a World Series title, the Cubs may darn well be willing to go that far.

If they do, the Cubs will have taken an excellent team and made it virtually flawless. Folks on the North Side will start talking about printing World Series tickets not in jest but in all seriousness.

Through the looking glass, indeed.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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