Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and the signs of an eventual rebuild arrived soon after.

Catalyst Dexter Fowler left in free agency. The pitching staff slowly regressed and promising prospects didn’t deliver in the majors. Manager Joe Maddon stepped down to manage the Angels and was replaced with one of his former Cubs players, David Ross. The ever-popular Anthony Rizzo was traded to the Yankees.

Fast forward to today and the Cubs spent over $200 million in free agency. They’re still unlikely to beat out the Cardinals for the NL Central crown, but a Wild Card isn’t out of the question either.

And at a minimum, Chicago will absolutely play spoiler several times throughout the season as they kinda/sorta rebuild. Just ask the Mets. The Cubs swept them at Citi Field last year in what should have been a meaningless September series. Instead, it was a key reason New York fell to second in the NL East and had to settle for a Wild Card.

Forget the Cubs’ first half-closing series with the Yankees in July. In 2023, all eyes should be on the three-game rematch in Queens in August. The games won’t be as consequential, but Cubs righty and former Met Marcus Stroman is a trash-talker and will probably throw some jabs via Twitter.

More importantly, Mets fans have long memories and in this series, they’ll see if their team does too.

Greatest Additions: Dansby Swanson and Jameson Taillon. On the hitting side, the Cubs have a franchise shortstop who can hit upwards of 20 home runs a year and provide Gold Glove defense. Swanson’s power also fills the void left by popular Cub and former MVP Kris Bryant, now with the Rockies. And all for a relative discount at seven years, $177 million.

And on the pitching side, the Cubs landed a potential ace in the former Yankee. Both his fastball and curveball spin were in elite percentiles last year and he’s an excellent control pitcher. He averaged just 1.62 walks per nine innings (BB/9) and should anchor the Cubs’ rotation well, even if he comes a little pricey at four years, $68 million.

Greatest Loss: Willson Contreras. His defense behind the palte leaves something to be desired but he’s still one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. The veteran backstop slugged 22 home runs with an .815 OPS in 2022 and will be succeeded by a tandem of veterans Tucker Barnhart and Yan Gomes.

Does it sting that Contreras signed with rival St. Louis? Yes, but the Cubs weren’t keeping him to begin with and the Cardinals made a competitive offer. More importantly, it’s pretty hard to say no when asked to fill future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina’s big catcher’s pads.

Greatest Strength: Jed Hoyer. The veteran executive has a lengthy and accomplished resume, mostly as former Red Sox general and Cubs president Theo Epstein’s loyal lieutenant. In Chicago, Hoyer was instrumental in building the 2016 World Series team with Epstein. When Epstein resigned his position in 2020, Hoyer became the new president of baseball operations.

The next few years will be a test to see just how Hoyer fares without Epstein, and he should succeed. Pete Crow-Armstrong might be Chicago’s starting center fielder as soon as next year. Brennen Davis isn’t far behind. Kevin Alcantara is 20 years old and probably the best prospect nobody’s discussing at all. And who can forget former Yankees prospect Hayden Wesneski?

Theo Epstein is already a Hall of Famer. If Jed Hoyer can get the Cubs back in the playoff race with this young core, he might be too.

Greatest Weakness: The bullpen. The Cubs saw ten different pitchers record a save last year and their relievers ranked 21st in MLB with a 4.12 ERA. This year is no different, even though Michael Fulmer should add stability to high-leverage situations.

Otherwise, the Cubs will go the Brian Cashman route and try to build a bullpen from scratch. This is no easy task, especially with how much the Cubs relied on veteran relievers during the prime Joe Maddon years. That isn’t to say the bullpen will absolutely sink Chicago’s chances in 2023. Even so, count on adding relief help being Hoyer’s top priority at the trade deadline.

What kind of team will the Cubs be in 2023? As of now, the answer is simply boom or bust. The Chicago Cubs won’t catch the Cardinals for first place in the NL Central, and it’s hard to envision them passing the Brewers too. Even so, adding both Swanson and Trey Mancini in free agency should keep the lineup competitive. Chicago also added two potential boppers in Eric Hosmer and Cody Bellinger. A Wild Card berth is very possible if the Cubs get hot at the right time.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, their pitching rotation after Stroman and Taillon is a big question mark. Kyle Hendricks is working his way back from a shoulder injury and how the back end performs is anyone’s guess. The lineup may keep Chicago in some games, but the pitching is suspect enough to potentially sink them.

Thus, don’t be surprised if the Mets welcome the Cubs in August, run roughshod over them, and avenge last September’s sweep.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.