The heavy lifting has already been done this offseason as the Chicago Cubs look to build a lineup with enough skill, depth and experience to make it a fun summer at Wrigley Field. National pundits are naming the Cubs among the best teams in baseball this winter. Baseball America recently ranked three Cubs prospects in its preseason Top 100. You can tell yourself to believe that the Cubs can be a playoff team in 2023.
It’s also worth noting that $300 million doesn’t go as far as it used to in free agency. Signing at least eight players to major league contracts in one offseason is a partial reflection of some of the scouting and player development issues of recent years. The highest-ranked Cubs prospect on Baseball America’s list, Pete Crowe-Armstrong (No. 25), has yet to play above the A-ball level, while Brennen Davis’ rating (No. 84) represents a 68-point drop from that mark. last year amid some concerns about his injury history.
The Cubs don’t know if there is any predictive value in last season’s finish. Twenty-eight of their last 61 games came against the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals in August, September and October. A Pythagorean winning percentage based on run differential rated the 2022 Cubs as mostly a .500 team in the second half. From coast to coast, the National League is loaded with franchises that have legitimate World Series aspirations this year.
The beauty of the 162-game schedule is that we will soon find out. Jed Hoyer’s front office hasn’t stopped looking for ways to upgrade the bullpen, and there’s still a group of left-handed relievers on the free agent market that includes Matt Moore, Brad Hand, Andrew Chaffin, Zach Britton and Caleb Smith. The Cubs are also looking forward with a sense of optimism and possibility that perhaps hasn’t been felt since Yu Darvish showed up at Sloan Park five years ago after signing his $126 million contract. The first official training camp for Cubs pitchers and catchers is just three weeks away in Arizona.
“The important thing is how we play,” Hoyer said. “Going into the offseason, when I thought about how we could maximize the dollars we had and the positions we had, I think we were really close to where we wanted to be. It’s really satisfying from that point of view, but at the end of the day it’s all about how we play. I’ve seen it when people crush your offseason moves and you have a great year. And I’ve seen the other side of it, too.”
There will be no questions about Joe Maddon being a lame duck. After the COVID-19 pandemic and Major League Baseball’s lockout, David Ross will finally have a “normal” spring training in his fourth season as Cubs manager. We don’t have to go through the ritual of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras saying how much they love playing in Chicago and Hoyer saying how much the organization appreciates their investment, only to have them become former Cubs. . Selling at the trade deadline is not on the front burner.
It’s unclear how close the Cubs are to spending the $233 million threshold that triggers the competitive balance tax. Right now, according to Roster Resource estimates, their luxury tax payroll is projected at more than $221 million. It’s common for Hoyer’s baseball operations department to set aside some money for in-season additions. The Opening Day lineup won’t be a set piece, but the Cubs appear to have a core group of players to rely on early in the season.
C: Ian Gomez/Tucker Barnhart
1B: Eric Hosmer
2B: Nico Herner
SS. Dansby Swanson
3B: Patrick Wisdom
LF: Ian Happ
CF: Cody Bellinger
Russia: Seya Suzuki
DH: Trey Mancini
“I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily a plan in place, but I think with the signings this offseason, that speaks volumes,” Mancini said this week after the Cubs finalized his two-year, $14 million contract. “It’s a huge step and a huge message that maybe this won’t be a long process. I think we can turn around really fast.”
The Cubs don’t have the firepower to win many scoring games or the kind of offensive performers expected to carry the team. The St. Louis Cardinals, by contrast, signed the Cubs’ best hitter last season (Contreras) to round out a lineup that already featured Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, along with several home run power players. But the big ideas this offseason included gaining more credibility, building some stability and leveling up with more established players with track records.
To give you an idea of how the rest of the baseball industry views the organization’s overall talent, at least 14 players linked to the Cubs last season have been waived in the past three months; Rivas, Brad Vick, Esteban Quiroz, Jared Young, Narciso Crook, Steven Brawl, Anderson Espinoza, Mark Leiter Jr., Manuel Rodriguez and Anthony Kay. Frank Schwindel is reportedly headed to Japan to play for the Orix Buffaloes. Two outfielders who combined for more than 800 plate appearances for the Cubs over the past two seasons (Rafael Ortega and Michael Hermosillo) signed minor league deals with the New York Yankees. Only one Cubs prospect was selected in the major league round of the Rule 5 draft. The Seattle Mariners optioned Chris Clark, a 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher who reached the Double-A level last year. For this rebuilding perspective, Mancini cited the insights of Mychal Givens, his former teammate with the Baltimore Orioles and one of the relievers the Cubs let go last summer.
“From what I’ve seen and what he’s said, there’s a lot of young talent in the team and it’s an exciting team, but the experience was lacking a little bit,” Mancini said. “When you have a lot of exciting, young talent paired with the right veteran guys, it can be a great mix. It can really push the young guys forward. How fast they grow is critical to the team’s success. It’s just getting the right mix of people in there. We certainly did. I’m excited for us all to be at the same club and kick it off.”
If Christopher Morrell takes what he learned as a rookie and develops a more advanced offensive approach, the Cubs will have a dynamic player who can move all over the field as a defender. If Matt Mervis continues the trajectory of his breakout season in the minors last year (36 homers, 119 RBI), he could eventually provide the left-handed power that the lineup has been missing. If Nick Madrigal stays healthy and shows he can be a .300 hitter again, that’s a bonus. If Davis returns to full strength and puts it all together, there will be a potential star at Wrigley Field one day. But the Cubs can stock their Triple-A Iowa roster with those kinds of wild cards instead of relying too heavily on unproven, inexperienced players.
After a lack of rotation depth ended the team’s hopes of contending in 2021 (until early July) and 2022 (until early May), the Cubs are now in a position where Kyle Hendricks can take time to rehabilitate his right shoulder and his mechanical technique adjustment. . There should be some healthy competition for the No. 5 spot in the Opening Day rotation between pitchers like Hayden Wesneski, Keegan Thompson and Adrian Sampson. Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon and Drew Smiley combined to make 103 starts last season, and each pitcher finished with an ERA between 3.18 and 3.91. Highlighted by the addition of Swanson, a $177 million Gold Glove prospect, the Cubs overhauled a defense that allowed the most unearned runs (89) in the majors last year.
“If you look at our pitching staff, the types of pitchers we have and the defense you put behind them, I think it makes a lot of sense,” Hoerner said. “It’s a team that can win in a lot of different situations and win in different ways. Wrigley Field specifically requires: Playing baseball there in April and hopefully October, sometimes that’s all you need. We’re off to a good start.”
The cubs aren’t done yet. Adding a late reliever with some attempt at closure would make a lot of sense. Perhaps there is still a veteran hitter who can fill a role off the bench. The only offseason grade is incomplete until the Cubs start playing real games again.
“We talked a lot last year about what it means to finish strong,” Hoerner said. “We played well on the field. We had contributions from many different places. I hope it helped attract some players and just generally helped the momentum of this organization. That stuff is really powerful. This year, we will definitely come into the spring with a different feeling than we have had before.”
(Jed Hoyer photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today)