Okay, I admit it. That’s kind of a clickbaity headline.
And as you know, I have often preached patience to those who say, “Why aren’t the Cubs signing anyone RIGHTFREAKINGNOW?”
And in fact, the Cubs have spent some money this offseason — $17.5 million on Cody Bellinger and $68 million on Jameson Taillon, both signings that should improve the ballclub. (Incidentally, neither one of these signings has been officially announced by the Cubs, though I suppose they will be soon.)
The headline here refers to the statements by Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts and Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney earlier this month, both of which implied the Cubs would be major players in the free-agent market this offseason.
Since those statements were made, very large sums of money have been thrown at a lot of baseball players by other teams. Some of those sums of money are quite a bit larger than perhaps had been anticipated by Cubs management, specifically President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer.
It is my impression that Hoyer differs from his predecessor Theo Epstein in this one significant way: When Theo needed to adapt to changing conditions, he did so. It seems to me that Hoyer has pretty much cemented his idea of team-building in stone and isn’t willing to make such adaptations. Could be wrong here, but that’s my feeling.
Look, I’m not one of those people who insist that the Cubs must do something RIGHTFREAKINGNOW or they’re going to “lose the offseason.” This isn’t a horse race. There are still quite a number of good free agents on the board, particularly Dansby Swanson, who Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic thinks could be a difference-maker:
Fans want the more sexy choice in Turner, Bogaerts or Correa. Two of them are no longer options of course. But it shouldn’t be ignored how big of an upgrade Swanson would be. The Cubs would be bringing in a Gold Glove shortstop and shifting Hoerner to a position where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. They’d create a situation where they’d have some of the best up-the-middle defense in baseball and in turn help their pitching staff become an even stronger group.
If it costs eight years and $200 million for Swanson, so be it. One of the reasons Swanson might still be out there is the fact that he got married this past Saturday and is likely honeymooning at the present time. I’d like to see Swanson in blue pinstripes and as Sharma notes, this would give the Cubs strong up-the-middle defense — not only in the infield, but with Bellinger in center field and (presumably) a defense-first catcher to pair with Yan Gomes. More from Sharma:
Hoyer watched as the Cubs’ 2016 defense looked like one of the greatest groups ever assembled. It took a solid group of pitchers and helped them get elite results. So there does appear to be a method to Hoyer’s madness.
“I’ve been pretty open about that,” Hoyer said. “There are certain baseball truisms that I think are true. And being strong up the middle really helps and especially with the new rules, I think it’s really important to have really good defense up the middle.”
There’s merit to that. In fact, this 2016 article lists that year’s Cubs as the second-best defensive team of all time, just behind the 1939 Yankees, a team that steamrolled its competition on the way to a World Series title.
Conclusion: Though I wrote this (also clickbaity) article advocating for Hoyer’s firing last June, I am on board with Hoyer attempting to put together a team with solid defense. It matters. I am certain you have noticed the difference after the 2021 selloff, especially in the infield, after trading away Gold Glovers Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez. (Note: This isn’t intended to be a plea that the Cubs should have kept those two, only noting that the team’s infield defense has been markedly worse since their departure.)
If the Cubs signed Swanson, a good defensive backup catcher (Omar Narváez, perhaps?) and a good veteran reliever (Andrew Chafin), would that be enough for you? I think adding three like that, in addition to the two already signed and young players such as Hayden Wesneski and Matt Mervis joining this group, the 2023 Cubs should at the very least be a strong contender for a wild-card berth — and remember, an 87-win Wild Card team made it to the World Series in 2022.
It doesn’t have to happen RIGHTFREAKINGNOW. Hopefully, things like this will be headlines on this very website soon. Forget about big market vs. small market — this Cubs team needs to start trying to win.
As always, of course, we await developments.