I was thinking of a number of different ways I could write a “further reactions to the Dansby Swanson signing” article, and settled on this.
First, let me tell you that Sara Sanchez will have a “by the numbers” article about Swanson in the coming days.
Beyond the signing of Swanson, though, the Cubs do still have some holes to fill — another catcher, another hitter, some relievers, perhaps another starting pitcher. So let’s look at all of those areas, one by one.
The best remaining free agent catchers are: Gary Sanchez, Roberto Perez, Jorge Alfaro, Curt Casali and Tucker Barnhart. (There are a few others, but those are the best of the rest.)
All of those catchers have some things to recommend them, but also all have flaws in their games.
The Cubs need a catcher who can hit, a bit, but who is also defensive-minded.
So why not send inquiries to the Mets about James McCann?
McCann has two years left on his deal for about $24 million. He missed most of 2022 (played in just 61 games) due to two injuries: a hamate bone that cost him six weeks, and an oblique that put him out for another month.
Neither of those injuries should prevent him from being healthy for 2023. McCann hasn’t really hit well since 2019, but perhaps being 100 percent healthy could help him return to that form. He’s about middle-of-the-pack in both pitch framing and throwing out runners.
I’d imagine if the Cubs would pick up that contract, thus helping the Mets stay under the 90 percent luxury tax level, the cost would probably not be too much in prospects. With the signing of Omar Narváez, the Mets don’t really need McCann anymore.
The Cubs have been connected to two free agent hitters who might be of help: Michael Conforto and Trey Mancini. Either could serve as DH, with Mancini also providing the possibility of platooning at first base with Matt Mervis.
There are downsides here: Conforto missed the entire 2022 season after shoulder surgery (and he turned down a Mets qualifying offer after 2021, which was in hindsight a big mistake). That injury also affected his 2021 season. If Conforto is 100 percent healthy, that could be a big boost to a Cubs lineup that could use him. A two-year deal would be worth it.
Mancini missed the entire 2020 season for cancer treatments, then came back in 2021 and had a pretty good year in Baltimore, then wasn’t nearly as good after his trade to Houston at the deadline last summer. That would be the caveat here — is he going to be better than the .176/.258/.364 he hit in 51 games with Houston? (He also went 1-for-21 with eight strikeouts for the Astros in the postseason.)
The Cubs could still reunite with Drew Smyly or Wade Miley, pitchers who were on the team in 2022 and had varying degrees of success. Smyly, in particular, would not be expensive.
I have previously written here about Corey Kluber and Johnny Cueto, both of whom are getting up there in age (Kluber turns 37 in April, Cueto is 37 in February). But Cueto had a fine year with the White Sox and Kluber threw well enough for the Rays (and more importantly, was healthy all year), leading MLB in walk rate per nine innings (1.2, only 21 walks in 164 innings).
I’ve previously written about former Cub Andrew Chafin, who had a fine season for the Cubs in 2021 before being traded for Daniel Palencia and Greg Deichmann. (Well, at least Palencia still has a chance to be very good.)
Chafin had a decent year in Detroit and will be 33 in June, still young enough to put together a solid season. He seemed to like pitching for the Cubs and might be willing to come back.
Other relievers who could be good value signings: Adam Ottavino, Alex Reyes, Taylor Rogers and three other former Cubs: David Phelps, Mychal Givens and Craig Kimbrel.
Yes, Kimbrel. Would it be worth bringing back the ex-Cubs closer at a much lower salary?
Just to turn back this article to a bit of discussion about Swanson: There is absolutely no doubt that Swanson, a Gold Glove winner, makes the Cubs a better defensive team. Nico Hoerner will move to second base, a place where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. Cody Bellinger is Gold Glove-caliber in center field. This matters, especially with the new shift restrictions:
“It’s really important to have good defense up the middle,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said this month. “A middle-of-the-infield player, you can’t hide in the shift anymore. So I think that’s going to expose those guys even more, and it makes athleticism and defense in the middle of the infield that much more important.”
At this point I feel it’s necessary to link this National Review article again, the one that had the 2016 Cubs as one of the best defenses in MLB history:
Now, of course, that Cubs team had other things going for it besides great defense, but I think that, plus the adjustments teams will have to make for the new shifting rules, makes up-the-middle defense much more important going forward. I give Jed Hoyer credit for recognizing that.
So while the Cubs still have more to do, I’m still going to state — again — that I believe the Cubs with Dansby Swanson and some of the other signings they have made so far this offseason make them at least a wild-card contender. Yes, they have more work to do, but I’ll give Hoyer a decent grade so far — and yes, had they whiffed on Swanson, there likely would have been another “fire Jed Hoyer” article posted here.
But they didn’t — and now the Cubs rank sixth among all teams in the total dollar amount spent so far this offseason:
Spent on free agents this offseason (rounded million $)— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) December 17, 2022
Almost $3.5 BILLION!
BAL WSN 18
ATL CIN SEA 1
MIA MIL 0
I’m pretty pleased with what the team has done so far. As always, we await future developments.
Give Jed Hoyer a grade for the Cubs offseason to date.
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