In re-reading my midseason grades article, I noted this passage:
Last year’s team went 39-31 after the break, a .557 winning percentage. If this year’s team can play to that percentage in the 73 remaining games, they’ll go 41-32. That would result in an 83-79 final record.
I don’t claim to be prescient, but I’d have made some money if I’d have bet that, because that’s exactly what the 2023 Cubs did and exactly where they finished.
Of course, in mid-September we all thought they’d do better than that, but here we are.
Here are my final season grades for Cubs players. In putting this together, I’m going to grade those who were on the active roster when the season ended, as well as players who weren’t but did play a significant number of games during the season.
Yan Gomes: B
I gave Gomes a B at midseason and his second half was just as solid. After the All-Star break Gomes batted .271/.326/.402 (54-for-199) with 16 doubles, two triples and two home runs. He finished with 1.7 bWAR, played good defense and Cubs pitchers reportedly liked throwing to him.
The Cubs have a $6 million option on him for 2024 which they should absolutely exercise. In 2024, Gomes should play a bit less (caught 103 games, started 92) as Miguel Amaya should get an increased workload, with the idea that Amaya becomes the No. 1 catcher in 2025.
Cody Bellinger: A-
In the midseason article I listed Bellinger mainly as a center fielder, but he played much more first base after the All-Star break, starting 37 games there. He played well at both positions, and batted .313/.357/.552 (88-for-281) after the break with 16 doubles and 17 home runs in 72 games. Those are MVP numbers if done over a full season.
Obviously, it should be top priority for the Cubs to sign him to a long-term deal as he hits free agency. We can, and surely will, discuss that here at length over the next few weeks.
Nico Hoerner: B
Nico improved his .697 OPS at the break significantly. In the second half he hit .297/.377/.391 (82-for-276) with 12 doubles, a triple and four home runs. One thing I’d like to see him do going forward is to hit with more power — he should be able to do better than a .383 SLG.
He played his usual strong defense and could very well win a Gold Glove. His 5.0 bWAR season was his best to date.
Dansby Swanson: B
Swanson’s slash line declined in the second half to .225/.306/.425 (54-for-240), though he did hit for more power (.425 SLG and 12 home runs, compared to .406 and 10 in the first half).
Swanson suffered a heel injury shortly before the break and came back without a rehab assignment. It’s certainly possible this injury affected his play the rest of the season.
Swanson’s defense continued to be outstanding and he, like Nico, could win a Gold Glove. His leadership qualities showed throughout the year and it was said that a meeting Swanson had with Jed Hoyer, in which Swanson told Hoyer the Cubs couldn’t build a winning culture with continued selloffs every year at the deadline, was one of the reasons Hoyer decided to go for it this year.
Jeimer Candelario: B-
Candelario started out hot right after the trade, batting .385/.467/.577 (20-for-52) in his first 15 games with the Cubs.
But then his batting started to decline, and eventually he wound up on the injured list with back trouble, missing 13 games at a key time in September. It’s possible the back issues were bothering him for some time before the IL placement, as he batted .096/.197/.289 (5-for-52) with 16 strikeouts in the 17 games just before that placement.
He turns 30 in November and might be worth bringing back for a couple of years, if the price is right.
Ian Happ: B
People complain about Happ all the time, but he had basically the same offensive season in 2023 as he had in 2022:
2022: .271/.342/.440, 42 doubles, 17 home runs
2023: .248/.360/.431, 35 doubles, 21 home runs
A bit lower BA, a bit higher OBP (due to his personal-best 99 walks, which ranked fourth in the National League), pretty much the same SLG. He is who he is at this point in his career.
His defense wasn’t as good as it was in his 2022 Gold Glove season, though. That could stand some improvement.
Seiya Suzuki: B
What a fantastic second half he had, and he basically carried the team offensively in August and September, particularly after David Ross gave him a couple days off as a “mental reset.” After that reset, Suzuki hit .356/.414/.672 (63-for-177) in 47 games with 15 doubles, four triples and 11 home runs. He’s got a very good chance to be named N.L. Player of the Month for September.
A lot of this, I think, is that Suzuki is finally healthy after having various injury issues over his first season in MLB and half of his second. I look forward to him being a significant contributor in 2024.
Christopher Morel: B
The man can hit, no doubt about it. He finished at .247/.313/.508 (96-for-388) with 17 doubles, three triples and 26 home runs — in only 107 games. Imagine what he might have done to help the team if he hadn’t spent the first few weeks of this season at Triple-A Iowa.
The problem, in addition to strikeouts (133 of them, which is a lot for that number of at-bats), is that Morel really doesn’t have a defensive position. Sure, he can put a glove on and play in the field, but he is not very good anywhere.
Perhaps the Cubs can work with him on this during the offseason. It would be more useful to have that bat playing a field position than just be a DH.
Mike Tauchman: B
What a fantastic find Tauchman was, on the scrap heap after a year playing in Korea. Perhaps it was playing in his hometown for the team he grew up rooting for that energized him into a 2.3 bWAR season with a .739 OPS and 18 doubles and eight home runs in 108 games.
The problem here is that Tauchman is not young — he turns 33 in December. Can he be a useful spare-part outfielder in 2024? I’d say probably yes, and the team will likely keep him around.
Patrick Wisdom: C+
Don’t focus on the BA (.205). Instead, focus on the SLG (.500). That slugging percentage would have ranked 13th in the National League — just ahead of Bryce Harper! — if Wisdom had enough PA to qualify.
Of course, this is the big question — if Wisdom played enough to qualify, would he be able to sustain that sort of slugging? Perhaps not, and some say he should be a platoon DH, but he actually hit better vs. RHP (.805 OPS) than LHP (.769 OPS) this year.
23 home runs in 302 PA is nothing to sneeze at, though. He’s probably worth keeping around for another year.
Nick Madrigal: C+
The Cubs, I think, are just going to have to accept that Madrigal is not going to stay healthy. Hamstring injuries ruined his 2023 season, as they had ruined most of the two prior years.
I’ll give the guy credit, though: I didn’t think he could adapt to third base, but he did a very good job there defensively. And from June 16 until his season ended with another injury three months later, he batted .280/.328/.393 (47-for-168) with two home runs.
Yes, two home runs! Here’s his first as a Cub [VIDEO].
Miguel Amaya: B-
Really, this is more likely “incomplete.” I gave Amaya a B in the first-half grades article, and he wound up hitting a bit worse in the second half, .184/.287/.316 in 31 games (24 starts). He played less down the stretch as the Cubs tried to hold on to a playoff spot.
In general, though, this was a good MLB debut season for Amaya, who missed a lot of time over the previous couple of years with injuries. He appears 100 percent healthy and ready to take on more catching responsibilities in 2024.
Miles Mastrobuoni: C+
Recalled in September and given a few starts after Madrigal went down with his hamstring injury, Mastrobuoni responded by batting .333/.353/.394 (11-for-33).
I still don’t see him as more than the “break glass in case of emergency” guy at Triple-A.
Alexander Canario: Incomplete
It’s really hard to tell what the Cubs have here. Canario hit well in Triple-A, particularly so after the horrific injuries he suffered last year in winter ball.
Many were clamoring for him to get more playing time in September, especially after this grand slam at Wrigley against the Pirates [VIDEO].
Canario will certainly get a chance to become an everyday player for the Cubs in 2024.
Pete Crow-Armstrong: Incomplete
PCA was clearly overmatched by MLB pitching in September.
IMO, PCA needs more Triple-A at-bats and should not open 2024 in the major leagues. This is especially true if the Cubs do this:
Bruce Levine said on 670 The Score tonight the Cubs “are going to do everything they can” to trade for Pete Alonso, and added they would like to pair Alonso *with* Cody Bellinger— Locked On Cubs (@LockedOnCubs) October 3, 2023
That would be a great thing for the Cubs... but would leave little room for either Canario or PCA.
There also would seem to be little room for Matt Mervis or Jared Young. The Cubs would probably be well-advised to try to trade Mervis at this point. Perhaps he could be included in a deal for Alonso,
Justin Steele: A-
Steele ran out of gas in September, throwing the most innings this year that he had at any time in his career. He wound up with 173⅓ innings, 176 strikeouts, a league-best home run rate (0.7 per nine innings) and 3.8 bWAR. He won’t win the Cy Young award but could get some downballot votes.
Jameson Taillon: C
I gave Taillon a D at midseason but his performance in the second half gave great hope that his 2024 will be the sort of year the Cubs hoped for when they signed him to a four-year deal.
Through his first 14 starts Taillon posted a 6.93 ERA. From then through season’s end, he made 16 appearances (15 starts) and posted a 3.38 ERA and 1.103 WHIP, and even posted his first MLB save (in his first professional relief appearance) in the final regular-season game.
I’m looking for much better things from Jamo in 2024.
Kyle Hendricks: B
The Professor had a 1.4 bWAR year in 24 starts, nearly threw a no-hitter against the Giants, and in general seemed to return to about the level he was pitching in 2018-19.
That’s useful, and I’d think it’s a no-brainer to bring him back on the one-year option the Cubs have for 2024.
Marcus Stroman: C-
Stroman made the All-Star team off his great first half.
Then he left the game against the Cardinals in London with what was reported as a blister, later had shoulder issues and a mysterious rib cartilage fracture and missed significant time. He wasn’t any good when he did pitch, either; he entered that Cardinals game June 25 with a 2.28 ERA. The rest of the year: 8.29 ERA, 1.868 WHIP in only 38 innings.
It seems clear (to me, at least) that Stroman will not opt out of his deal, as he has the right to, and thus he will be a Cub in 2024. Hopefully, next year will be better.
Drew Smyly: C+
Smyly was one weird pitcher in 2023.
Starting: 23 starts, 5.62 ERA, 1.478 WHIP, 23 home runs in 113⅔ innings
Relieving: 18 appearances, 2.51 ERA, 1.221 WHIP, three home runs in 28⅔ innings
Smyly has a $9 million player option for 2024, so he’ll be back. It would seem best to use him as a multi-inning reliever.
Also, I wish David Ross would stop using him as a “lefty specialist.”
vs. LHB in 2023: 981 .OPS
vs. RHB in 2023: .758 OPS
Jordan Wicks: C+
This grade would have been higher except for Wicks getting pounded in his last start against the Brewers.
Clearly, Wicks has talent and should be in the 2024 rotation. There are still things to be worked on, obviously.
Adbert Alzolay: B
Sigh. As I’ve said many times here, I wish the Cubs had just made him the closer when the season began. He clearly has the aptitude and the repertoire for the role, as he showed while posting 22 saves in 25 opportunities.
It’ll be better in 2024 when he does have that role from Opening Day and it can be managed so he doesn’t get injured.
Julian Merryweather: B-
Yes he throws hard and yes he strikes out a lot of guys (98 in 72 innings), but the walks just drive me nuts. He’s constantly having to bail himself out of jams he gets himself into. He averaged 18 pitches per outing this year, but threw 20 or more pitches 28 times. Only nine of those 28 were multiple-inning appearances.
Fix the walk issue and he could be a really effective setup man.
Mark Leiter Jr.: B-
Leiter, as did several of his colleagues, ran out of gas in September after a good first half.
He posted an 8.59 ERA in 10 outings in September and his K rate was way down.
Still, this was really his first true full MLB season and overall it was pretty good.
Javier Assad: B
The rotation appears full for 2024 so maybe the multi-inning relief role would be best for him.
Hayden Wesneski: D
He just couldn’t repeat his good performance from last September. Starting the year in the rotation, he quickly pitched his way out of it, then back to Iowa. He’d have a really good outing, then stink in the next one.
The eye test says that he doesn’t deal well with failure, that when he gets into jams he lets it get to him. Don’t know whether this is actually true or not, but it appears that way.
This might be a case of needing a change of scenery. Perhaps the Cubs can offer him in trade somewhere. He does have talent.
Daniel Palencia: C
Like Merryweather, he throws hard but doesn’t always know where the ball is going. At 23, he probably can improve on this for 2024. If he can do that, the Cubs could have yet another reliable setup man.
Jose Cuas: C
In Cuas’ first 10 games as a Cub, he posted an ERA of 0.90... but walked 11 in 10 innings.
In his next 17 games, he posted a 4.61 ERA... but cut the walks to just three in 13⅔ innings.
So, I dunno. The sidearm/submarine motion can be effective, as we saw here last year with Scott Effross, but you have to throw strikes. And stop guys from hitting the ball.
The Cubs will certainly give him another chance in 2024.
Luke Little: A-
This was the best thing that happened to the Cubs in an otherwise awful September. The MLB debut of Little, the Cubs’ fourth round pick in 2020, was a great success. He threw 6⅔ innings in seven games, faced 30 batters, struck out 12 of them and allowed no runs. He’s 6-8 and has excellent mound presence and has the inside track, I’d think, to a bullpen spot in 2024.
Michael Fulmer: B-
Fulmer got off to a horrific start and after allowing two runs to the Reds May 27, had a 7.84 ERA.
The rest of the year: 2.48 ERA, 1.183 WHIP in 36 appearances covering 35x innings. If only he’d been able to do that for the whole year — or stay healthy, as he pitched in only one game after August 24. The Cubs could have used a healthy Fulmer in September.
The Cubs had him on a one-year, $4 million deal. He’s a free agent again. If they can get him back at a reasonable cost, I’d probably do it.
Tucker Barnhart, Brad Boxberger, Nick Burdi, Tyler Duffey, Jeremiah Estrada, Shane Greene, Eric Hosmer, Brandon Hughes, Anthony Kay, Caleb Kilian, Trey Mancini, Edwin Rios, Michael Rucker, Keegan Thompson, Luis Torrens and Nelson Velázquez also played at least one game for the 2023 Cubs.
Give the 2023 Cubs a final season grade.
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