The Chicago Cubs are preparing for a decisive offseason as the direction of the team will be explicitly identified in regard to whether the endgame is for the team to be contending in 2025 or if the team will be contenting as early as next season.
After finishing 2021 in fourth place in the National League Central Division, the Cubs appear destined to finish the 2022 season in third place. This will mark the second consecutive season where the team has missed the postseason and the team is no longer afforded the same benefit of the doubt that they had during their initial rebuild from 2011-2015.
To the Cubs’ credit, they have flooded the minor league system with talented prospects with the likes of outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, outfielder Alexander Canario, starting pitcher Hayden Wesneski, and starting pitcher Caleb Killian added to the farm system over the course of the past year.
It is clear that the Cubs have the peripheral pieces to a team that can be contenders within the next year or two with the likelihood that Crow-Armstrong emerges as a true superstar. But, the Cubs will need to make significant additions to the Major League team. Spending in free agency is something that fans have been calling for the Cubs to do again since 2018.
As the offseason nears, there have been indications that the Cubs plan on being active this winter. Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts told ESPN in August that spending in free agency is a part of the plan for the next contending Cubs team. Cubs’ president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer also confessed to reporters in August that he plans on being active this offseason.
Hoyer and Rickets have said these things before. There were glimpses of spending returning last offseason when the team signed outfielder Seiya Suzuki and starting pitcher Marcus Stroman to lucrative free-agent deals but then closed the wallet with the exception of minor signings of outfielder Jackson Frazier and veteran backup catcher Yan Gomes.
Suzuki figures to factor into the long-term plans of the Cubs whereas the future of Stroman is not so certain as he has an option for 2024. The signings were mixed signals for the Cubs as they indicated that the team was unclear on their direction.
The Cubs may look to remove that uncertainty this offseason. In his “REKAP” of the Cubs’ 4-1 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday, NBC Sports Chicago insider David Kaplan reported that he has heard definitively that the Cubs are going to spend this offseason and that two of their targets are shortstop Trea Turner and starting pitcher Carlos Rodon. Furthermore, Kaplan reported that Turner and Rodon, both free agents this winter, are interested in the Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs plan on returning to contention next season with the goal of spending this offseason on top free agents.
At this point, it would appear to be shocking, if, at the end of the offseason, the Cubs do not have one of the four top free agent shortstops a part of their team. Report after report has surfaced over the past couple of months of how the Cubs will indeed land one of the top free agent shortstops this winter. Of the four-Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson-Correa and Bogaerts figured to be the two most likely with Turner falling in just behind them.
This is where we once again need to clarify that the Cubs adding a free agent shortstop is not any indicator of how the team feels about current starting shortstop Nico Hoerner. Hoerner is a long-term member of the future Cubs’ core and his infield flexibility allows for the Cubs to target one of these shortstops with the goal of improving their overall offense.
In regard to Rodon, there is no question that he fits the exact mold of the type of starting pitcher that the Cubs need to target this winter. What the Cubs appear to lack in regard to their future starting rotation is a true power pitcher that can sit at the top of the rotation. Rodon could certainly be that starting pitcher.
It is worth noting that both Turner and Rodon will likely have qualifying offers attached to them and there are reasons, as pointed out by Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation, that it may be worth it for the Cubs to sign two players attached to a qualifying offer instead of one.
(Of course, if the Cubs *DID* look at these two, specifically, it would be slightly beneficial to get both, since they will both be Qualifying Offer guys, and stacking those signings in a single offseason reduces the draft pick cost associated with the signings. For example, the first one would cost the Cubs their second highest draft pick (and $500,000 in IFA bonus pool money), but the second such signing would cost only their third highest draft pick (and another $500,000 in IFA money). So it’s a little more “cost” effective to sign two such players in a single offseason if you’re looking to do it anyway.)
Looking beyond the names involved, the most encouraging piece in all of this is that Kaplan is not directly involved with the Cubs. Kaplan is certainly connected in regards to the Cubs and when he offers tidbits such as the one he did on Tuesday, there is definitely a reason to listen. The only direction for the Cubs this offseason is to spend on free agency and that is how they can return to contention in 2023.