“Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.” – Jack King Jr., professional gambler
In his most recent column, Cubs Insider EIC Evan Altman called himself a “begrudging optimist” and most of us indeed feel the same. Jed Hoyer’s lack of movement this winter is almost bizarre at this point. He reminds me of Matt Damon’s character Mike McDermott in the movie Rounders: far too conservative and a little too gun-shy for his own good because he refuses to do anything but stick to the percentages. Hoyer has had previous success grinding through the offseason to avoid overpaying free agents, though it badly stings for content creators and our readership numbers.
When he’s inevitably asked at CubsCon if the North Siders were truly in on Shohei Ohtani, Hoyer may sound a little more like Russian protagonist Teddy KGB, played expertly by John Malkovich.
I’ve talked to some baseball people who believe the 2023 Cubs were 5-8 victories better than the 83 games they won with David Ross managing. The percentages therefore favor Hoyer because he replaced Ross with Craig Counsell. That also means Hoyer just needs to compensate for the losses of Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman to level the playing field for his new manager. A chance still exists that Bellinger will return to the Cubs, while there are several options to replace Stroman.
- The Cubs could give Stro’s starts to Jordan Wicks, Cade Horton, and/or Ben Brown.
- Hoyer could sign Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Zack Greinke, and/or Shōta Imanaga.
- The front office could attack the trade market to land Shane Bieber, Dylan Cease, Corbin Burnes, or Logan Gilbert.
- The Cubs could and probably will sign Brandon Woodruff, though he won’t be available until at least late 2024.
- Some under-the-radar starters who are or could be available include Paul Blackburn, Ryan Pepiot, Clarke Schmidt, Carlos Rodón, and buy-low candidate Alek Manoah. Each potential acquisition comes with its own set of risks and potential rewards.
Hoyer has plenty of time to build a better bullpen, and corner targets Rhys Hoskins and Matt Chapman are still available. Sure, none of those moves are as splashy as what the Dodgers have done, but as McDermott says in one of his monologues, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, you are the sucker.”
The percentages say the best team in baseball rarely wins the World Series, the NL Central can be won with as little as 87-90 victories, and there are no trophies for winning the offseason. There is a queasy combination of thrill and fear when a ballclub elects to spend in free agency, but Hoyer mitigates that risk by plodding like a banana slug through the winter. When he eventually makes a move or two – and he will – that brief burst of adrenaline will satiate most fans, if not cause a fainting episode or two.
Then again, playing it too safe could come back to hurt Hoyer.
“I’ve often seen these people, these squares at the table, short stack and long odds against them. All their outs are gone. One last card in the deck that can help them. I used to wonder how they could let themselves get into such bad shape, and how the hell they thought they could turn it around.”– McDermott
Cubs News & Notes
- MLB Pipeline predicts that Pete Crow-Armstrong will be named 2024 Rookie of the Year and that Matt Shaw will be among the biggest prospect risers.
- The Blue Jays signed centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, which could expedite Bellinger’s return to the Cubs.
- Patrick Wisdom launching nukes in his underwear? There are some things you will never be able to unsee.
- Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic believes Seiya Suzuki could receive some MVP downvotes ($) next season. He also believes Taillon will earn the trust of Cubs fans and that Hoyer will trade at least one pitcher from his 40-man roster, possibly Brown or Hayden Wesneski.
- The folks over at Bleacher Report list Astros starter and trade candidate Framber Valdez as a “best fit” for the Cubs.
- Chicago’s farm system improved more than any other in 2023.
- The Cubs enter the new year with an eye on winning the NL Central.
Odds & Sods
I have a new favorite quote thanks to Satchel Paige, and my answer is 32.
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) December 28, 2023
No links today, just commentary.
- Milwaukee: Do we escort Counsell back to Whitefish Bay if the Brewers tear it down and still finish with a better record than the Cubs?
- Chicago: The Cubs were 69-61 with a .770 OPS when Bellinger was in the lineup. Without him, they were 14-18 and their OPS fell to .669.
- Cincinnati: I hope Santa gave every Reds player a new baseball glove and a GPS for tracking baseballs.
- Pittsburgh: Ben Cherington will make the Hall of Fame because of his neverending rebuild. You read it here first.
- St. Louis: It’s almost New Year’s Eve and the Cardinals are still in last place. Champagne all around.
As you re-read my preamble, and I know you will, I am not championing Cubs ownership whatsoever. If you don’t get my combination of pop culture, sarcasm, and satire you are reading the wrong baseball column.
Everybody: “Jed, let’s add some MLB talent for #Cubs 2024.”
— MBDChicago (@MBDChicago) December 27, 2023
Thursday Morning Six-Pack
- What if I told you that the 6-9 Bears still have a chance to make the playoffs and that one path seems very doable? Is that something you might like to hear?
- Artificial Intelligence gave us the “Drippy Pope” this year. My, what a wonderful time to be alive.
- Can baby names become extinct? Walter, Kyle, Steven, and Royce are on this year’s list, as are Kate, Katherine, and Kenzie.
- Some see 2023 as the year that Twitter died. “You’re telling me a chicken fried this rice?”
- By the way, I refuse to call the behemoth social platform “X,” but I will once the calendar rolls into ’24 and election conspiracies populate its feed.
- 2023 may also be seen as the year of Bey and Tay. I’m terrified for the future of music, and Travis Kelce.
Apropos of Nothing
I pray for the extinction of the following words and phrases in 2024: Albeit, really, draft capital, prospect capital, X (formerly Twitter), launch angle, spin rate, ghost runner, oppo taco, shove, getting a chip, sports team + nation, GOAT, iconic, Dodgers win, and of course, apropos. I am partial to calling the ghost runner “Manfred Mann,” by the way.
They Said It
- “The one thing I saw last year, as the season went on, Seiya became a very dangerous hitter. To the point that he was just a very, very scary bat in the lineup and someone you had to really be careful of as an offensive player. He keeps taking steps forward as a hitter in the major leagues. One more step and we’re talking about a really scary offensive player for the rest of the league.” – Counsell
- “When you see Seiya play at his best, it’s one of the best bats in major league baseball. He’s got a chance to be in that upper tier of power bats. It’s really just about the consistency. There’s been some ups and downs, but those ups have been really darn good. There’s no reason to believe he can’t maintain that consistency over the course of a season.” – Hawkins
Thursday Walk-Up Song
All of us, or maybe nobody, once Hoyer signs a player to a major league contract.