Can the Cubs win the NL Central with the roster as it currently sits, or are further additions necessary? Believe it or not, they’re almost there. The North Siders are expected to win 80-81 games per FanGraphs, while the Cardinals project to 83-84 wins. The Brewers sit between the two, with an expected outcome of 81-82 victories. As a reminder, four of the top 10 free agents are still unsigned.
The offseason has moved like ice melting from the frozen spigot on the side of your house, but eventual agreements for Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery will change that. The problem is that each player has seen few or no offers to motivate a signing. The options for Bellinger and Chapman are rapidly dwindling, however, and one can make a case that the Cubs are the only match available for each. Montgomery could be an option for Chicago, too.
It’s not tough to imagine that Jed Hoyer and Scott Boras have sized each other up and down to the tiniest details while waiting for the other to flinch. Hoyer knows he needs to add 5-7 wins, and Boras wants him to pay his rate to purchase said wins. Unfortunately, neither is anywhere near to commencing the game of phone tag that accompanies contract negotiations. Signing any or all three of Chapman, Bellinger, and Montgomery will also put the Cubs into play as trade partners. Perhaps Hoyer can ask Boras for a multi-player discount, the same way normal folks like us bundle our cell phone, ISP, and cable contracts.
The Cubs won 83 games last season and would have made the playoffs if not for an epic September choke job. Nobody should be happy with a potentially middling ’24, especially Craig Counsell. Bellinger and Chapman are worth about 9-10 combined wins, and Montgomery an additional four. You must also factor in that values for other players like Christopher Morel, for example, would diminish with reduced at-bats. Then again, Bellinger and Chapman will make the other starters theoretically better while the uptick in defense gives the pitching staff a huge boost. The addition of either or both should make the Cubs division favorites.
But Hoyer has said repeatedly that he uses his own projection model, one that is likely a little more favorably skewed, which therefore reduces the urgency to strike deals outside his financial comfort zone. He probably believes his team is already the top divisional dog, and that’s not a very radical construct. The Cardinals rebuilt their rotation with three strong regression candidates and the Brewers have made fringe acquisitions other than Rhys Hoskins. They’ll probably trade Corbin Burnes before the season ends, and their bullpen might suffer from an increased workload and the loss of Counsell’s managerial acumen.
Free agency aside, Hoyer probably has additional irons in the fire. He’s often said he won’t wait on any particular player so he likely has options available none of us would imagine. Regardless, it’s difficult to ignore the fits Bellinger, Chapman, and, to a lesser extent, Montgomery could provide.
It’s easy and a little bit lazy to say Hoyer should just pay for what he needs and move on. That’s where he differs from Theo Epstein. Instead, the current president of baseball operations sits like Patience on a monument, ignoring our grief. It takes heavy stones to remain oblivious to the barbarians gathering at the gate, but for better or worse, Hoyer is shouldering his legacy with this iteration of Cubs baseball.
Cubs News & Notes
- Hoyer and his front office have reportedly scouted RHP Ken Giles in their continuing efforts to improve the bullpen.
- The USA Today staff writers unanimously agree that Bellinger will sign with the Cubs.
- Chicago’s farm system is drawing universal acclaim across the sport.
- The Cubs and Royals have made 19 trades all-time, some good, some bad, and some ugly. I could see Chicago and Kansas City matching up on a trade for third base prospect Cayden Wallace, perhaps for Hayden Wesneski.
- You don’t see many Mike Tauchman trade suggestions, but this one nets the Cubs a lefty reliever with upside.
- The acquisition of Richard Lovelady went viral but for all the wrong reasons, bringing out the Beavis and Butthead in all of us.
- Lovelady is a low-risk addition that provides depth to Chicago’s bullpen.
- Hoyer is building that depth to avoid entering September with an overtaxed relief corps.
- Speaking of viral acquisitions, the best moment of the offseason so far was the presser that introduced us all to Shōta Imanaga.
- How the Cubs closed their deal with Imanaga ($) could be instructive during this slow-moving offseason per Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. Hoyer basically hibernated for two months after shocking the baseball world by firing David Ross and hiring Counsell.
- Ben Verlander says the acquisitions of Imanaga, Héctor Neris, and Michael Busch will make the Cubs NL Central favorites…if they can sign Bellinger, too.
- Imanaga will mostly slot third in Chicago’s rotation after Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon, and ahead of Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad. Cade Horton and Ben Brown are waiting in the wings, and Drew Smyly will also be available to start.
- Steele and Nico Hoerner are projected to potentially have career years in 2024.
- Pete Crow-Armstrong was named the top defender of Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospect List.
- Four Cubs’ prospects made Kiley McDaniels’ Top 100 list ($), led by Crow-Armstrong at No. 18. McDaniels placed Horton at No. 30, Matt Shaw was 37th, and Wicks was four spots behind Shaw.
- A friend of mine who works for Klutch Sports Management told me the Mariners are not currently interested in Morel. They do like Nick Madrigal, however.
Odds & Sods
Questionable advice from @FlatgroundApp and the hottest of takes.
✅lie to your coaches
✅think you’re better than you actually are
✅downplay the importance of commitment
✅eliminate trust with your friends
✅crush a teams culture
So your arm is “fresh” for summer ball…
Got it pic.twitter.com/pcfVonvnhW
— Matt Pagni (@CoachPags775) January 27, 2024
- Milwaukee: The Yankees could be interested in trading for Burnes if they cannot sign Snell.
- Cincinnati: Starter Frankie Montas has just one goal this season, and that’s to make all of his starts.
- Pittsburgh: The Pirates are looking for additional starting pitching and could seek a trade with the Dodgers.
- St. Louis: The absence of a strong No. 2 starter could doom the Cardinals this year.
The Tropicana Las Vegas is being demolished to make way for a new MLB stadium. The landmark hotel will not accept bookings after April 2.
Portland also wants a big league team and has zeroed in on a property for a ballpark of its own.
White Sox players are using poor performance projections as a rallying cry.
Morel looks like he wants to lead the league in home runs.
Christopher Morel BP gun show. pic.twitter.com/DOmGQ4ytrh
— Brad (@ballskwok) January 26, 2024
They Said It
- “Hey Chicago? What do you say? The Cubs are gonna win today.” – Imanaga
- “I was blown away [by Imanaga]. I was sitting in the front row and watching this. You put yourself in his shoes, trying to read that and learn that. Like if I was doing it in Japanese, I would have been terrified.” – Counsell
- “We had done a lot of work on [Imanaga]. It got really serious towards the end of the [posting] window. I just think that’s the nature of having a deadline. There’s a reason trades happen on July 28 to July 31. We knew this would kind of come down to the end.” – Hoyer
Wednesday Walk-Up Song
I don’t often like throwback performances by newer artists but this one smokes.