For those of you who actually made it past the headline, let me say right away that I don’t believe it particularly likely that the Cubs will indeed look to add a top-tier free agent this season. However, the possibility exists that they could add significantly to what is currently a very low payroll if the right opportunity comes along. Jed Hoyer has said more than once that the plan is to spend “intelligently,” which doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be cheap.
The key factor here is that the Cubs don’t want to find themselves locked into another deal that sees them overpaying for a player who will only be in his prime for the first year or two of a five-plus year contract. Even if Hoyer is able to turn things around as quickly as he says he can, it doesn’t make much sense to pay for production that essentially won’t matter. But if they could get a guy who would still be producing in a big way 3-5 years down the road, well, that would be a different story.
And no, I don’t mean Trevor Story, though you’re getting warmer if you’re thinking the Cubs could use a member of what might be the best shortstop group in the history of MLB free agency. Before we get to that in more detail, let’s look at a player the Cubs probably won’t be able to pursue in any meaningful fashion.
Marcus Stroman is coming off of arguably his best season after opting out of the shortened 2020 campaign, springboarding from the qualifying offer into what figures to be a big payday. In fact, Pat Ragazzo of Inside the Mets reported that “the current belief around the league is Stroman will draw a 5-6 year deal worth $25 million annually.” And that’s at a “minimum,” according to Ragazzo’s source.
Even if we apply a liberal amount of salt to that rumor, it’s easy to see how and why Stroman would be seeking a big deal coming off of that performance. This is probably his last shot at a nine-figure deal and he’s actually younger than several of the other top-tier free agent pitchers in this class. That said, Stroman will turn 31 in May and doesn’t fit the description of the “power pitchers” Hoyer says the Cubs are targeting.
It should be noted, however, that Stroman is four months younger than a certain veteran lefty the Cubs identified as the man to officially launch their return to competitiveness. I’ve been saying for a while now that they’d be wise to find their next Jon Lester, though budget and timing were a helluva lot different heading into 2015.
Unless Stroman really wants to pitch for the Cubs so badly that he’s willing to sign a shorter deal — maybe three years — I just don’t see this happening. He’ll have plenty of suitors and Hoyer probably isn’t in the position to win a bidding war at this point, which might make what follows sound a little silly because the player in question is going to command more money over a longer period.
If there’s a player this winter who makes sense for the Cubs to go after in a big way, it’s Carlos Correa. He only turned 27 in late September, making him the youngest member of a group that includes Story, Corey Seager, and Javier Báez, and he figures to have several prime seasons left. In addition to a decent contact profile and excellent pop, Correa led at all shortstops in defensive runs saved (21) and was fifth in FanGraphs’ Def metric (9.6).
He’s also pretty sharp when it comes to responding to unfounded accusations about ongoing cheating.
"Disrespectful words with no facts… he needs to know the facts, or you know what he needs to do." 👀
Carlos Correa responds to Ryan Tepera's comments ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/5kK7k5S7fW
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 12, 2021
Among the Cubs’ many needs, shortstop is the one they may be most looking to address heading into next season. The initial assumption following the Báez trade was that Nico Hoerner would take over at short, but that’s not necessarily the case. In addition to questions about his health, which may be based on nothing other than a series of flukes, Hoerner probably isn’t going to put up elite-level defense at short under even the best circumstances.
Then there’s the complete lack of power, which would be fine if not for slap-hitting Nick Madrigal being the primary second baseman. That’s why the Cubs are planning to use Hoerner, whose contact bat still makes sense as a regular part of the lineup, in a role similar to the one Ben Zobrist occupied during his time in Chicago.
“He’s going to be a significant piece of our team next year and going forward,” Hoyer said during his end-of-season presser. “Exactly what position, I think, is sort of undecided.”
While Hoyer didn’t really come out and say it explicitly, the indication is that the Cubs will be shopping in the shortstop aisle this winter. Hell, that could even lead them back to a reunion with Javy, though it feels like that ship has sailed. Put it all together and you can see how Correa could be the exception to what otherwise feels like a rule against getting splashy on a big-time contract this offseason.
And while he certainly won’t be offering the Cubs some sort of discount, the former No. 1 overall pick loved the vibe he got during his pre-draft workout at Wrigley back in 2012.
“I was like, wow, I would love to play here every single day in the big leagues,” Correa told Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago. “Obviously, I’m focused on winning a championship with the Astros. But I’ve heard a lot of players talk about how great it is to play at Wrigley Field and I’ve never gotten to play there at the major-league level yet.
“Actually, a lot of players say it’s the best stadium to play at.”
I want to reiterate that I don’t think this is probable to any great degree, just that it would make sense even in light of what Hoyer has said about the organization’s plans for the near future. Correa should still be putting up big numbers and playing solid defense even if it takes two more years to put together a championship-caliber roster, plus he would be an example for other players that the Cubs are serious about winning again.
Hey, a boy can dream.