7 Items Cubs Need to Address Immediately
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday afternoon, the ratification of which at a little after 6pm ET meant transactions can once again take place. It’s a little surprising that we didn’t any significant moves that evening, though that’s probably because no one wanted to admit they’d actually been working on them the whole time. Expect a deluge once the first trickle clears the dam.
Isn’t it funny how after weeks of shady negotiations, the beisboligarchs overseeing the sport are suddenly concerned with propriety? Alas. The real concern for front office folks is getting rosters in place for an abbreviated spring training that starts Sunday. That’s the mandatory report date for all players without visa issues, then the games will start a few days later. That gives teams less than four weeks to prep for the regular season.
The Cubs have a lot of work to do in that time, particularly if they want to make good on claims that they’ve got the ability and desire to compete this season. Listicles are pretty washed, but a numbered checklist of tasks is the easiest way for my infirm brain to address this topic after what ended up being a pretty wild day.
If I’m Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins, here’s what I’m looking to do over the next few days:
1) Find a shortstop
With all due respect to Nico Hoerner, the Cubs have a chance to make a massive upgrade here that could give them the next face of the franchise. Carlos Correa is the most obvious move if they really want to go big, and he’s been connected to the Cubs repeatedly throughout the offseason. Marcus Stroman is recruiting Correa publicly and there’s a sense that this could be like the Jon Lester move a few years back.
Which is to say that it would be a clear signal that the Cubs are very serious about both spending money and winning. They might not be serious about spending that much money, however, so perhaps Trevor Story is a more realistic target. Then again, it’s been reported that the Cubs want to try to convince Correa to take a shorter deal than expected and that they don’t view Story as a fallback.
If that’s the case, it’s entirely possible we see a middle infield of Hoerner and Nick Madrigal until Ed Howard or any number of other potential difference-making shortstops are ready. I really think Hoerner’s best role would be as the second coming of Ben Zobrist, playing all over the field and providing timely hitting, but I guess we’ll see.
2) Extend or trade Willson Contreras
I had been saying for years that Contreras was the most likely of the core group of position players to be traded because he had an additional year of control and because he figured to age a little more poorly relative to his possible contract asks. Well, he’s the only one left and the Cubs haven’t gotten down the road on a new deal with him. That becomes much more difficult once the regular season opens, so they’ve got a few weeks to figure things out.
Many viewed the Yan Gomes signing as the first shoe to drop in an inevitable trade scenario, but Hoyer and David Ross have stated publicly that they need to find ways to get their primary catcher more rest. Having a capable backup on the largest deal the Cubs have given a position player since Jason Heyward is one way to get Contreras more rest. It also gives the front office a safety net should they field an offer they can’t refuse.
If the Cubs don’t trade Contreras this spring, it’s imperative that they work something out to keep him in Chicago long-term. The last thing they need right now is another lame duck scenario in which both player and team are slogging through the season with the weight of unknown hanging over them. I’m not sure what a deal looks like, but it should be pretty reasonable given all the variables.
In all likelihood, the situation will actually play out in reverse. The Cubs will try to work out a team-friendly extension and will “almost certainly” shop Contreras if that doesn’t happen. Either way, they need to pull that band-aid off quickly.
3) Add a hard-throwing starter
The ship may have sailed on this one given all the other signings that have taken place, but this has been an area of need for quite some time and it’s something Hoyer has addressed very pointedly. The Cubs had the slowest average velocity of any rotation in MLB last season by a wide margin and the addition of Wade Miley actually brings that number down.
I have been stumping for them to sign Yusei Kikuchi for a while now, so I’ll keep pounding that drum because I think he fits perfectly with what Hoyer and Hawkins are trying to do. Or maybe they’re sold on the idea that Caleb Kilian can be a dude in very short order, even if not from Opening Day. With lots of hard throwers coming up and a decided need to get results from their development pipeline, the Cubs could wait on homegrown talent to win the day.
4) Figure out the DH
This goes hand in hand with No. 2 and probably should have followed it immediately, but I forgot about it when I was writing and now I’m too lazy to change it. The main reason the Cubs need to rest Contreras is to maintain his offensive punch throughout the season, so using him as the DH would allow them to keep his bat in the lineup even when he’s not catching.
That probably makes more sense when the Cubs are facing lefties because of the splits, but the sheer volume of right-handed pitchers would necessitate his use as a DH against them as well. Another name that has come up frequently as a DH candidate is Nelson Velázquez, though it might be a little early to think about that.
The Cubs were reportedly in the trade market for JD Davis prior to the lockout and he makes sense in this role due to his pop and almost identical splits. That’s something to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.
5) Add left-handed power bat
The Cubs either traded or non-tendered three left sluggers last year and all three could theoretically find themselves back in Chicago under the right circumstances. Well, maybe not all three. Kyle Schwarber is almost certainly not going to be entertaining any offers from an old boss who he may feel gave up on him. Even if the water has already passed under it, that bridge is mostly burned.
There have been multiple reports of interest in bringing Anthony Rizzo back, something the Cubs may have even spoken to the first baseman’s reps about right after the season. It would make sense in terms of fan service, potential platoons with Frank Schwindel at first and at DH with Contreras, and financially.
Joc Pederson is another possible fit, however unlikely. With the shift going away next season, maybe his value increases that much more.
6) Improve the outfield
This is another category that dovetails with several others and that could have ramifications on the immediate future of the Cubs’ top prospect. Brennen Davis could almost certainly come up right away and be fine in Chicago, but he will most likely spend at least the first half of the season in Iowa. And no, that is absolutely not service-time manipulation.
Davis has gotten very little professional experience so far and still needs time to develop his plate approach before being called up. The Cubs should have learned by now that fast-tracking a hitter and seeing him succeed right away doesn’t always work in the long run. That said, they don’t want to block Davis for longer than is necessary.
Despite the need for lefty power in the lineup, I’d love to see the Cubs add a right-handed-hitting outfielder to break up the trio of Ian Happ, Rafael Ortega, and Heyward. Give me one Seiya Suzuki, please.
7) Let the kids play in the ‘pen
It’s no secret that the Cubs have lacked big velo in general and that they’ve failed miserably when it comes to developing pitchers. They also traded away their closer and just saw a would-be late-inning guy sidelined due to elbow reconstruction. Rather than picking up a collection of 30+ relievers on one-year deals, why not roll with some young pitchers who can really bring it?
I’m talking about Ethan Roberts, Ben Leeper, Manuel Rodriguez, Brailyn Márquez, Justin Steele, Adbert Alzolay, and a number of other candidates who are either already with the big club or should be soon. It’s impossible to develop pitchers if you never put faith in them to cut it loose at the highest level, and it’s time for the Cubs to make good on a more aggressive philosophy they’ve been touting for years now.
There are a number of other items to address, but these are the big ones as I see them right now. In the end, I’m just exceedingly happy that baseball is back and that I can write about something other than the latest offer that wasn’t accepted.
What do you see as the Cubs’ biggest needs over the next few weeks? Share thoughts below or hit me up on Twitter.