They say you can’t win the division in April, but you can sure as hell lose it. And though there are no awards given out for winning the offseason, being too passive over the winter can prevent a team from having the necessary weapons to compete once the real games start. Despite what a lot of people feel compelled to tell me, the Cubs are indeed positioned to improve dramatically with a few of the right moves.
There’s understandable skepticism around the club’s appetite for spending big in free agency or with buy-trades, particularly with all the selling and lack of extensions over the last few years. But with attendance flagging as interest wanes among even die-hard fans, it would be an egregious error for team leadership to fail to make good on the vow to use its resources in the pursuit of a competitive roster in 2023.
Exactly what that means is amorphous and may remain so even throughout next season, much like we saw with the Phillies. The NL’s World Series entrants barely snuck into the postseason with a third-place finish in the NL East, limping home with a 4-6 record over their last 10 games that included a sweep at the hands of the Cubs. Then they proved to the world that it doesn’t matter how you get in, it’s what you do once you get there.
Philly missed out on the playoffs last season, finishing second in the division to an 88-win Braves team that went on to win the whole thing. Atlanta had the worst record of any team in either league to make it past the regular season, but they rode their stars and got big performances when it counted the most. Now that I’ve belabored it a bit, the point is that the Cubs don’t need to overhaul the entire roster to give themselves a legitimate shot.
Understand that I’m not saying Jed Hoyer should be thinking World Series or bust for next season, only that he can perform a very solid turnaround that puts his team in the mix to make a run. That could be accomplished with as few as two big moves, two mid-range moves, and a series of smaller acquisitions to fill out the roster. Of course, Hoyer and his front office are going to have to hit on pretty much all of them.
I believe we could deem the Cubs’ offseason a success if they acquire an ace-level starter, a big bat for the middle infield or third base, a glove-first center fielder, and a high-level hitter to occupy first base and/or DH. It would be preferable if two of those last three are left-handed, and I think they need one more starter to really lock things in, but I’d consider this list a big win.
Big bat, preferably MIF
Glove-first CF, preferably LHH
DH/1B type https://t.co/5K2hEQfBls
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) October 20, 2022
That’s not all the Cubs need to do, mind you, just the big boxes they have to check if they want to give themselves the ability to make some noise next year. In addition to any major additions, it’s going to take continued development of several young pitchers, better health from the starting rotation, improved defense, and more consistent scoring. So, yeah, super simple.
I’m not as worried about most of those items because the Cubs have shown the ability to cobble a bullpen together and we’ve started to see how their pitching development has improved. Both the defense and offense should be better if they make the prescribed moves above, and the law of averages says their pitching will be healthier.
Power will increase with the likely promotion of Matt Mervis to play first, then the Cubs can further boost their offense by adding José Abreu on a short-term deal. Signing Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga would turn the rotation into one of the best in the league while allowing David Ross to spread innings across several starters who aren’t expected to eat tons of innings. As good as Nico Hoerner was this season, bringing in a top free agent shortstop would vastly improve both the lineup and the defense up the middle.
Whether the Cubs feel the same way and truly have the wherewithal to make it happen is still an open question, though I think they do on both counts. And remember, this would just be the start. Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks, and Ian Happ are all set to come off the books after ’23, so there would be even more room to add again next year. Kind of like how the Phillies signed Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Zack Wheeler before bringing Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos into the fold.
Being competitive doesn’t mean being dominant and it doesn’t even mean winning the division or making the playoffs, at least not right away. The Cubs’ goal should be nothing less than a postseason berth, but they don’t need to go hog wild in one winter to make that happen. They do need to get aggressive, though, because sitting back and waiting for value isn’t going to work.
So what do you think? Those who don’t believe the Cubs can — or even want to — compete next year need not reply, but where do the rest of you set the bar for a successful offseason? Please remember to show your work because I’m awarding multiple points for each answer.