Though nothing concrete came out of the GM Meetings in Las Vegas this week, a few trends are starting to emerge as far as what the Cubs are planning. One thing that’s been made clear is that they’re giving Matt Mervis the inside track to the first base gig and backing him up with a very solid veteran hitter to DH and/or platoon. Jed Hoyer also said they’d be looking for a center fielder to handle most of the reps this coming season.
Things aren’t quite as clear when it comes to their oft-discussed pursuit of a big bat for the middle infield, but the circumstantial evidence points to one player in particular. Wait, why am I trying to be coy? I already mentioned the dude in the title. If we connect all the dots dating back to last year, Xander Bogaerts is starting to emerge as the Cubs’ primary target.
Now, it’s entirely possible that I’m missing something here or that some of the evidence is actually misdirection, so let’s lay out what we know at this point.
The Cubs, who need to add power to their lineup in the worst way, have been exploring the shortstop market since last offseason and held some preliminary discussions with Carlos Correa. They reportedly even made an offer of seven years at $30+ million AAV that was never presented to Correa by his previous representation, which is indicative of a soured relationship that saw the superstar defect to Scott Boras prior to joining the Twins.
For the sake of clarity, it wasn’t the failure to pass the offer along to Correa that resulted in his split with William Morris Endeavor. Rather, he was already in the process of changing representation and the proposal may have come out in the wash. Opting for a shorter deal with Minnesota that he was able to opt out of after one season was a calculated risk by both player and agent that may end up paying off.
And yes, I’ll get to Bogaerts here in a bit.
In addition to Correa getting another crack at free agency after various circumstances prevented his market from materializing to his liking, Boras now gets full freight on his commission. Since negotiations had already begun under WME’s guidance last year, they were due a split of the agent’s take on any deal. With that possibility eliminated, both Boras and Correa are looking for a bigger payday.
Now we come back to the Cubs, who had to stretch to get to a seven-year offer last season and are thought to be trying to limit any new deals to five years. Maybe they would go to six at the most, which makes sense because they’re a year removed from that initial Correa overture, but the prevailing belief is that one of these shortstops will have to fall into their lap.
This is where we get to the really circumstantial stuff.
Boras also represents Bogaerts and we know the Cubs met with Boras in Vegas to discuss both shortstops, after which the bombastic broker praised Hoyer’s strategy. Correa is the best fit for the Cubs on paper, but there seems to be a wide gulf between what he’ll command and what they’re willing to offer. Bogaerts is two years older and is projected to command two fewer years at around $100 million less than Correa by the three major outlets whose articles I’m cross-referencing right now.
The consensus is that he’ll get six or seven years at $168-196 million, the lower end of which is most certainly a pool the Cubs could swim in. It’s worth noting that all of them have Bogaerts getting an AAV of $27-28 million, which seems about right. It would also fit much more closely with the Cubs’ reported desires than 8-10 years at $265-327 million for Correa.
In fact, I could even see Hoyer being willing to push to $34 million AAV for Bogaerts in order to bring the length down to five years. Maybe they offer an opt-out after two years and then throw in a club option for a sixth year they aren’t likely to exercise. That would allow the Cubs to defer $10 million or so into a buyout, thereby reducing their actual payroll obligations by $2 million annually. It would also guarantee Bogaerts a decent payday in 2028 whether he’s able to land another gig at age 35 or not.
As a point of reference, Jose Abreu figures to land a two-year deal that could approach $40 million as he enters his age-36 season.
The Cubs need to add to the offense and the best way to do that, both in terms of their roster and this free agent class, is by signing a shortstop. Bogaerts may not have as much pop as some of his colleagues, but he’s posted at least a 129 wRC+ in each of the last five seasons and his contact bat would help keep the lineup balanced. He also had a resurgent year defensively and can hold down short with Nico Hoerner representing a huge upgrade at second.
Much of Hoerner’s value this past season came from plays he made on the right side with the shift in place, so that value could be even greater with new limitations in place moving forward. The Cubs are likely going to try to extend him before spring training gets started, presumably for a couple years past his current free agency target of 2026. That would keep him in Chicago beyond the hypothetical Bogaerts deal above, during which time he might even move back to short.
Bogaerts could shift to third or second down the road, plus the Cubs have a bevy of shortstop prospects making their way through the system. One or more of them could eventually supplant an incumbent at the position or be used in a trade to acquire someone to put the team over the top in another area.
With Trea Turner reportedly preferring an East Coast team — the Phillies are getting a ton of buzz there — and Dansby Swanson seemingly coming down to the Braves or Dodgers, the Cubs may only have two options at short. As laid out above, everything we’ve seen and heard to this point points toward Bogaerts being the much more likely choice between the two.
As long as the Cubs can convince Bogaerts they’re ready to win, which his agent says he believes is the case, the feeling might be mutual.
“I was definitely looking forward to coming here,” Bogaerts said when the Red Sox visited Wrigley back in July. “I watched a lot of homers hit on the street over there. It’s pretty amazing, just being here.”