Jed Hoyer is the primary mouthpiece for the Cubs front office with GM Carter Hawkins serving as sort of a backup, which is how things worked when Hoyer was more muted in comparison to Theo Epstein. Hawkins was doing all the talking Monday in Nashville, however, because Hoyer hasn’t arrived at the Winter Meetings. Neither is Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins, for that matter.
Hmm, what could these high-level baseball execs be doing that’s more important than the biggest summit of the offseason? Atkins actually did meet with media members Monday afternoon, but the format was shifted from in-person to Zoom at the last minute due to a “scheduling conflict.” He was also very cagey about his location, which many believed was Southern California.
That’s where Shohei Ohtani‘s camp is reportedly holding court, though Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the superstar may have met with Giants brass at Oracle Park on Saturday. And for those who read social media activity like tea leaves, Ohtani recently started following Giants pitcher Logan Webb on Instagram.
Ed. note: Ken Rosenthal reported late Monday night/early Tuesday morning that Ohtani is believed to have met with Blue Jays officials at the club’s spring training facility in Dunedin, FL on Monday. That’s even more concrete than the possible Giants meeting, which is interesting given the veil of secrecy hanging over these proceedings.
Anyway, back to the Cubs and what Hawkins had to say about their plans for this offseason, which probably don’t look all that different with or without Ohtani. I mean, yeah, that one addition would be a massive difference in terms of payroll and hype. But when you look at the way the team is structured and how the invigorated farm system is chugging along, it doesn’t appear as though the front office is seeking many long-term deals.
“If you check all those boxes with free agents you start to block the prospects coming up,” Hawkins explained to Jesse Rogers and others. “We’re in a unique spot where guys coming up through the farm are knocking on the door but not necessarily pounding on the door quite yet. That could happen really, really soon…
“That’s the give and take that we have here. We want to compete in 2024. We want to have a great team in 2024 but we also don’t want to do that at the expense of players that are going to be part of our future for a long, long time.”
As we’ve noted more than once here, signing Ohtani would be more about pouncing on a unique opportunity and not just going all-in for one season. The key here is Hawkins noting that several top prospects could be ready this coming season, or at least by 2025, so the organization wants to have the flexibility to bring them along when they’re ready. Craig Counsell has a clear philosophy on continuing to develop young players at the big-league level, something the Cubs haven’t done well of late and that was probably a big part of the reason Counsell has the job.
The Cubs’ biggest needs right now are at the corner infield spots and in center, though Ohtani addresses none of those and there are some in-house options available. Not that they’re even considering heading into spring training without a little more help via trades and free agency. Some of those deals could very well involve players who have or will become expendable, particularly when you look at a list of third base candidates that includes Patrick Wisdom, Nick Madrigal, Christopher Morel, and Miles Mastrobuoni.
Matt Mervis could get another shot to prove himself at first base, kind of like how the Red Sox gave Triston Casas plenty of time to adjust. Pete Crow-Armstrong looks like the frontrunner to hold down center field even though he didn’t produce offensively in 19 whole plate appearances late in the season. Mike Tauchman is still around as well, so it’s not a matter of putting PCA on an island.
If the Cubs do get Ohtani, there’s less pressure to buy certainty at those other positions. If they don’t make that huge coup, and perhaps if they do, short-term deals for veterans looking to rebuild their value or ride off into the sunset are likely. Rhys Hoskins is coming off of a season lost to ACL reconstruction and might follow the example of Cody Bellinger, which makes sense when you consider Scott Boras reps both players.
Justin Turner has maintained above-average offensive production into his late 30s and isn’t getting more than a year, though he’s probably not a viable everyday third baseman at this stage. Just don’t go making Trey Mancini comps here because Turner is a much better hitter even at his advanced age.
The most notable short-term acquisitions would be righties Tyler Glasnow and Shane Bieber, both of whom are reportedly being shopped heavily as they head into the final years of their current deals. The prospect cost shouldn’t be high for either, so the Cubs could make a deal work without putting much of a dent in their pipeline.
That’s all speculation at this point, but we don’t need to guess at the overall strategy since Hawkins confirmed once again that the Cubs are looking to build up over the next 2-3 years. We should have a much better idea about exactly how they plan to compete in 2024 within the week, provided Ohtani sticks to that presumed timeline.