The Cubs bought some credibility with an offseason that signaled some urgency

The Cubs bought some credibility with an offseason that signaled some urgency

“Weight lifting” is already done this offseason as a Chicago Cubs he’s trying to build a roster with enough skill, depth and experience to make it an entertaining summer at Wrigley Field. National pundits name the Cubs among the most improved teams in baseball this winter. Baseball America recently ranked three Cubs prospects in its preseason top 100. The major league club posted a hitting streak after the All-Star break last year. You could make yourself believe the Cubs could be a playoff team in 2023.

You might also point out that $300 million doesn’t go as far as it used to in free agency. Signing at least eight players to major league contracts in one offseason is a partial reflection of some of the problems in scouting and player development in recent years. The highest-ranked Cubs prospect on Baseball America’s list — Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 25) — has yet to play above the A ball level, while Brennen Davis’ (No. 84) rating represents a drop of 68 places of this. last year amid some concerns about his injury history.

The Cubs don’t know if there is any predictive value in the end of last season. Of their last 61 games, 28 were against Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami Marlins i Washington Nationals in August, September and October. Pythagorean winning percentage, based on run differential, rated the 2022 Cubs as essentially a .500 team in the second half. From coast to coast, the National League is full of franchises that have legitimate World Series aspirations this year.

Dansby Swanson with Cubs GM Carter Hawkins (left) and Jed Hoyer (right). (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The beauty of the 162-game schedule is that we’ll find out soon enough. Jed Hoyer’s front office hasn’t stopped looking for ways to upgrade the bullpen, and there’s still a group of lefties available on the free agent market that includes Matt Moore, Brad Hand, Andrew Chafin, Zack Britton and Caleb Smith. The Cubs also look ahead with a sense of optimism and possibility that probably hasn’t been felt to this degree since Yu Darvish showed up at the Sloan Park complex five years ago after signing his $126 million contract. The first formal workout for Cubs pitchers and catchers in Arizona is just three weeks away.

“All that really matters is how we play,” Hoyer said. “Going into the offseason, when I thought about how we could maximize the dollars that we had and the positions that we had, I think we ended up pretty close to where we wanted to be. From that standpoint, it’s really satisfying, but at the end of the day the only thing that matters is how we play. I’ve seen it when people crush your offseason moves and you have a big year. And I’ve seen the flip side too.”

There will be no questions about Joe Maddon being a lame duck. After the COVID-19 pandemic i Major League BaseballCloser David Ross will finally get a “normal” spring training as the Cubs manager in his fourth season on the job. We don’t have to go through the ritual of Anthony Rizzo, Chris Bryant, Javier Baez i Willson Contreras saying how much they love playing in Chicago, and Hoyer saying how much the organization values ​​their contributions, just to make them ex-Cubs. Selling at the trade deadline is not front and center.

It’s unclear how much of the $233 million threshold that triggers the competitive balance tax the Cubs will spend. Right now, his luxury tax payroll is projected to top $221 million, according to Roster Resource estimates. It’s common for Hoyer’s baseball operations department to withhold some money for signings during the season. The Opening Day lineup won’t be set in stone, but the Cubs appear to have a core group of position players they’ll rely on early in the season.

C: Yan Gomes/Tucker Barnhart
1B: Eric Hosmer
2B: Nico Hoerner
SS: Dansby Swanson
3B: Patrick Wisdom
LF: Ian Happ
FC: Cody Bellinger
RF: Seiya Suzuki
DH: Trey Mancini

“I wouldn’t say a plan was set necessarily, but I think with the signings that were made this offseason, that speaks volumes,” Mancini said this week after the Cubs finalized his two-year, $14 million contract. dollars “This is a huge step and a huge message that maybe this isn’t going to be a long process. I think we can turn things around very quickly.”

The Cubs don’t have the firepower to win many high-scoring games or the type of offensive players expected to carry the team. The Saint Louis Cardinalsinstead, he signed the Cubs’ best hitter last season (Contreras) to put a lineup that already featured Paul Goldschmidt i Nolan Arenado plus several local impact players. But the big ideas this offseason included buying more credibility, creating some stability and raising the bar with more experienced players who have track records.

To get an idea of ​​how the rest of the baseball industry viewed the organization’s overall talent, at least 14 players affiliated with the Cubs last season have cleared waivers in the past three months: David Bote, Franmil Reyes, Alec Mills, PJ Higgins, Alfonso. Rivas, Brad Wieck, Esteban Quiroz, Jared Young, Narciso Crook, Steven Brault, Anderson Espinoza, Mark Leiter Jr., Manuel Rodriguez, and Anthony Kay. Frank Schwindel is headed to Japan to play for the Orix Buffaloes. Two outfielders who received more than 800 plate appearances combined for the Cubs over the past two seasons (Rafael Ortega and Michael Hermosillo) signed minor league deals with the New York Yankees. Only one Cubs prospect was selected in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft: the Seattle Mariners chosen Chris Clarke, a 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher who reached the Double-A level last year. For the perspective of this reconstruction, Mancini cited ideas from Michael Givenshis former teammate with the Baltimore Orioles and one of the relievers the Cubs traded last summer.

“From what I saw and what he said, there’s a lot of young talent in the team, and it’s an exciting team, but there was a little bit of experience missing,” Mancini said. “When you have a lot of young, exciting talent combined with some of the right veterans, that can be a great mix. That can really push the younger guys forward. How quickly they grow is very important to the team’s success. It’s just getting the right mix of people in there. We’ve certainly done that. I’m excited for us all to be in the same clubhouse and get it started.”

Yes Christopher Morel takes what he learned as a rookie and develops a more advanced offensive approach, then the Cubs will have a dynamic player who can move all over the field as a defender. If Matt Mervis continues on the trajectory of his breakout season in the minors last year (36 homers, 119 RBI), then he can provide some of the lefty power the lineup lacks. Yes Nick Madrigal stays healthy and shows he can be a .300 hitter again, then that’s a plus. If Davis regains his strength and puts it all together, there will be a potential star at Wrigley Field one day. But the Cubs can stack their Triple-A Iowa roster with those kinds of wild cards instead of relying too heavily on inexperienced, unproven players.

After a lack of rotation depth ended the team’s competitive hopes in 2021 (early July) and 2022 (early May), the Cubs now find themselves in a position where Kyle Hendricks he can take his time to rehabilitate his right shoulder and fine-tune his mechanics. There should be healthy competition for the No. 5 spot in the opening day rotation between pitchers like this Hayden Wesneski, Keegan Thompson i Adrian Sampson. Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon i Drew Smyly they combined to make 103 starts last season, and each pitcher finished with an ERA between 3.18 and 3.91. Highlighted by the addition of Swanson, the $177 million Gold Glove shortstop, the Cubs transformed a defense that allowed the most unearned runs (89) in the majors last year.

“If you look at our pitching staff, the types of pitchers we have and the defense you’re putting behind them, I think it makes a lot of sense,” Hoerner said. “It is a team that can win in many different scenarios and win in different ways. Wrigley Field, in particular, demands it. Playing baseball there in April, and hopefully October, that’s sometimes what you need. We started well.”

The Cubs aren’t done yet. Adding a relay at the end of the input with some closing experience would make a lot of sense. Perhaps there is still a veteran hitter who could fill a specific role off the bench. The only offseason grade is incomplete until the Cubs play real games again.

“We talked about it a lot last year, what it meant to finish strong,” Hoerner said. “We played well during the stretch. We had contributions from many different places. I hope this has helped bring some players in and generally helped the momentum of this organization. This stuff is really shocking. We’re definitely going into spring this year with a different feel than we’ve had in the past.”

(Jed Hoyer Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today)

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