The Cubs reportedly balked at Shohei Ohtani‘s asking price, not that it would have mattered based on how things shook out in LA, and they reportedly dropped out of the running for Yoshinobu Yamamoto based on his cost. Rumblings of a potential reunion with Cody Bellinger have grown stronger in the wake of Ohtani signing with the Dodgers and Juan Soto being traded to the Yankees, but contract demands appear to be standing in the way there as well.
That’s to be expected given Bellinger’s representation because Scott Boras is known for waiting out the market for as long as possible. There’s a sense, however, that the super-agent is trying to turn up the pressure on the Cubs to make a move. There’s been a ton of talk about the Blue Jays being the best fit, and we’ve already seen Toronto used for leverage this winter. Even if missing out on Ohtani hasn’t actually made them desperate, Boras can leverage that perception to his advantage.
That could include feeding information to reporters to chum the waters, though Boras has been pretty transparent of late when it comes to prodding Jed Hoyer.
“When you’re asking me where do these players end up, it’s highly competitive and it’s just something where ownership has to really embrace it and do their best achieve the level of competition to acquire the player,” Boras said this past Saturday during an appearance on 670 The Score’s Inside the Clubhouse. “You’ve got to make sure that you can illustrate to your fan base that you want to win.
“If you don’t get these players, they’re not going to be available in the next free-agent market. And then you try to mitigate that by trading for lesser players.”
That last concept is our main focus here, but let’s first let Boras have one last word.
“[Bellinger] really enjoyed the city of Chicago, enjoyed being a Cub,” Boras continued. “Always, these decisions really tender on the idea of how competitive ownership wants to be to acquire the best players. I hope for all of Chicago that the Cubs meet the competitive nature of the league to compete for the best players and have a good team.”
At the risk of reading too much into it, I get the sense that Bellinger would prefer to return to the Cubs as long as they’re willing and able to make an offer that falls in his acceptable range. Part of that is also that other teams have yet to blow him away, but it really feels like Boras is doing what he can to get his client paid more by the team at the top of his list.
The reality of the situation is that the Cubs were an 83-win team with a resurgent Bellinger last season, so they need to replace his performance and then some if they hope to improve their outlook. We’ve already noted that something similar to what Dansby Swanson got might be enough to facilitate a deal, after which Hoyer should still have plenty in the budget for additional moves. The Cubs might even have to push to something like $180 million over six years in order to get something done.
Getting a little uncomfortable by reaching, whether it’s for a free agent or a trade target, is something with which Hoyer might need to get more comfortable if he’s serious about building a winner. That isn’t just about landing the best remaining position player on the market, it applies to complementary options as well. Rhys Hoskins has felt like an ideal fit for the Cubs all along, but the Mariners are reportedly interested as well and they’ve cleared both space and money with trades.
Interestingly enough, Hoskins — who it’s worth noting is also a Boras client — isn’t the only first baseman being connected to both the Cubs and Mariners. Jon Morosi confirmed a report that Seattle has talked with Cleveland about Josh Naylor as a potential solution to the offensive void they created by trading away Jarred Kelenic, Eugenio Suárez, and others. The original report of the Mariners’ interest in Naylor came from Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com, who you may recall listed the Cubs as being in the mix as well.
While this could be sort of an either-or situation with Hoskins and Naylor since one is a free agent and the other still has two years of team control, the basic premise is the same. The Cubs aren’t alone when it comes to their interest in certain players and they can’t just wait to see how everything plays out before finally making a move on their third or fourth option. I totally get the idea of trying to stay within the prescribed range of whatever valuation tool they use, but there’s a great deal of value to be had in actually landing the player(s) you really want.
Whether it’s Bellinger, Hoskins, Naylor, or any number of other possibilities — including an expanded deal with Cleveland that could include Shane Beiber and/or Emmanuel Clase — there’s more to it than just adding a player. Namely, you’re removing that player from the market and keeping him away from other teams. You’re also making a public display of being willing to do what it takes to compete, something the Cubs have failed to do since their Craig Counsell coup.
There’s still a lot of time left in the offseason and the Cubs have myriad options to improve the roster, but that time is running out quickly and the number of true difference-makers is very limited. Hell, those smaller-but-necessary upside additions haven’t been made yet. Unless the plan is just to add around the margins and pray for everyone to outperform their Steamer projections, Hoyer had better get something done posthaste.