Pick any five Cubs fans at random and they’ll probably have five different views of what the team is planning to do this winter. One will scoff at the idea of spending any money at all, with three falling somewhere along the spending spectrum in terms of how Jed Hoyer will attempt to improve the roster. Then you’ve got the final fan, the one who truly believes the Cubs will land an elite free agent with a monster contract.
Like, say, Corey Seager.
As far-fetched as that seems in the wake of the club’s failure to engage in meaningful extension talks with any core players, the possibility does exist. The Cubs have a total estimated payroll of around $81.5 million for 2022 with roughly $99 million in total luxury tax costs. Wade Miley‘s $10 million drops off for ’23, then they lose $36 million in commitments heading into ’24 as both Jason Heyward ($22M) and Kyle Hendricks ($14M) fall off the books.
In short, they can absolutely make $30 million AAV work if the front office is given enough room in the budget to add such a contract while still having enough left over to patch other holes. Predictions vary quite a bit when it comes to Seager’s eventual payday, but the average comes out to a little over nine years and a little under $300 million. Factor in the loss of their second-round pick next summer and $500,000 in international bonus money because Seager turned down the qualifying offer and the price gets even steeper
But we know at least one team is going to be willing to take on that massive commitment along with added penalties because Seager is one of the top two available free agents. Some believe the Cubs are among those with legitimate interest, which is why MLB’s Mark Feinsand listed them as one of the six “most likely suitors” for Seager. It had been reported previously that the Cubs were “cultivating information” on the top shortstops, so this isn’t completely out of the blue.
I’ve previously mentioned Carlos Correa as a great fit, though Seager might actually make more sense depending on how you look at it. The former Dodger has the best hit tool of this ballyhooed shortstop class, maybe of the entire free agent group, and his 16.1% strikeout rate this past season would have ranked third on the Cubs behind Frank Schwindel (15.1%) and Anthony Rizzo (15.7%). Seager’s 18.5% career K-rate compares favorably with the best Cubs hitters since 2015 and that number is about two points lower over the last four seasons.
Though he won’t turn 28 until April, Seager is viewed as a leader who has performed well on the biggest stage, even if it did come in a short season. He hits for average and slugs well against high velocity, something the Cubs have identified as an obvious team weakness, and the gap power he’s shown by hitting 40 or more doubles twice could really play up at Wrigley.
If there’s a knock on Seager other than his health, it’s that he’ll probably have to move off of shortstop by or before the time this deal is halfway done. That’s not much of a red flag for the Cubs, who have several young shortstops coming up through the system. They also have an incumbent third baseman who’s three years older than Seager and has some big holes in his swing. All things considered, the Cubs might actually see the likelihood of Seager moving as a plus.
Having a bona fide everyday shortstop would allow them to deploy Nico Hoerner as more of a Ben Zobrist Lite utility player, which would probably improve both the defense and the lineup. The duo of Hoerner and Nick Madrigal is a big step down from Hoerner and Javier Báez in terms of both playmaking and power, something that can’t be overlooked. While the Cubs may be trying to pivot more toward contact, it’s not a good idea to have a complete lack of pop up the middle.
The big question here is whether the Cubs are really interested or this is yet another one of those winters in which interested parties want to tout every big market in an effort to increase a player’s value. It could even be a little of both, though this won’t be a situation in which Jed Hoyer is looking for a discount. As difficult as it may be to see this happening, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.