Though Jed Hoyer is typically veiled when he talks about strategy, he was very clear in the early going that the Cubs needed to improve their offensive profile over the course of the offseason. That need didn’t override the front office’s desire to cling steadfastly to its intelligent spending mantra, however, so the Cubs largely sat back as the free agent market ballooned and carried several would-be targets off to other destinations.
The additions of Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger certainly improve the defense up the middle and could even elevate the lineup to a significant degree. Swanson is an underrated power producer who is capable of hitting 25-30 homers and Bellinger should post at least modest production as long as he’s healthy. Eric Hosmer‘s power days appear to be behind him, but he’s a known commodity and playing in the NL Central should give his numbers a lift.
On the other hand, the Cubs lost Willson Contreras and his team-leading .224 ISO to the Cardinals as they opted for a run-prevention model behind the plate. Options to add pop in free agency have been reduced to almost nothing by now and it appears as though Hoyer is content to move forward with what he’s got. According to Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic, Trey Mancini “no longer appears to be a priority” as the Cubs will now “turn to finding veterans to fill out the bullpen and perhaps the right bench piece.”
That means any boost in power output is going to have to come from within, a possibility that isn’t entirely far-fetched even if it’s still not enough. Steamer projects Seiya Suzuki to hit 25 homers, up 11 from last season, and Matt Mervis is believed to be good for 21 of his own. Getting 18 from Bellinger, 23 from Happ, and 19 from Christopher Morel would certainly be nice.
For what it’s worth, Hosmer is projected to hit 14 dingers and Swanson is at 22. Mancini is only expected to hit 19, but he’s also a righty-batting platoon option for first base and DH who would offer depth to a roster that has little at those spots.
Hoyer has to hope the focus on run prevention will be enough to squeeze the most out of what still looks on paper like a rather pedestrian offense. That’s not a bad strategy in and of itself and I do believe the Cubs will be a better team in 2024 than they have been the last two seasons, though I certainly don’t think they’ve done nearly enough to be considered contenders. The real key to this whole thing is consistency, which appears to be much improved following several years of roller-coaster performance.
My big criticism is that, while the Cubs have ostensibly filled in the deepest valleys in their overall play, they’ve likewise flattened out the peaks. That’s in direct opposition to what Hoyer said back in October about wanting to eliminate luck by building a lineup that could blow teams out, and it’s something I continue to take issue with as the offseason moves forward. From the looks of it, we’ll have to wait till next year to see whether a big offensive upgrade is in the cards.