The Rundown: CubsCon Recap, Hoyer Working to Extend Happ and Hoerner, Padres Hand Out Record IFA Bonus
The Cubs have been pretty busy over the last several days, making the Eric Hosmer deal official and then adding Trey Mancini Saturday night. That may disappoint Cubs fans who were looking forward to Matt Mervis mashing at Wrigley, but it’s probably best for the rookie slugger. As Evan mentioned in his CubsCon recap, precedent exists with Anthony Rizzo. The organization gave him an extra half-season at Iowa in 2012 and that worked out pretty well.
I like the Hosmer and Mancini signings a great deal, but I’d rather address some of the comments I’ve read over the weekend here at Cubs Insider. I’ll also cover some of the things I was asked on Friday night at Lizzie McNeill’s.
- To the readers who comment with the same thing every day, we hear you. Nothing stifles conversation like repetitive responses. I doubt Hoyer or Carter Hawkins reads us, so broaden your horizons a little further than simply naming the same players every day and on every column that you want the Cubs to acquire. Respectfully.
- Hoyer is interested in extending Ian Happ. The buzz in Chicago this weekend was, in fact, that they’d like to keep him and that Happ certainly wants to stay. But as Crane Kenney pointed out on Saturday, the front office has a set value on each player and only Hoyer decides if he is willing to exceed that. Kenney, Tom Ricketts, et al, do not interfere in those matters.
- That might not make you happy since the jury is still out on Hoyer’s ability to properly place a dollar sign on the muscle. The fact that the two sides avoided arbitration is a big deal, however. And by the way, signing Hosmer, Mancini, Cody Bellinger, or anybody else isn’t preventing a Happ extension. The team is still well below the luxury tax threshold and any new money on the wouldn’t start until next year anyway. If Happ and Hoyer agree on the outfielder’s value, he’ll be extended. If they can’t, he won’t. It’s really that simple.
- I like Bellinger’s contract a great deal. The $12 million mutual option for 2024 likely won’t be exercised, but it gives each side wiggle room for a potential extension and the $5.5 million buyout won’t hurt Hoyer’s financial flexibility.
- The players cycled through centerfield for the Cubs in ’22 combined for -7 OAA and an MLB-worst -18 defensive runs saved.
- The Cubs are not going to DFA Hosmer unless he completely busts out, and nothing over the course of his career indicates that will happen. You may not like Hosmer, but you’re probably blinded by the contract he signed with the Padres. They’re the idiots and it’s not like the first baseman was going to say, “No thanks, I’m not worth eight years at $144 million.” Hosmer is a fantastic value for the league minimum, just like Jason Heyward will be with the Dodgers. If Hosmer is worth 1-1.5 WAR, that’s about $12 million in value at a cost of $720,000 so really, let it go. You should hope the veteran plays well enough that Hoyer can flip him at the deadline if he needs to. Mervis is going to get his chance eventually, I promise.
- Nick Madrigal is another player fans want to run out of town. He’s highly valued by the organization, though, and I heard several times that the front office and coaching staff want to give him a shot at third base. He doesn’t have the power profile, but he could be a great leadoff hitter if he can stick defensively. I believe they see Madrigal as a potential Ben Zobrist type, he’ll just have to prove he can handle multiple positions first. Madrigal will have to work hard, which is something he’s not afraid to do.
- Christopher Morel is that Zobrist type, and he’s going to make the team unless he screws the pooch in Arizona. David Ross and the entire front office love multi-positional players like Morel. He’ll easily get 375 plate appearances this season. By the way, Morel is not the team’s starting center fielder. That’s Bellinger’s position. Morel is a utility player on the team as it is currently constructed.
- The combination of Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart is going to outproduce Willson Contreras this season. I’ll give Hoyer credit for this: He understands regression and won’t place a premium dollar on the potential that a player is facing an immediate downward trajectory. His only mistake was letting Kyle Schwarber go for nothing, but that’s beside the point. This is a team built on preventing runs and Chicago’s pitchers are much better with the 2023 tandem behind the plate. It’s not sexy, but defense and outstanding pitching win championships.
- Mervis is not the key to this team’s success. If you’re depending on him to be that player, the Cubs — and Mervis — are in deep shit. Now, if you see his power as a complimentary component to a team built to stifle opposing offenses, you’ve got my ear. I like Mervis a great deal, but let’s not place those types of expectations on any rookie.
- Hoyer understood immediately that he couldn’t overpay for power because the team needs too much of it. If you can’t build a team that can outslug the competition, you do the next best thing, which is stopping them from beating the crap out of you. Exceeding the expected premium for one slugger does nothing to help this team. There is some firepower on the farm, however, so be patient.
- One of the reasons Hoyer won’t overpay for left-handed power is that Wrigley Field historically suppresses it. Billy Williams is still the only left-handed hitter to belt 40+ home runs as a Cub. Happ, Bellinger, and Mark Grace all agreed that you can’t succeed in Chicago as a lefty slugger unless you can go to the opposite field with authority. That’s one of the reasons why you should feel positive about the additions of Hosmer and Bellinger. A gap double makes me just as happy as a solo home run and the new shift rules will also help each of those hitters.
- Happ is a bona fide statistical nerd and I like him a lot more now that I know that. Barnhart is too. He even pinged Jameson Taillon while the starter was on his honeymoon to go over pitching charts. Taillon sent Barnhart a picture of an umbrella drink as a response.
- The Cubs raised the floor, built pitching depth, and narrowed the very wide gap between them and the Cardinals. All that’s left to do now is improve the bullpen. The best thing is that, at least so far, Hoyer hasn’t had to trade any of his minor league talent. He essentially bought most of them an additional year of development. The team’s future rests on the shoulders of guys like Mervis, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Jordan Wicks, Cade Horton, Caleb Kilian, Ben Brown, Kevin Alcántara, and Alexander Canario. Letting them and others spend another year together as a group bodes well for the future of this franchise.
- Dansby Swanson understands the plan as well as anybody. In normal seasons, as he mentioned on Saturday, you wait on development before spending on free agency. That wasn’t an option this year because the 2023-24 market is not nearly as robust. That’s why contracts quickly escalated this winter. The Cubs are positioned well to pursue Shohei Ohtani in November if he is available, especially with all the contracts falling off the books. They may not be successful, but it won’t be because they cannot afford to sign him.
- Pitchers and catchers report in 30 days. Cactus League play starts February 25 and the Cubs host the Brewers for Opening Day at Wrigley Field on March 30. The next two months are going to fly by.
Cubs News & Notes
- The international signing period started Sunday, and the Cubs signed three of the top 20 prospects, all shortstops.
- Mancini’s deal is for two years with an opt-out, which the first baseman/DH can exercise if he reaches 350 PAs in 2023. It’s a $14 million deal with up to $7 million more in plate appearance bonuses.
- Smart money says Happ and Nico Hoerner will be rewarded by the organization with multi-year contract extensions.
- In fact, Hoyer mentioned he’d really like to get extensions for both players completed by the start of spring training.
- Looking at pitch values on his slider, Justin Steele was actually better than Spencer Strider, Carlos Rodón, Robbie Ray, and, well, a bunch of guys. Steele had the 13th-best slider in baseball last season. The 27-year-old also threw a curveball 56 times and it produced a .000 batting average against.
- After the worst injury of his career, Kyle Hendricks said he is back, even if his timeline remains a bit uncertain.
- The Cubs remain intrigued ($) by left-handed relievers Andrew Chafin and Matt Moore, according to The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. Right now, Brandon Hughes is the team’s only lefty expected to earn a spot in the bullpen.
- Grace and Shawon Dunston are being inducted into the Cubs’ Hall of Fame.
- Sammy Sosa is not under consideration at this time, though I no longer solely blame Ricketts. Players like Ryne Sandberg and Kerry Wood are part of that decision, and Sandberg said Sammy owes an apology to the organization, his teammates, and the team’s fans.
- Ricketts said Sosa has made no progress toward making amends with the club.
- The team chairman believes the Cubs will compete for the NL Central title this season.
- Before the convention kicked off, Ricketts said spending will return to near CBT levels, and that there is plenty of room for in-season additions.
- Chicago’s business execs teased a possible Bruce Springsteen show or two at Wrigley Field this summer. The Boss and his E-Street Band are touring to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of their first album.
Odds & Sods
Happ asks guests on his “The Compound” podcast to share their screen time before exiting the interview, so I sent him a screenshot of mine on Twitter. He responded, “good day!”
Yo @ihapp_1 pic.twitter.com/cFzQ23iLB7
— Michael Canter of Cubs Insider ✨ (@MEdwardCanter) January 15, 2023
The Orioles remain open to signing veteran starter Michael Wacha, according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko.
The Padres made the biggest splash of the day by inking 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher Ethan Salas for a record $5.6 million bonus.
San Diego also intends to be “all in” on Ohtani.
The Angels are counting on small moves to portend big success.
On Sunday, the Nationals signed the little brother of Juan Soto in international free agency. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?
Speaking of Soto, he and the Padres agreed to a $23 million contract for 2023, thus avoiding arbitration.
Matt Harvey is hoping to pitch again this year.
This is a long video, but it’s totally worth watching if you can find the time.
The Road to Wrigley featuring Cubs prospects, including Brennen Davis, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Matt Mervis and more at #CubsCon. https://t.co/pjPbvnOVH7
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) January 14, 2023
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- I took a look back at the Bears 2022 draft over at Bears Insider, and Jaquan Brisker and Braxton Jones are the best of the rookies. Jack Sanborn deserves mention, too, though he was not drafted.
- Overall mortality from cancer has plunged by a third since 1991, according to a new report by the American Cancer Society. The drop, which the organization estimates resulted in 3.8 million cancer deaths avoided, reflects improvements in cancer screening and prevention.
- Now that eggs are a luxury item, it’s imperative you learn how to prepare them in a manner deserving of their status: poached.
- If you owned a restaurant and could charge $500 for one meal, what would you serve? I’d go with a 48oz. Tomahawk steak, medium rare and chef-sliced, and a side of asparagus spears braised with cremini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and caramelized shallots. I’d add sea scallops in a blood orange glaze, and red, garlic mashed potatoes with gravy. I’d include a salad with goat cheese, pancetta, chunks of chilled Maine lobster, and 100-year-old Balsamic.
- The FAA is investigating a near-miss between two passenger planes near JFK airport.
- Mel Brooks has finally made “History of the World Part II” as a series that includes the titles Hitler on Ice, A Viking Funeral, and Jews in Space, among others. Like everything else in a Mel Brooks production, it is not to be taken seriously. Brooks is 96 years old and stars in the series. He also wrote and co-produced it.
They Said It
- “I’ve loved this organization. It’s a really special place. The city is special. The fanbase is special. All those things are the only things I’ve known in the game.” – Happ
- “I think there are two sides here. The Hall of Fame voters believe there are two sides to the story. I know a lot of fans that believe there are two sides to the story. I’d like to get this behind us as well but I want to be thoughtful about it and do it in a way that’s respectful to both the people that love Sammy [Sosa] and people that respect the game too.” – Ricketts
- “For me, playing the game the right way, with respect, was always what I was taught in the minor leagues. That was my Hall of Fame speech. I think I said it 28 times. And there was a little problem with the way that Sammy played the game. If that’s a roadblock, that’s a roadblock.” – Sandberg
- “For the last four or five years, if you hit a ball hard up the middle it’s an out because the shortstop is positioned behind second base. If you pull the ball, you have a third baseman like Manny Machado playing in shallow right field, so that’s an out, too. Yes, I am happy with the new shift rules.” – Bellinger
Monday Morning Walk-Up Song
I can’t believe Whitey Ford Sings the Blues is already 25 years old. I could have gone with 30 Days in the Hole today, too.