We’ve heard a lot from Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins over the course of the offseason, whether during media availability at industry gatherings or their Cubs Convention panel discussion. Thing is, they’re never going to be fully transparent when speaking publicly. You could almost go so far as to say that you’re better off betting against anything Hoyer in particular states explicitly.
So what are the Cubs really thinking as we now sit less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting? I’ve got a few ideas, none of which involve a certain client of a certain agent around whom nearly all the discourse has revolved to this point. Nothing that follows is meant to be particularly groundbreaking or hot take-y, just a few things that were rattling around in my head.
Breadth over depth
This is something I had noted before in a piece that I would have linked if I could have remembered the main subject, but it bears repeating. Contrary to the idea that the Cubs are building depth, I view it more as breadth. You don’t sign a bajillion pitchers to minor-league deals because you think they’re all capable of providing solid contributions at the highest level. If that was the case, those guys would have roster spots.
Hoyer isn’t dropping lines to reel in whoppers, he’s casting a net and then sifting through the catch to see what’s worth keeping. How we label the result comes down to little more than semantics, except for the fact that building veteran depth could tangle the path prospects will need to tread. Breadth, on the other hand, is more a matter of stockpiling dudes who will quickly become expendable should a young player shine.
Christopher Morel as primary DH
This is kind of an example of the above concept, though it’ll continue to come to fruition in the next two sections. Wait, does that mean I should have just made this two things I think? Nah, that doesn’t play as well in the headline. For all their talk about wanting to find a place for Morel in the field, even hyping up the idea of him getting reps at first, I don’t believe the Cubs truly intended on that future. Not in terms of being at one spot, anyway.
Maybe it’s like letting Ian Happ continue to cycle in at second base, where he was adamant about playing early in his professional career, for a while after his promotion. Morel didn’t hit as well at DH as he did as a position player, but defensive issues kept him from being in the field on an everyday basis. The happy medium could be to utilize him as the primary DH while shuffling him around at different positions as needed.
The alternative would have Morel as the primary third baseman while shuffling several other players at DH, which seems like it would produce a less optimal outcome.
Matt Shaw is the truth
One other issue with giving Morel most of the run at the hot corner is that his run might end somewhat soon. I believe the Cubs view Shaw as their long-term solution at third, which is why he spent so much time working there during the winter. While he certainly sees the writing on the wall for himself in terms of the Cubs’ middle infield situation, I’m willing to bet the brass helped to guide his offseason planning.
Shaw is currently the organization’s fifth-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, but I think the case can easily be made that he should be ahead of Michael Busch and Owen Caissie. I’d wager the front office views Shaw as nigh untouchable in trade talks, right up there with Pete Crow-Armstrong and the subject of the next topic, that’s how much they believe in him.
Cade Horton is their future ace
The Cubs were able to upgrade their rotation with Shōta Imanaga at a much lower cost than initially projected, but they still don’t have an ace. With all due respect to Justin Steele, who could yet ascend to that role, part of the reason the front office wasn’t willing to spring for a top-line pitcher is that they think they already have one who they can pay the league minimum.
Also, Hoyer isn’t in the business of spending big at the top of the market no matter what the situation might otherwise dictate.
There’s a reason the Cubs shocked more than a few people by “reaching” for Horton at No. 7 overall in the 2022 draft, and it’s not because they thought he could be a competent mid-rotation guy. Ranked the third overall right-handed pitching prospect in baseball, Horton could be the kind of starter the Cubs haven’t had since Jake Arrieta.
They just need 85 wins for NL Central title
Most of the Cubs’ decisions are driven by a model that prioritizes getting deals over making deals, particularly when playing in a weak division. Where some might see an opportunity to gain serious leverage by simply flexing their significantly larger financial muscles, Hoyer and the rest of the organization are content to find wins at the margins. Rather than maxing out, they’re sticking with lower weights and higher rep ranges.
Even though you can get good results with either approach, more than a few have accused the Cubs of being cheap and avoiding the necessary cost of being truly competitive. A major-market club with serious revenue streams hovering at the low end of the top 10 payrolls, or lower, is like a gym bro with massive arms and chicken legs. That still beats the hell out of my schlubby dad-bod, and Hoyer appears to be hoping his choice to avoid leg day will be enough to get by.
It’s not as though anyone else in the Central has built a juggernaut. I don’t think any projections call for more than 85 or 86 wins from the eventual champion, so simply outrunning mediocrity may be enough. And with Craig Counsell on board as a force multiplier, the Cubs believe they have a better opportunity to develop their youngsters and ride the okay-on-paper pitching staff to higher-percentile outcomes.
So there you go, that’s what I think. Now comes the part where I become a glutton for punishment by asking you, dear reader, what you think the Cubs or Hoyer think. Have at it.