This is going to be somewhat brief because there’s a pretty big non-baseball sporting event today and the Cubs have done very little to spur legitimate analysis. So while I can’t avoid regurgitating some of what we’ve already covered, I can at least try to repackage it to some extent. As someone who spends way too much time researching BBCOR bats, this is like checking out a new paint scheme on my son’s preferred Warstic Bonesaber.
As frivolous as it may seem, I do actually find merit in this exercise because it’s worthwhile when multiple people are arriving at the same conclusions. That’s why it was at least mildly interesting to see Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney arrive at the same 85 win total I had cited as the Cubs’ theoretical target for 2024. Some of that comes down to the NL Central’s general meh outlook, then there’s the idea of 85 being a number that’s high enough over .500 without being any sort of stretch.
That said, the Cubs only had 83 wins with a big season from current free agent Cody Bellinger. As has become painfully obvious based on every single report and insinuation, the two sides are entrenched with a significant no man’s land between them. Cubs Insider was told back in that the Cubs were unwilling to move from their (informal) offer, but it’s also clear that no teams are going to reach the presumed $200 million demand from Scott Boras.
Recent speculation has the likelihood of a reunion shrinking while the possibility of signing at least one Boras client remains significant. That all comes down to the front office being opportunistic while staying true to the value model that has guided decisions to this point. It doesn’t seem as though the Cubs will get desperate, so it comes down to whether Boras and/or one of his big free agents blinks and accepts a deal for far less than initially projected.
I still tab Bellinger and Jordan Montgomery as the most likely candidates for such a situation, if only because the lack of qualifying offer compensation fits more easily with the Cubs’ numbers.
Part of the front office’s confidence — even if it’s rooted in a fake-it-till-you-make-it mentality — is the wealth of options at the corners and center field. Pete Crow-Armstrong won’t and can’t replace Bellinger’s offense, but the glove is better and his bat could be Bellinger Light as Jeff Passan noted. Michael Busch should provide lefty pop at first, allowing the Cubs to platoon Patrick Wisdom there when he’s not at third.
Wait, wasn’t Christopher Morel supposed to get time at the corners? He was, yes, but I think that was as much about trying to placate him over the winter with the real intent being to keep him as the primary DH. Sharma and Mooney indicated as much in that aforementioned piece, noting that the Cubs need spots for Wisdom and Nick Madrigal among others.
Morel should still move around, of course, but it’s hard to see him carving out significant playing time at any one spot in the field due to the number other other options. One of those is Matt Shaw, who received a non-roster invitation to big league camp and could find himself in Chicago by the end of the year.
The final thought here, and this is once again something many of us have harped on for a while, is that the Cubs have an opportunity to get better without significant cost to their future. With several strong free agents remaining and multiple prospects getting closer to the majors, it’s a matter of striking a balance and shoring up positions of need. As much as we’d all like to see the young guys succeed, it’s simply not possible from a practical standpoint.
I’m not just talking about the reality that not all prospects will pan out, but also the idea that you can’t roster 30 players just to have a six-man outfield comprised wholly of homegrown talent. Some of those kids will have to be moved, a process that becomes easier if you know they’re “blocked” by a veteran. With spring training right around the corner, however, a big signing feels far more likely than a trade.
Only three more days until pitchers and catchers report, so maybe we’ll finally, mercifully, be able to discuss something more tangible.