If the Chicago Cubs want to add a star player after falling one win short of the postseason, they have a variety of options to pursue in the coming weeks.
A big-market team such as the Cubs should be involved when top players reach free agency or are available in a trade. Those pursuits ultimately could end with the Cubs failing to acquire an elite player this offseason, however, for a team that needs much more reliable production in key spots.
Shohei Ohtani’s hush-hush courtship continued Wednesday, the final day of the winter meetings. The Cubs remain among the teams in the mix for the superstar. Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto is expected to fetch a long-term deal worth more than $200 million as part of a pitching market that features National League Cy Young winner Blake Snell, standout reliever Josh Hader and lefty starters Jordan Montgomery and Eduardo Rodriguez, while outfielder Cody Bellinger remains the best slugger on the market behind Ohtani. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Rhys Hoskins are among the next tier of hitters who also fit the Cubs’ offensive needs.
Some elements are out of the Cubs’ control when it comes to trying to reel in a top player. But if they fall short in their efforts to sign a free-agent star, the organization’s offseason vision might become a tough sell to fans who want to see them build off a winning yet playoff-less season. The front office isn’t taking a star-or-bust approach, however.
“Winning the offseason is probably more a curse than blessing,” Hoyer said. “With Cody Bellinger, it wasn’t exactly a move that people were lauding tremendously last year and it was probably one of the best free-agent signings on the market. You just don’t know where the best deals are going to come from.
“Certainly there’s immensely talented players on the market, but I think if you go in thinking it’s one of those guys or bust, you can make some really bad long-term decisions. So trying to win the offseason is not a good idea. Let’s try to make the best decisions we can and if we do that we’ll be in good position.”
Trade activity has started to pick up, led by the San Diego Padres reportedly finalizing a deal Wednesday afternoon to send outfielder Juan Soto to the New York Yankees in a multiplayer transaction. Soto, 25, a three-time All-Star and one-time NL batting champion, will become a free agent after the 2024 season, making him a pricey rental.
The Cubs’ financial flexibility and deep top-five farm system makes them an intriguing player in free agency and as a trade partner — and with that, inaccurate rumors popping up and connected to them. Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow remains on the team’s radar, but Christopher Morel has not been discussed as part of a potential deal, sources told the Tribune, refuting a report this week. Based on observations from across the field the last two years, manager Craig Counsell said Morel, 24, has put himself in a position where he needs to be on the field.
“Now where? That’s what we have to figure out,” Counsell said. “He has earned his way into a lineup. There’s no question about that. He’s an exciting young hitter. And the Cubs have up to this point moved him around the field because he’s forced his way into the lineup. That’s a good thing. I see that as a really good thing.”
Similarly, other sources told the Tribune that the Cubs have not talked to the Blue Jays about shortstop Bo Bichette after that rumor became fodder on social media two weeks ago.
This is the price of the Cubs doing business in the deep end of the talent pool as they try to capitalize on the moment.
“We have young players that creates great depth in the organization,” Counsell said. “Depth is a way to solve for wins. It really raises your floor as a team. Not every prospect turns out to be a regular major-league player, but some turn out to be better than you think too. At this time the Cubs have a really good foundation and base and numbers along with some potential high-end players.
“At this time of the year that creates a lot of conversation, but it’s also trying to figure out ways to keep those guys developing so that they add wins to the major-league team.”