Big moves appear to be on hold until superstar Shohei Ohtani chooses his next team.
As MLB’s annual winter meetings got underway this week, the Chicago Cubs are charting a challenging course: mapping potential avenues to improve the roster while waiting for the Ohtani-sized domino to fall.
General manager Carter Hawkins redirected when asked Monday evening about the team’s interest in Ohtani, saying, “we prefer not to talk about any specific players” while adding that the overall market has felt slower. In the meantime, the Cubs are plotting are variety of options they can pivot as needed.
“Trying to create this perfect offseason where A is going to happen and then B is going to happen and C is going to happen and D is going to happen, it’s way too complex of a challenge to do that,” Hawkins said. “Instead, you have to be able to look at each transaction and say, ‘hey, this makes sense for us in terms of our goals toward winning more baseball games now and in the future’ and you have to be prepared to make all those decisions.
“So, where does the bulk of our talk go? While there’s not a lot of action in terms of things to fruition, there is a lot of action in terms of preparation to be able to make those decisions quickly should they come across our desk quickly.”
President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, who was not in Nashville, Tenn., for part of Monday for what the team said were personal reasons, and the front office always have to work within dollar constraints, something that exists even during a unique free-agent market. Ohtani represents an obvious outlier but should the Cubs miss out on him, there are other combinations the team can pursue to address needs.
“You work within those and you try to figure out the most efficient way to use those dollars. Now efficient doesn’t mean that you don’t get great players,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes getting great players is the most efficient way to use your dollars — I say efficient, I mean it gives you the most wins — and so that’s a very base level calculation that we’re making.
“When you have someone as unique as the players at the top of the market that just creates a new dynamic, but there will always be something really interesting every offseason and I think we’ll look back and say we were trying to make the decisions we could.”
Every year the Cubs create a video to show free agents, and their 2023 version has plenty of game highlights from this past season featuring players who they expect to be on the team for a long time. Hawkins believes those elements, like Christopher Morel’s walk-off home run against the White Sox, resonate as they court free agents this offseason and provide a glimpse of excitement that doesn’t require clips going back to the 2016 World Series title run.
“The proximity of the excitement definitely helps and creates that foundation for us,” Hawkins said.
As they address their needs, the Cubs will be cognizant with free agents to avoid blocking prospects who are nearing the majors.
“You’ll get into trouble on both ends — you get into trouble where you just rely only on free agents and you get in trouble when you rely just on your farm system,” Hawkins said. “We’re in a unique spot where the guys that are coming up to the farm system are knocking on the door, but they’re not necessarily pounding on the door quite yet. That could happen really, really soon. But I think there is some opportunity for those guys to grow in the minor leagues. That’s the give and take here.
“We want to compete in 2024 and we want to have a great team in 2024, but we also don’t want to do that at the expense of the development of players who can be part of our future for a long, long time.”
The Cubs’ focus in the coming weeks won’t solely be player acquisition. They expect to finalize their coaching staff in the next 7-10 days and find a new farm director in the coming weeks to replace Jared Banner, who was promoted to assistant GM. Hawkins expects to look at internal and external options to fill the job.
“Whenever we have such a high-level position like farm director open, you want to make sure that you’re thinking about other organizations and trying to learn if there are things that maybe we’re missing,” Hawkins said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to make sure that you’re not taking for granted the things that are already inside your house.”