Welcome back to the Cubs Beat newsletter. This week, we’ll explore five pressing questions that the team will need to address in the coming months.
5 QUESTIONS FACING THE CUBS
1. Can the Cubs land one of the big-ticket free-agent shortstops?
This will be the biggest question on the collective mind of Cubs fans when Hot Stove season gets underway. Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson could all be on the open market this winter, and there is certainly a fit on the North Side.
Chicago has a need for offensive firepower, and manager David Ross prioritizes strong defense. The team has roster flexibility and the financial means. Internally, Nico Hoerner has proven he can handle short, true, but he is an exceptional defender who has also expressed a willingness to move to second base in the name of winning.
This all adds up to the Cubs potentially being a major player in this sector of the open market.
2. How will the rotation be addressed?
The Cubs have Marcus Stroman under contract for 2023, and lefty Justin Steele has earned a rotation spot as well. There is a heap of question marks beyond those two.
Kyle Hendricks will be returning from a right shoulder injury. Keegan Thompson might be best utilized as a multi-inning relief weapon. Drew Smyly and Wade Miley could hit free agency. The good news here is that the Cubs’ in-house depth here appears as solid as it’s been in years. Hayden Wesneski looks like an up-and-coming talent, and there is more coming from the pipeline.
That said, the Cubs could really use some more strength at the top. That could mean finding some smart shorter-term deals in free agency (much like Stroman’s three-year deal last year) or maybe considering an intriguing option like righty Kodai Senga, who is expected to be a free agent out of Japan.
3. Who will play center field in 2023?
There are prospects coming (among them Pete Crow-Armstrong, Alexander Canario and Brennen Davis), but the Cubs will need to find a way to shore up center next season. Names like Cody Bellinger or Kevin Kiermaier could be interesting targets if they hit the open market. Christopher Morel is an in-house option, but the fact is that the Cubs’ defense in center (MLB-worst -18 defensive runs saved in ’22) must be addressed. Morel looks like a better fit as a super utilityman.
4. What’s the plan for first base?
The Cubs entered the offseason without a clear-cut answer for first base. Highly-touted prospect Matt Mervis is rising fast with a powerful bat, but Chicago should have a stopgap plan in place. That is why reports of interest in a veteran free agent like José Abreu have already surfaced. Patrick Wisdom has mostly played third, but he can help at first, too. Alfonso Rivas was given a shot in ’22 but went through plenty of ups and downs. Mervis’ time will come, but pairing him with another player -- on Opening Day or later in the summer -- is probably the smarter play as he breaks into the Majors.
5. Bottom line: Can the Cubs build a realistic contender for ’23?
The 87-win Phillies just reached the World Series. The 93-win Cardinals won the National League Central. There is definitely a path for the Cubs to push for an October berth in ’23. Chicago played at a 90-win pace in the second half. That should be a foundation to build upon, especially with a stronger farm system, vastly improved internal pitching depth and some clear holes in a year when the free-agent market has plenty of possible solutions.
HAPP A FINALIST FOR GOLD GLOVE
Late in the season, following a game in which Ian Happ made another spectacular sliding catch, the Cubs outfielder was asked if he felt he had turned in the kind of performance that could put him in the conversation for a Gold Glove Award in left field.
“Yeah, I think that the metrics support it,” Happ said. “It'd be awesome. It'd be a really cool honor. I think it's one of those things that you dream of as a kid. And it's a pretty cool trophy.”
It was revealed last week that Happ was indeed one of the finalists for the National League Gold Glove Award in left field, along with Christian Yelich (Brewers) and David Peralta (Rays/D-backs). Let’s take a look at how Happ compares to the other finalists in a few categories:
Happ (1,233 1/3 innings)
Defensive runs saved: +13
Outs above average: +1
Yelich (1,008 2/3 innings)
Defensive runs saved: -2
Outs above average: +5
Peralta (927 innings)
Defensive runs saved: -5
Outs above average: -4
The 2022 Gold Glove winners for both leagues will be announced as part of a special hour-long episode of “Baseball Tonight” at 4 p.m. CT on Tuesday, prior to Game 4 of the World Series. Among outfielders in Cubs history, only Bob Dernier (1984), Andre Dawson (1987-88) and Jason Heyward (2016-17) have taken home Rawlings Gold Glove Awards.
“He took a really remarkable step forward in terms of his consistency on the field. I think his career has been marked, prior to this year, by really high highs and really low lows. And he made a very concerted effort with his swing and his mentality to even that out, and I think he did a fantastic job. And I think that there's no reason that he can't continue to do that.” -- Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, on Happ
D.) Michael Barrett
Barrett picked up a Silver Slugger Award for the Cubs in 2005, when he had 16 homers, 32 doubles and an .824 OPS. Soto was the ’08 NL Rookie of the Year and an All-Star, but he did not get the silver bat trophy. Davis was an All-Star in 1984 and ’86 and won a Gold Glove in ’86. Wilkins launched 30 homers in 1993, but Mike Piazza won the award with the Dodgers.
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