Welcome back to the Cubs Beat newsletter. Jordan Bastian has covered baseball for MLB.com since 2005, including the Cubs since the 2019 season.
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs do not merely want to turn the page on how last season ended. By changing the leadership structure in stunning fashion -- hiring manager Craig Counsell away from the rival Brewers over the offseason -- the ballclub is ripping up the final pages and writing a new chapter.
Counsell’s arrival will set a new tone for a team that wants to show that last September’s slide did not define this group. There are some new faces in camp -- lefty starter Shota Imanaga, late-inning reliever Hector Neris and Top 100 prospect Michael Busch among them -- but the bulk of the cast returns with an October push on the mind.
Much of Chicago’s roster is set, leaving a handful of spring battles around the edges. There will be competition for the final rotation spot, the last few bullpen jobs and for the last couple of position-player roles. There will be time to dig deeper into those races, but these are the bigger storylines as Cubs camp begins.
1. Is another big addition coming this spring?
The biggest topic hovering over the Cubs as pitchers and catchers prepare for Wednesday’s first workout is not who is in camp, but who might be arriving. The North Siders’ roster feels incomplete, and it is not hard to identify where the group could be strengthened to help the probability of a postseason push.
Center fielder Cody Bellinger, who starred for the Cubs last year en route to the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, remains a free agent. In fact, agent Scott Boras still has four high-profile clients yet to sign a contract: Bellinger, third baseman Matt Chapman, lefty Jordan Montgomery and two-time Cy Young-winner Blake Snell.
Bellinger makes the most sense for the Cubs, who could use his left-handed bat and defensive versatility. If the price tag remains too steep, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer could turn his attention to Chapman, especially with third base coming with its own set of question marks for Chicago right now. Offense is the biggest current need, but Hoyer is always on the hunt for extra pitching depth, too.
2. How will Cubs camp look under Counsell?
Chicago underwent a roster overhaul two winters ago, turning the page on a two-year rebuilding period and piecing together an 83-win campaign that fell just short of the playoffs. There have been a few roster tweaks going into this season, but the goal seems to be getting more out of the group in place.
During his time with the Brewers, Counsell built a strong reputation for being able to squeeze extra wins out of his rosters. That played a role in Hoyer pursuing Counsell as soon as his contract with Milwaukee expired. Now, the manager will have the chance to see if he can push Chicago back across the postseason line.
That process begins this spring, when Counsell and his staff will start to put their stamp on how the workouts run and getting to know the players on and off the field. This is the time of year when a tone is established for the year ahead, and it will be interesting to watch how Counsell navigates that process with his perspective of facing the Cubs for many years.
2. Where will top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong start the season?
Crow-Armstrong is the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline and heads into 2024 ranked No. 16 on Pipeline’s Top 100 list. He is already considered to be one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball -- not just the Minor Leagues -- and there is no question that the kid they call “PCA” could immediately help Chicago's run prevention.
If the North Siders re-sign Bellinger, the Cubs will have to weigh whether Crow-Armstrong is better served by opening the season with Triple-A Iowa. Chicago also has an experienced outfielder in Mike Tauchman, offering some depth up the middle as the ballclub plots the best path forward for PCA.
During Crow-Armstrong’s 13-game taste of The Show last year, he did not find his footing and show the type of dynamic bat he has been in the Minors. In 107 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A last season, he hit .283/.365/.511 with 20 homers, 26 doubles, seven triples, 82 RBIs, 98 runs and 37 stolen bases.
True or false: Right-hander Kyle Hendricks will be the only player in camp with the North Siders this spring who was a member of the 2016 World Series-champion Cubs roster.
CUBS ANNOUNCE PROMO SCHEDULE
If you are hoping to get your hands on a Pat Hughes replica sweater, one of the handful of bobbleheads being handed out, or looking to find out all the info about the planned celebrations at Wrigley Field this season, you’re in luck. Chicago recently unveiled its 2024 promotional schedule, which is jam-packed with giveaways and special offers. Head over to cubs.com/specials for all the details.
WINTER CLASSIC RETURNING TO WRIGLEY
Hockey is coming back to the Friendly Confines. The NHL recently announced that the 2025 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues at Wrigley Field. The historic ballpark also hosted the Winter Classic in 2009, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Blackhawks, 6-4, in front of 40,818. Fans can register at MLB.com for updates about the ‘25 event.
• Details on the Cubs’ 2024 Minor League coaching staffs Read more >>
• Prospects Shaw, Caissie highlight list of non-roster invitees Read more >>
• FAQ: Here’s what to know about Cubs Spring Training Read more >>
• Biggest surprises of MLB’s offseason (so far) Read more >>
In case you missed it, the Cubs signed righty Carl Edwards Jr. to a Minor League contract on Feb. 6, including an invite to Spring Training with the big league club. Edwards pitched for Chicago from 2015-19 and recorded the first two outs in the 10th inning of the Game 7 World Series triumph in ‘16. He had a 3.07 ERA in 89 games for the Nationals in ‘22-23 combined.
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