We now know that pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training on time, and whatever else changes between the league and the players in subsequent negotiations, the season schedule is not changing.
That leaves us doing a check in: two weeks from the official start of Spring Training, what is left for the Cubs to do this offseason?
Well, answering that question necessarily depends on what you think the Cubs have been trying to accomplish with the 2021 season. Full-on compete? Soft reboot? Heavy restart?
Let’s start with the competing side of things. The NL Central – yes, even with the addition of Nolan Arenado – still looks like a place where the Cubs could easily compete in 2021. And, since trying to win a bit in 2021 out of the gate is not incompatible with various levels of stocking the organization up for the future, it has always been plausible that the Cubs really do want to try to win in 2021 while also making moves that build for the future. So let’s focus on that trying-to-win thing.
The Cubs entered the offseason with some substantial holes on the roster, with more holes arriving via free agency, and then even more created by subtracting Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwarber, and Victor Caratini. Darvish’s spot was effectively replaced in that trade by Zach Davies, but the rest of the rotation departures – Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood – would theoretically need to be replaced and then some, given the innings jump coming in 2021. So, the obvious holes were in the rotation, in the bullpen, in left field, at back-up catcher, and, arguably, at second base.
The Cubs added Trevor Williams and Shelby Miller to compete in the rotation and provide innings, and some of those innings will also come via internal promotions. But it’s clear to anyone looking that the Cubs could really stand to add another starting pitcher. They’re reportedly still in on guys like Jake Arrieta, Jeff Samardzija, and Mike Foltynewicz. I expect the Cubs to add another starting pitcher, but it’s possible they’re just going to get the best guy they can on a minor league deal.
In the bullpen, the Cubs picked up (and retained) a huge swath of upside types, with which they’ve had a lot of success. They also added Andrew Chafin last night on a guaranteed deal, and I’d be pretty surprised at this point if they made any other additions here.
At back-up catcher, the Cubs replaced Caratini with Austin Romine. Done and done.
In left field, the Cubs replaced Schwarber with Joc Pederson (and, to a lesser extent, possible platoon guys like Phillip Ervin and Michael Hermosillo, among others). Done and done.
At second base, the Cubs still have Nico Hoerner and David Bote, obviously, and also retained Ildemaro Vargas. They brought in Max Schrock early in the offseason, too, and they may just try to see about getting some upside out of someone(s) in this group. My priority here would be ensuring Hoerner CAN get development time at AAA if the Cubs deem that best for his long-term development, and also ensuring that the Cubs don’t HAVE to use Bote as the everyday 2B if they want him to float. Together, that to me means GO GET KOLTEN WONG, or at least maybe bring in someone else interesting from a good pool of options.
That’s all the “hey, let’s try to win some games in 2021” stuff. But what about the other efforts this offseason? The efforts that motivated trading away Darvish and Caratini, and clearly weren’t solely motivated by trying to win some games in 2021?
Like … all those Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras trade rumors?
If the Cubs aim to move those guys for an acceptable or massive return, as the case may dictate, they probably have to get the deal done in the next two weeks. Sure, players can be traded after Spring Training begins, but they just aren’t very often. That’s especially true for a catcher, whose work with the pitching staff is really important from the get-go.
I’m not really rooting for either guy to be traded at this point, and it might be too late in the offseason for the right offer to pop up anyway. But the reality is, there are still plenty of teams out there that would love to add a big righty bat at third base or in left field, or would love to add a roster-changing catcher. Until that reality changes or Spring Training begins, the possibility that either guy could be traded is still on the table.