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Cubs Will Be “Really Active” in Free Agency, But Will Spend “Intelligently”

Chicago Cubs

The headline says it all, insofar as it doesn’t really say anything at all. But I’ll try to wind my way somewhere by the end of this post, because I think it does roughly sum up what the Cubs are going to do.

Chicago Cubs President Jed Hoyer spoke to the question on everyone’s mind as the Cubs head toward the end of their 2021 season: will this offseason feature actual, targeted spending in free agency, unlike the ok-we-found-some-quarters-in-the-cushions-in-February approach of last year?

“We plan to be really active in free agency,” Hoyer said, per NBCSC. “We plan to spend money intelligently …. Obviously we’ll be active in free agency but we want to do it in a thoughtful and intelligent way.”

We’re gonna try to do a lot of stuff, but also we aren’t going to do anything stupid. Roger that.

To be honest, I’m not sure what else he could say – the action is going to do the speaking, and that action might be delayed by the CBA anyway – but that doesn’t mean I can put much stock in the response right now. In other words, I don’t blame Hoyer for responding this way, but I also don’t take too much away from it. I’m gonna spend a lot of words from here on the topic of the Cubs’ offseason, but don’t mistake that for me thinking Hoyer just revealed something incredible. It was mostly just what you’d expect him to say.

We already anticipated a targeted approach in free agency, where the Cubs will (hopefully) be very active in trying to land a sizable volume of the right short-term deals, where they are paying a premium AAV for upside. Not every other organization is in a position, financially or competitively, to go after those high-risk, high-cost, short-term types. The Cubs are, and they should take advantage of being in that spot.

To that end, I *think* Hoyer hinted at confirming our suspicions at the direction they’ll take. You kinda have to read all of his comments in concert to get the sense, but it certainly has the feel of (1) yes we’re going to have money to spend, (2) yes we’re going to try to land a whole lot of interesting guys, but (3) no we might not sign multiple top-tier free agents. It’s not an explicit thing he said, mind you. Just a sense I get.

Don’t forget, I think they’ll also explore the trade market quite a bit (and probably for similar upside plays), and that can transform a roster in fundamental ways, too. But free agency needs to be a heavy focus if the team wants any chance at competing in 2022. And if you’re going to do a whole lot in free agency with a roster like this, it tends to be the case that you aren’t putting all of your eggs in a single nine-figure basket. You need to take a lot of shots.

“We’re scouting that market heavily,” Hoyer said of the free agent market. “We’re going to analyze that market heavily. There’s offseasons when free agency is something that you do a little bit of. And obviously this year, we’re going to be probably a little more active than usual to fill out our roster because we have a lot of open spots.”

Again, the action is going to do the real speaking here, but at least Hoyer isn’t trying to sell folks on the idea that there AREN’T a lot of holes on the roster. This Cubs roster is not one or two pieces shy of clear contention. It would take a LOT of hits in free agency (and a LOT of big steps forward internally (and good health)) for the Cubs to compete in 2022, so just signing Carlos Correa to a monster deal isn’t going to do it. We can – and will! – debate the merits of balling out on Correa at this moment in time, but the general point here is that the Cubs need to target many, many additions in free agency. Doing so within whatever budget the front office is given will require that “intelligently” part.

Lots of targets. Lots of activity. Lots of intelligence. Simple as that, right?

I kid, because it’s easy enough to say those things, but it’s a far trickier thing to actually get it all right. When you’re playing in the higher-risk pool of free agency, you are necessarily increasing your odds of not hitting on a signing. If a guy were a sure thing, he’d be getting one of those nine-figure deals! So I don’t want to mislead here and say that, while I think I approve of the Cubs’ likely approach, it’s a sure-fire strategy for success.

Instead, it’s a mere recognition of how needy this roster is in 2022 (take lots of shots in free agency), how the budget probably isn’t going to open up all at once (spend intelligently), and how the Cubs might have another rough first half in 2022 (stay short-term).

I’ve tried to be pretty transparent that I’m still wrapping my head around the best approach for the Cubs this offseason when you consider all the complicating factors (the pandemic’s impact on finances, Marquee’s ratings slide, the CBA negotiations and possible shut down, the bulk of the farm talent is still so far away, etc.). I also don’t want to ignore how I still don’t think the NL Central is gonna be all that great next year, so you have to at least give yourself a shot. So that’s how I start thinking about an offseason of lots of short-term, high-upside, high-risk signings. And I read Hoyer’s comments as suggesting something similar. But I do still have to actually see it play out and think through the implications before I land anywhere too firmly on whether the Cubs did the right things.

I’m still kinda just following along, a bit skeptically, and I want to see what the Cubs actually try to accomplish. Until then, Hoyer’s comments and an implied approach for the offseason really only provide so much.



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.