Being perceived as a little all over the place this early in the offseason isn’t much of a surprise – especially ahead of a new CBA that could change so much about the game rules on the field and core financials off it. And it’s not as though we haven’t previously seen this front office operate under a relatively strict cone of silence, the type that could create some confusion over the direction of the franchise from the outside.
But for these Chicago Cubs, at this point in time, I don’t know if that’s what’s happening. I mean, I guess mostly I’m just not sure. Here’s a little recap of where we’ve already been in this very young MLB offseason.
1. The Chicago Cubs, who are reportedly doing their homework on the elite free agent class, are a projected landing spot for Javy Báez, a likely suitor for Trevor Story, and an implored participant on Corey Seager.
2. They’ll also be really active in free agency, but only if they spend intelligently, which we presume includes a focus on short-term, high-AAV deals … you know, the type of deal that an elite free agent shortstop would probably not seek out.
3. Oh! And they also need starting pitching, a lot of it. Actually, that’s their top priority. But remember, now’s not quite the time to spend big. That, according to Jed Hoyer, may come only after you have a core of 0-3 year players to build around(?).
4. But speaking of building a core, this isn’t another rebuild. Absolutely not. But, also the Cubs will almost certainly consider trading Willson Contreras this winter.
5. But don’t worry, Hoyer is not ruling out the top end of free agency, even if he’ll only go there if it’s for value.
6. And to be sure, even though they saved a ton of money at the trade deadline, money that can be rolled over into next years budget one way or another, it might make more sense to wait out free agency at the beginning of the winter anyway.
7. Then again, if they want to get their preferred short-term targets, waiting is a big risk. Heck, it’s a big risk either way, and so they probably can’t afford to sit out the deep end of free agency.
Yeah, me either. And we’re not alone.
At MLB.com, Mark Feinsand identified the biggest needs of each team in MLB. And for the Cubs, he predictably lands on starting pitching, which, yes, of course. That part I understand. That seems to be the consensus. But it’s his two potential targets for the Cubs that makes me chuckle, because it really underscores the perceived confusion on everything up above.
The two starters who make the most sense for the Cubs according to Feinsand? Marcus Stroman and Alex Cobb.
Stroman, 30, is a consensus top-10 free agent this winter and arguably the top available non-aged starting pitcher, who just posted his fifth 3.3+ WAR season in seven years. And Cobb, 34, is coming off a bounce-back year, but is far from a sure thing, and roughly the 30th best free agent (with probably 10+ free agent starting pitchers separating the two pitchers).
The age is different, yes, but so is the expected production, the track record, the health concerns, and, most importantly, the range of expected contracts. These guys aren’t in the same league and projecting one or the other to the Cubs is kind of a perfect illustration of how confused the industry (understandably!) is on their intentions this winter.
But you don’t even have to read between the lines.
Mike Petriello went about a similar process at MLB.com, using the 2022 WAR projections as things stand today to rank each MLB team and identify their greatest needs. For example: The St. Louis Cardinals ranked 15th in MLB with 36.4 total WAR projected as of today, and can they use a starting pitcher, a shortstop, and a lefty bat.
The Cubs (23.8 WAR), by contrast, ranked 26th in MLB, ahead of only the Rangers, Rockies, Pirates, and Tigers, with one of their biggest needs include … “a direction.”
I mean, that says it all, right?
Now, I’m not discounting the fact that the Cubs could – indeed should! – have some internal map with a very specific route, or specific alternatives built on alternatives. And I also don’t think remaining flexible is the worst thing in the world.
But from everything we know right now – and the uncertainty that comes with a new CBA and a mostly new front office – I just don’t know if that’s what’s going on.
Let me put a finer point on that.
Right now, I wonder if the Cubs are not quite sure which way they’re going to go, fine with everything from (a) spending a surprising amount of money at the higher end of free agency to improve the team in 2022 … to (z) trading away their only star position player, Willson Contreras, and really starting over this winter (think very short-term deals for guys they largely expect to trade at the deadline). Maybe the Cubs’ “plan” at the moment is to wait a bit to see how things play out, and develop the plan from there.
Maybe it’s okay to not know which path is right just yet – all that uncertainty that lies ahead – but as a fan, it’s unsettling.