The big-time free agent shortstops keep coming up in relation to the Chicago Cubs not because the Cubs, specifically, have this extraordinary need for a shortstop. Not only are the Cubs not “one shortstop away” from being a contender in 2023 – a whole lot more is needed, nudge nudge! – but they also currently have one of the best-performing shortstops in all of baseball in Nico Hoerner.
Instead, the top free agent shortstop group of Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, and Xander Bogaerts keeps coming up in relation to the Cubs for a confluence of other reasons: the Cubs are going to need a big bat, these guys are among the best free agents at any position, they are all 30 or younger, and the Cubs are expected to have money to spend.
While the best free agents will always find a home, the early pundit-tizing has it that there just aren’t that many obvious teams out there that are going to be in a position to got to nine figures on these guys, which is why the Cubs keep coming up. (They get special mention there from Joel Sherman in this part of the market.) And why the Cubs are picked by some to be a lock to get one of them.
The latest to be discussed by name in connection to the Cubs is Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, about whom “several executives” go out on a limb to say that’s the deal that is going to happen.
Via executives who’ve spoken with Bob Nightengale:
The Chicago Cubs plan to spend money this winter, badly need a shortstop, and several executives are predicting that they end up with Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is expected to opt out after the season with the Boston Red Sox.
The Cubs engaged late with Carlos Correa before he signed with the Twins in March, uninterested in any opt-outs, but Bogaerts may be a better, and cheaper fit.
Jed Hoyer, Cubs president of baseball operations, was with the Red Sox when Bogaerts signed in 2009.
As always, with these kinds of anonymized, generic, group-based rumors, your biggest grain of salt is that you have no idea what was ACTUALLY said, by whom, and for what purpose. It could be a couple low-level execs who were pushed to make a prediction and shrugged their shoulders with an uncertain guess, plus a couple higher-level execs who have some kind of agenda in putting this information out there.
Assuming he opts out of his remaining deal with the Red Sox, as is widely expected, Xander Bogaerts figures to land a sizable contract in free agency, though probably shorter and lesser than Correa. Agreed with the anonymous execs on that part.
Bogaerts, who turns 30 in October, is arguably the best fit for the Cubs* because he may already be to the point in his career where he knows he’ll have to move off of shortstop. In other words, you COULD argue that since the Cubs have an emerging young player at shortstop in Nico Hoerner, their best fit among the group of free agent “shortstops” is the guy who is most likely not to find a team out there willing to commit to him long-term at shortstop. So if he’s looking at third base or second base anyway, well, the Cubs could obviously make that work.
*(I don’t know that I would personally make that argument, mind you! Yes, Hoerner has been stellar at shortstop this year, and has demonstrated that he can hang there for years to come. I buy it completely. But if you’re talking about a tip-top free agent, and if you are aware that Hoerner has the ability to also play elite defense at second base, I just don’t think you worry about “fit” with these guys. Sign the best overall player you can – right now, that looks like Correa to me – and then sort out the rest later.)
You can’t argue with the bat, though. Bogaerts has turned himself into a consistent offensive stud for the Red Sox (via FanGraphs):
Your modest potential concern with Bogaerts, and what you’d want to watch the rest of this year, is the power decline the last few years (paired with a slight creep up in his strikeout rate). His overall slash line this year is buoyed by a BABIP that looks really out of whack with his career norms, and his contact quality data this year at Statcast is, in a lot of ways, pretty middle-of-the-pack:
So that is all worth observing the rest of the way. An early-season blip? The continuation of some trend lines (bat speed decline, perhaps)? TBD.
Which isn’t to say you would avoid Bogaerts altogether if you did think there was some decline there. I mean, when a guy is about to turn 30, the aging curves tell us there is highly likely to be at least some decline. We already know that’s a factor, and it’s why the Cubs are going to avoid 6+ years on any of these deals if at all possible (which may or may not make some of these guys flat unsignable for them). You just have to calculate it into your (1) contract projections, and (2) expected contributions over the next several years (as it relates to how you build out the rest of the team).
Because the group of four top free agent shortstops are so bundled in so many ways, you could probably make an argument for any of them being the “best” of the group.
For me, because he has the shortest track record of offensive success, and because this seasons’ results are so heavily BABIP-dependent, I would put Swanson in the four spot out of four (which is not to say he’s not a top free agent! it’s all relative). At the other end of the spectrum, because he is the youngest and comes with the best combination of offense and defense over the longest period of time, I would put Carlos Correa in the top spot. Turner being so speed-dependent concerns me a little as he heads into his 30s, and I think Bogaerts, like I said, is more likely to move off of shortstop sooner rather than later. So that’s why they would be in the two and three spots in some order. But this is all so nit-picky, and we are still months away from free agency actually arriving.
Also? Just like Correa recently suggested, Bogaerts is going to want to sign not only with the team that pays him the most, but also one where he can see winning on the horizon.
“I would think everyone would want to,” Bogaerts told NBC, “to have an idea, have a vision, something like that. I think winning is always important.”
He was very complimentary of Wrigley Field and Cubs history, though, and said this about the state of things from the outside: “I’ve been through some rough years with the Red Sox also. It’s not been as much years. For the most part we’ve done a lot of winning here. But I’ve been in some rebuilding years, but it hasn’t taken as long. We’ll see how it is with this team this year, man. They [Cubs] have a lot of good young players.”
So, again, like I said with Correa: the Cubs have all the more reason, by sometime in the offseason, to look like an organization that is clearly turning the corner. Money talks, but being “good” helps that conversation.