Of all the things that have gone unequivocally RIGHT for the Chicago Cubs this season — Justin Steele’s development, Chris Morel’s debut, Ian Happ’s all-star campaign, etc. — arguably none means more to the future of the franchise than the emergence of Nico Hoerner at shortstop.
At the plate, Hoerner has blossomed into a ~.300 hitter with a 107 wRC+ and the sixth lowest strikeout rate in MLB. He’s hit six homers, 14 doubles, and 3 triples, and has stolen 12 bases, which ranks among the top-25 in the game. He’s just an incredibly well-rounded offensive player.
And of course, the biggest Hoerner development has been in the field, where he has proven his ability to play shortstop, rating as one of the best defenders in the game. All told, he’s generated the 7th most WAR among all shortstops in MLB – a list that includes some really big names.
But here’s the thing … the Cubs have money to spend this offseason, and theoretical roster flexibility around the infield. And it just so happens that THREE of the shortstops ahead of Nico Hoerner in 2022 WAR are going to be free agents … with the guy behind him not too shabby either:
1. Dansby Swanson: 124 wRC+, 4.8 WAR
3. Xander Bogaerts: 131 wRC+, 4.7 WAR
4. Trea Turner: 136 wRC+, 4.2 WAR
7. Nico Hoerner: 107 wRC+, 2.8 WAR
16. Carlos Correa: 122 wRC+, 1.7 WAR
The one impending free agent shortstop behind Hoerner, Carlos Correa, is the youngest of the free agent bunch, and just happened to get off to a rough start. But is otherwise slashing .287/.363/.475 (139 wRC+) since April 28.
Needless to say, the Cubs must entertain the possibility of signing one of the big four free agent shortstops this offseason, even if it displaces Nico Hoerner. Or if you otherwise have to figure out how to coordinate with him, defensively. And I think they might.
Back in early June, one GM “guaranteed” the Cubs would sign one of the (then) three big free agent shortstops this offseason (Dansby Swanson hadn’t quite elevated himself to this level yet). In late June, Joel Sherman teased a potential free agent shortstop run from the Cubs at The New York Post. And in July, “several executives” reportedly predicted that the Cubs will sign Xander Bogaerts, in particular, this offseason.
Well, Ken Rosenthal underscored this general expectation in no uncertain terms earlier this morning on his Athletic Baseball Podcast (emphasis mine):
“The question ultimately becomes, and this is the test that they’re going to have this offseason, ‘Okay, you’ve taken the payroll down, but you’re a big market team. You are not the Pittsburgh Pirates, okay? You should be spending money.’ And the Cubs sorta did that a little bit last year with Stroman and … Seiya Suzuki as well, those were two pretty significant investments. But this is the offseason now where they’ve got to start spending again.
They’ve got to get – and I believe they will get – one of the big shortstops. And they need to do some work around the edges, for sure. They’ve got some promising things happening.
Like I said, no uncertain terms here — Ken Rosenthal believes the Chicago Cubs will sign one of the big free agent shortstops this offseason.
So … Which one will they want? That’s something we’ll explore in the days and weeks ahead. Which one do I want? I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the above, though I suspect Correa will be their primary target, given the prior interest last offseason, as well as the fact that he is (1) the youngest of the bunch, and (2) will not be connected to any draft pick compensation this offseason.
At the same time, Jed Hoyer was with the Red Sox when they scouted and signed Bogaerts as an amateur free agent back in 2009, so that makes for an easy enough connection.