I have a perspective on what matters most about the rest of the big league season. But, while I feel like I’m thinking about the appropriately big picture – the player evaluation, the offseason decisions, the track-laying for 2023 and beyond – it’s another thing to know what the front office is thinking. What the coaching staff is thinking. What the players are thinking.
Thus, I was fascinated to see Nico Hoerner speaking openly about what matters down the stretch for a Cubs team that isn’t going to the playoffs, as he did in this NBCSC piece. Why is any of this important? What’s important about it? To whom does it matter?
Well, one group it might matter to is the group of free agents the Cubs are going to try to recruit this offseason.
“The baseball we have is incredibly meaningful for guys on an individual level as well as creating momentum into next year and proving that we are closer to winning than people realize and giving an accurate look for free agents to look at,” Hoerner told NBCSC. “I think all of that is incredibly important, and it’s all closely related. And it doesn’t have to be years and years in these situations.”
In other words, you want the team to have the look of a group that is turning the corner for 2023, so that more of your preferred free agent targets agree to sign on. They are getting paid in the process, of course, but sometimes the dollars are so close that competitiveness is a tiebreaker. If you want to bring in the most impactful players, you’re going to want them to feel like they are among the final pieces on a team that CAN win some games in 2023. (Recall Carlos Correa’s comments about not wanting to sign on for a rebuilding process.)
Hoerner goes on to point out players returning from injuries, young players emerging at the big league level, and more of the guys who would be expected to be key contributors in 2023. That’s what he’s most looking forward to seeing through September.
I think Nico Hoerner’s perspective is really insightful, especially when you remember how well he has established himself this year as an important part of the team being able to compete in 2023. This is a guy who is going to be around for the next few years – he’s got three years of arbitration ahead – and it’s clear he’s becoming more and more of a leader. He, too, wants the team to look better and better for the years ahead, especially if he were going to consider a long-term extension if the Cubs approached him about it this offseason. As they should! He’s got three arbitration years left, so you’re going to be negotiating anyway – now would be a great time to try to buy out some of those free agent years with a five or six-year deal … ok, I suppose that’s a deeper conversation for another day.
For now, I just think it’s useful to point out that, in addition to all the player evaluation that needs to take place the rest of the way – and, let’s be honest, the lottery positioning – there is also the need for the Cubs to demonstrate that they at least have the bones of a team that, with the right additions, could clearly win 85+ games in 2023, and looks even brighter for 2024 and beyond.