As you know simply by virtue of following the transactions around here this offseason, and as underscored by Michael’s financial post yesterday, the Chicago Cubs have certainly done a lot already this offseason.
They are up to seven free agents signed, and nearly $300 million in new commitments:
– Dansby Swanson: 7 years, $177M
– Cody Bellinger: 1 year, $17.5M
– Jameson Taillon: 4 years, $68M
– Drew Smyly: 2 years, $19M
– Tucker Barnhart: 2 years, $6.5M
– Brad Boxberger: 1 year, $2.8M
And they traded for Miles Mastrobuoni! So, you know. Major moves! (I kid, obviously, but hey, I do like Mastrobuoni as a nice depth piece.)
Of course, just because you’ve done a lot, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve improved a lot. After all, the Cubs also lost Willson Contreras, and that’s going to have an impact on the lineup (even if the Cubs might have boosted the defense in the process). Eyeballing it, I can see clear improvement overall, but I’m kinda still sitting back and waiting for Spring Training before declaring just how much the Cubs have improved. I can see the path to an 85-win team on paper, but they’re not there yet.
All that said, Anthony Castrovince wrote at MLB.com about the most improved teams so far this offseason, with 11 teams making the cut at one level or another. The Cubs call into the “From Non-Playoffs to Playoffs?” tier of teams, together with the Rangers and Angels, which is not too hard to understand that lumping.
Cubs fans entered this winter with stars in their eyes. This winter has probably not been quite as bold as many of them wanted. But while Dansby Swanson was objectively fourth among the four-star shortstops in this market, his durability and defensive dependability are huge assets for a team looking to move on up. Jameson Taillon was not in the top tier of the starting-pitching market, but, at age 31, after battling illness and injuries, his stuff has only recently returned to its pre-surgery levels. At worst, he’s a league-average arm for a rotation that needed more stability. Veteran Brad Boxberger is an upgrade for the bullpen. And of course, if Cody Bellinger can somehow recapture his old MVP form on a one-year deal with the North Siders, they might just rank as the most improved team of all.
That’s how the Cubs are viewed at a national level this offseason. Basically: They’ve added some good pieces that could help boost them in a number of ways, but there’s not a lot of certainty there. Fair enough, to be honest.
I tend to think if the Cubs just do the bare minimum things they still need to do from here – add a bat (Trey Mancini preferably), and add a quality reliever or two – it’s going to look pretty clear that they are among the most improved teams, on paper, this offseason. A lot of that is due to their relatively low starting point and ample spots open for improvement, but I also think the moves made have been relatively well-tailored to hit the Cubs where they had space available for the biggest impacts.
To be sure, making the playoffs after a great offseason is what matters most, and the Cubs could be among the “biggest improvers” in 2023 and still miss the playoffs. But I guess when you’re doing late-December narrative-construction, this is about as well as you can do. The Cubs are among the most-improved teams, on paper, so far this offseason.