Internal and External Improvements, Morel, Hendricks, Taillon, Soto, Molina, Leeper, and Other Cubs Bullets

The Winter Meetings are over, and although that always means something of an exhale for me after four days of very late nights and trying to grind through the day, this year’s installment doesn’t have the benefit of … anything at all fun having happened for the Cubs. Nothing really to break down.

  • Well, I mean, they did get this guy in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, and this is kind of incredible:
  • Of course, the Cubs also LOST four players in the Rule 5, so ….
  • I, like you, am understandably focused on the things the Cubs can do externally to improve their team this offseason. But I don’t want to lose sight of some of the things they can hopefully do internally to also improve their results in 2024. To that end, it feels like it’s worth pointing out that Christopher Morel’s team in the Dominican Republic, which is in a competitive pro league and is trying to win every game, clearly believes that he is good enough at third base to play there regularly:
  • Is the level of play there exactly the same as MLB? No. Could some guys play well enough at third in the DR and not be playable there in MLB? Sure. But that team wants to WIN, and they are making choices on where to play Morel to optimize their chances of winning. So when they put him at third base, that tells me there has GOT TO AT LEAST BE a chance that Morel, a tremendous athlete with great raw arm strength, could pick up big-league-passable third base if he was really given time and focus there.
  • The Cubs certainly aren’t remotely communicating that they plan to give Morel runway at third base in 2024, and we’ll see what transactions happen between now and then. But dang it, Morel managing third still seems like the ideal outcome for him, for the offense, and for the position. Maybe the new manager will see it that way.
  • Oh, by the way, though: having Morel as the starter at third base only improves the offense if you ALSO add a big bat at first base and at DH. So even internal improvements for the Cubs this offseason will necessarily bleed into external improvements if they do it right. Jed Hoyer knows this – I was watching a video of Patrick Mooney recounting some of the comments from Hoyer at the meetings, and Hoyer commented that it can’t just be about counting on guys to take steps forward. They have to make additions to compete in 2024.
  • Happy 34th birthday to Kyle Hendricks, who will hopefully enter the 2024 season as the Cubs’ very solid 4th or 5th starter:
  • As for the guy we’d hope to be the third-ish starter with the right additions:
  • His second half was basically exactly what you hope Jameson Taillon will be in 2024. So that’d obviously be a considerable internal improvement over 2023 in his spot in the rotation … but the Cubs still need to add at least one impactful starting pitcher. Again, it can’t all just be hopes for internal improvement.
  • “Special Assistant President of Baseball Operations.” “Special Assistant TO the President of Baseball Operations”:
  • My god, the work that went into this:
  • A random thought on Juan Soto, because it’s the kind of thing I just wish would happen for the Cubs. He was a big, but not tip-top-bonus IFA signing before the 2016 season. Soto played relatively little at the lowest levels in 2016 and 2017, but clearly could hit. In 2018, though, he started the year at A-ball at age-19. He was so clearly ridiculous for that level that he almost immediately got bumped to High-A, and then again to Double-A, and then in mid-May, barely a month and a half into that rocket-ship ascent, the Nationals were like, this is stupid, just call him up. He was immediately a big league superstar in the very same season he’d started in A-ball. His rise was so fast that in the 2018 FanGraphs prospect rankings, Soto was the THIRD ranked Nationals prospect, and only 50th overall in baseball. He went from “hey, pretty good prospect” to “all-universe 19-year-old superstar in the big leagues” in a matter of months.
  • This is just outstanding to see:
  • Remember, Leeper was a breakout relief prospect for the Cubs, but then he injured his elbow at the start of the 2023 season. He had to undergo his third Tommy John surgery, the return from which is exceedingly rare. Is it likely that he makes it back well enough to be a big leaguer, even in middle relief? It’s not. You could not say that’s likely based on the history of elbow injuries. But it’s *possible*, and if he pulls it off, what a tremendous moment for him, for the organization, and for all of his coaches and teammates and family. It’s the kind of thing that can pay dividends in ways that don’t precisely show up in the box score.
  • Such a gorgeous pitch:
  • More concerts coming:
  • written by

    Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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