Before I get started, just let me say I came a little too close to having a catch with my dad last week, and Ernie Banks for that matter, too. A blood infection tried to do me in. I survived, I’m very fatigued, and I have a new outlook on life. Writing about the Cubs feels a little awkward, so bear with me today and the rest of this week as I re-adjust. Thankfully, baseball news has been relatively slow in my absence.
Kyle Hendricks is the lone remaining player from the Cubs’ last championship team and he compared the signing of Dansby Swanson to that of Jon Lester. He’s referring to Swanson as that impact deal that signals the organization feels it is confident in its ability to compete.
That would be a nice standalone story, but let me dig a little deeper. David Ross is entering his fourth season as manager with a career record of 179-205. He’s signed through 2024 with a team option for 2025, which puts him in the driver’s seat of the current competitive window. I don’t want to make a story out of a non-story, but what if Chicago doesn’t compete? Does Ross become the fall guy?
Jed Hoyer retooled his roster over the last two seasons and he’s done an admirable job. It’s almost unbelievable that those who still long for the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, and Kyle Schwarber are among the shrinking minority. That said, Chicago still lacks a No. 1 starter and could use a lineup addition that’s expected to hit 35-40 home runs. Cody Bellinger could be the latter, but his career has basically bottomed out. The rotation has a couple of No. 2 starters and a whole lot of back-of-rotation types. We’re basically pinning our hopes on Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, and Jameson Taillon.
Those three can’t hold a candle to Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Eric Lauer of the Brewers, and forget about comparing Chicago’s rotation to the Mets, Braves, Dodgers, or Phillies. Burnes will be a free agent after the 2024 season and if the Cubs are one player away from being legitimate World Series contenders, he could be the guy. Perhaps it’s Shohei Ohtani, who could be available next winter. Pablo López would have been a great addition, but he was traded to the Twins. If Jesús Luzardo is available, perhaps Hoyer can find a match with the Marlins.
Ross has been complimentary of Hoyer’s moves, but he knows what his team lacks. Frankly, I’m surprised the front office has yet to acquire a top starter via trade. The team is obviously hoping to challenge the Cardinals this year, but it appears Hoyer sees 2024 as the season that his squad is primed to take a serious run at contending. The Cubs will have more money to spend next winter, though Hendricks might not be around to celebrate a second championship. His contract expires after this season.
“It’s definitely strange, in a way,” Hendricks said in his conversation with Maddie Lee of the Sun-Times. “It just goes to show that the turnover is so quick in the game these days. I just look at it from a grateful perspective. I have so much gratitude for the organization and for the city just for being able to be there for that long.”
Cubs News & Notes
- Keith Law is no stranger to bagging on the Cubs, but Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcántara, and Brennen Davis made the top half of his preseason prospect list.
- Don’t look for Matt Mervis in the bottom half. Law isn’t a big fan of the first baseman.
- Crow-Armstrong, Alcántara, and Davis are Chicago’s lone representatives in the MLB Pipeline Top 100.
- Hoyer has an incredible knack for building high-floor depth.
- Call me crazy, but I believe Owen Caissie and Alexander Canario will end up being the best outfielders of the bunch. My deep dive guys at other positions are Jackson Ferris and Moisés Ballesteros.
- If you’re truly a scout hound, Prospects 1500 dropped their Top 50 Cubs prospects this morning. Mervis is No. 4 and Ferris sits 12th — ahead of Ben Brown — the highest I’ve seen Ferris so far. Their write-ups on Cade Horton and Jordan Wicks are exciting.
- Speaking of future stars, the Cubs added some impact talent in international free agency. Vice president of international scouting Louie Eljaua provided a nice synopsis of this year’s class.
- The Cubs signed RHP Tyler Duffey to a minor league deal last week. I love that the Cubs consistently find diamonds in the pitching scrap heap, and Duffey could be this year’s gem. It would be a lot nicer to read that Hoyer acquired a beast to lead his rotation.
- In addition to the minor league signings, the Cubs have eight new additions to their major league roster.
- Evan wrote a nice piece on LHP Matt Barnes, who is now available and could be an impact arm for Chicago’s bullpen. I scrolled down to the comments and saw a recommendation for moving Steele to the bullpen. That was unexpected.
- Hoyer is quietly changing the team’s bullpen persona. He’s churned through a number of temporary stalwarts like Ryan Tepera, Chris Martin, David Robertson, and Andrew Chafin over the last few years. In the meantime, homegrown talents like Brandon Hughes, Jeremiah Estrada, and Ethan Roberts are becoming impact relievers.
- The Cubs are among the top bandwagon teams of 2023. I love the sentiment, but Chicago has a global fan base. They’re never a “bandwagon team.”
- Trey Mancini believes Wrigley Field is a magical place and he’s hoping to have a career year for the Cubs. Going gap-to-gap will help him a bit more than any mystic sorcery. I do like to think of the Friendly Confines as some sort of Tolkien Gateway.
- Mancini adds veteran leadership and versatility to Chicago’s lineup but is another of those high-floor types that Hoyer loves so much.
- Former Cubs Cole Hamels and Derek Holland threw in front of scouts last week as both veterans hope to restart their MLB careers.
- Is this really a unique perspective on the 2003 NLCS? I’ve always blamed Alex González over Steve Bartman. Dusty Baker could have managed his bullpen a little better, too.
Odds & Sods
Buster Posey, Pitching:
Throwing Diesel & Fist Pump ⛽️
Kenley Jansen, Catching:
Firing a Laser & Fist Pump. 💪 pic.twitter.com/f692lYdZSa
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) January 29, 2023
The MLB league office is struggling with spelling.
It’s the 20th anniversary since MLB Pipeline debuted in 2005. Their first top prospect was Delmon Young, who headed the ’06 and ’07 lists, too. Jason Heyward was the alpha dog in ’10 and Bryant was No. 2 in ’15.
Just Baseball ranked the uniforms of all 30 MLB teams and the Cardinals are at the top this year. The Cubs are fourth.
The Cardinals may look good (they do not), but they could be facing some serious financial issues due to their affiliation with the Bally Sports RSN.
Bradford Doolittle of ESPN wrote that St. Louis has the second-best lineup in baseball ($) right now, trailing the Padres. The Cubs are No. 20.
The Mariners are ditching their iconic grey road uniforms because of new league-mandated limitations.
The Mets and Dodgers are the current favorites to sign Ohtani next winter.
Some team owners are angry with the Padres and Mets for spending too much this winter.
Apropos of Nothing
McDonald’s has decided to ditch the “super straw” in favor of sippy cup lids for soft drinks, but believe it or not, that straw is a big reason why their fountain Coke tastes so much better than their competitors.
If you need something to beat the dog days of winter, a number of Cubs players are working out at the team’s Arizona complex. That includes Nick Madrigal, who is learning the intricacies of playing third base. Madrigal has had a rough go at it since joining the Cubs, but don’t forget he was lighting it up last August. It’s a small sample size, but that was the expected norm when Hoyer acquired the infielder from the White Sox.
It's been reported that @Cubs @NickMadrigal_3 has been taking ground balls and working out at 3B this off-season. After today, I can confirm that report! #Cubs #bouncebackszn pic.twitter.com/GhVL8PxL7i
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) January 24, 2023
They Said It
- “Being back at the convention, that’s obviously one of the best parts, just hearing the fans and their stories and how much they still love and connect to [the 2016 team]. But the even better part of that, honestly, at the convention, was seeing the fresh faces and seeing the fresh, renewed energy, and just seeing where we’re going now.” – Hendricks
Monday Walk-Up Song
Apropos of something.