Remember back in early August when the Cubs lost two of three to the bumbling Mets and were nearly swept because they kept pitching to Pete Alonso? The hulking slugger blasted four homers and drove in 10 of the 17 runs for his team, all of which would have been preventable had someone with the Cubs just decided to make literally anyone else beat them.
That series may have reminded Jed Hoyer of that old saying that if you can’t beat them, you should join them. Or get them to join you, as the case may be. The Cubs were reportedly among the teams checking in on Alonso’s availability at the trade deadline, as were the Brewers. Though the Mets say nothing ever got close, in part due to high demands that reportedly included at least one top-five prospect, an offseason trade seems very likely at this point.
The Mets may be looking at a reset of sorts over the next two seasons, something Max Scherzer noted on his way out of town. Given that Alonso has just one year of club control remaining and was reportedly very upset about Buck Showalter being shown the door, it might make sense for both parties to find a new habitat for the Polar Bear.
All of which brings us back to Hoyer, who has a history when it comes to doggedly pursuing big first basemen. While we can’t really draw a direct comparison between Alonso and Anthony Rizzo, it’s not out of the question for Hoyer to be feeling a similar fixation to the one that drove him to be part of acquiring the now-Yankee three times with three different organizations.
“The mumbling out there is that the Cubs are going to do everything they can for Pete Alonso from the Mets,” Bruce Levine told Matt Spiegel Monday night on 670 The Score. “Alonso is in the last year of a contract, obviously 46 home runs, 100 RBI, you know, a guy that pounds the ball. Sure he strikes out, but who doesn’t these days? And he’s one year away from being a free agent, much like Bellinger was. And the only difference, Matt, is that you’re going to have to trade something really good for him, even though there’s only one year left.”
The first thing I want to address here just for the sake of context is the idea that Alonso “strikes out” a lot, which really isn’t the case. He was at 22.9% last season, just two-tenths above the league average and almost exactly in line with the MLB average from the past five seasons. What’s more, Alonso was under 20% in each of the two previous seasons.
The Cubs had four players with higher strikeout rates over a minimum of 250 plate appearances last season: Dansby Swanson (24.1%), Trey Mancini (29.7%), Christopher Morel (31.0%), and Patrick Wisdom (36.8%). That last one is particularly notable because he also happens to be a right-handed-hitting masher who might otherwise be seeing some time at first base.
Regardless of what the Cubs do in terms of a pursuit of Alonso, however, I have to imagine they’re planning to non-tender Wisdom. Even if that won’t really save them much when it comes to other offseason targets, it frees up a valuable roster spot. As for another big target…
“Alonso is that middle-of-the-order type hitter to go along with Bellinger,” Levine explained. “We’re stretching it in this conversation on October 2, thinking that they’re going to get both of them, but that would be their plan going into the offseason: A slugger like Alonso and a great piece like Bellinger. I don’t think their plan is to go backwards.”
There’s definitely some soft language in play here, particularly the “like” in front of both Alonso and Bellinger, but I think that’s more about Levine’s speech patterns than an attempt to make comps. The seasoned baseball reporter also knows better than to be too definitive, especially since he specifically noted the early date of this particular rumor.
That said, I do find the timing very interesting in light of yesterday’s news that Alexander Canario will not be participating in the Arizona Fall League. While he will still participate for a month in the Dominican Winter League, there’s been a thought for almost a year now that the slugging outfielder was among the most likely Cubs prospects to be dealt. Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki both have no-trade clauses, then you look at the organization’s top prospects and see three outfielders not named Canario ranked Nos. 1, 3, and 4.
I’ve never been big on trade proposals and I noted the earlier report about the Mets wanting a top-five guy, but the cost will be lower this winter given the reduced control of Alonso. Even so, you figure the Cubs would have to part with 2-3 relatively significant prospects in order to make something work. They’ve got more than enough depth to do it, particularly if they do indeed work to bring Bellinger back as Levine mentions.
What’s very interesting there, though, is that the Cubs would be filling spots at first base and center field, the latter of which was expected to be held down by Pete Crow-Armstrong moving forward. Then again, PCA showed a need to get better against big velocity up in the zone and will still be just 22 at the start of next season. With Alonso only under contract for one more year barring an extension, there’s still plenty of flexibility moving forward.
That means there’s still room to bring Matt Mervis along as well, provided he would not be included in a deal to acquire Alonso. There’s also the idea of using a soft platoon at first, though neither Bellinger nor Alonso has been subject to big splits. In fact, Bellinger hit lefties much better this season and Alonso actually has reverse splits for his career. Using the DH spot probably isn’t in play, as Alonso has 241 total plate appearances there and Bellinger has just 27. Christopher Morel had 239 this season alone.
It all comes back to timing, both in terms of the organization as a whole and how the Cubs plan to attack this winter in particular. Trading for Alonso would mean a significant upgrade to the offense without putting them into any sort of long-term financial commitment, plus it signals to Bellinger and/or other free agents that the team is committed to winning in 2024.
If Bellinger opts to return on what would have to be a very significant long-term contract, something Tom Ricketts and other team leaders have warned against on numerous occasions, Hoyer’s job will be to make the pieces fit. Having PCA, Owen Caissie, and Kevin Alcántara waiting in the wings is certainly nice, but you can’t just sit around and bank on prospects when you have known commodities out there. At the same time, Hoyer may once again have to thread the needle while waiting to see what Bellinger does.
“I believe Scott Boras…will hold Bellinger off until probably late January or early February to get the optimum amount for him,” Levine said.
That’s pretty much what everyone already believes anyway, so it behooves Hoyer to get any other moves taken care of as early as he can. Not only might that entice Bellinger to return, but it would be incredibly unwise to hang the offseason on the fate of one player’s potentially late decision. Speaking of which, I do want to turn quickly to something David Kaplan ranted about while chowing down on desserts in his ReKap of last Friday’s loss.
“I keep hearing and I heard from someone tonight, they’re probably not going to get Bellinger re-signed,” Kaplan said. “The person I talked to tonight said, ‘We’ve already got a center fielder: Pete Crow-Armstrong.’ He still hasn’t gotten his first career hit, but I like him. He’s a good prospect. I said, ‘Who’s your first baseman?’ ‘It’s a first baseman, it doesn’t matter.'”
This is presumably someone in the organization, hence the “we” talk, but these sound more like comments born out of frustration over the team’s stretch of poor play. It also smacks of defeated sarcasm, so I don’t place much weight on the veracity of this conversation as it relates to the Cubs’ goals. Not to say bringing Bellinger back is anything close to assured, just that I don’t believe for a second that the front office is simply dismissive of his potential role.
So, wow, that was a lot more than I’d expected to write when I first sat down. Guess that’s what happens when you know you don’t need to put together a lineup or edit a game recap. If you actually made it this far, I’ll ask you to comment below on your thoughts about trading for Alonso and re-signing Bellinger. Should they? Can they? Will they?
Update: It sounds like the Cubs’ interest in Alonso is mutual
“Pete Alonso is on their radar,” ESPN’s Jesse Rogers told ESPN 1000’s Kap & J. Hood Show Tuesday. “There’s no doubt about it. Here’s the reason: he wants to come here. “From what I’ve been told, he’s surveyed now that the Mets have been broken up and saw that the Cubs don’t have a first baseman ready to rock and roll. They have a pretty good team and a great market. I think that he wants to come here as much as they want him.”