The Cubs are in a tough spot right now as they try to meaningfully improve both the big league roster and the farm system at the same time. While not mutually exclusive by rule, those two endeavors typically sit on opposite ends of the teeter-totter as needs ebb and flow over time. There is, however, one path to filling holes in Chicago while also adding talent to Mesa, Myrtle Beach, and/or South Bend, something we’ve discussed numerous times here.
I’m talking about picking up “bad” contracts from other teams and getting back prospects to subsidize the deal. Our most recent foray into that dreamscape involved a trade that wouldn’t actually include lottery tickets, but that would see the Cubs pry Tyler Mahle free from the Reds in exchange for shouldering the final two years of a Mike Moustakas contract that remains the largest Cincy has ever given a free agent. Even if that would actually require the Cubs to give up a player or two in return, it’d probably be a minimal prospect package.
It’s also a longshot, so let’s get back to the nexus of this post, which is the idea that the Cubs could try to work something out with the Padres to take first baseman Eric Hosmer off their hands. By the way, is it weird that a pair of former KC corner men are both in this situation? Anywho, Hosmer presents a different situation from his former teammate because the remaining four years and $59 million is almost as much as Moustakas’s entire deal ($64M).
Though the timeline is probably longer than the Cubs would prefer, Hosmer’s $18 million AAV is palatable for a team that should have ample room left in the budget. Plus, his actual salary drops from $20 million to $13 million in 2023, which is of much greater importance than the AAV. Assuming the Cubs aren’t going to exceed whatever threshold is set for the luxury tax — we know how they hate those dead-weight losses — it’s the raw payroll that really matters. In essence, Jed Hoyer would get an extra $7 million of flexibility in 2023 and beyond.
Hosmer is also a left-handed hitter, something the Cubs need more of on the roster, who could tag-team at first with Frank Schwindel or serve as the DH against righties. Though his defense leaves a lot to be desired and the pop was down last season, Hosmer still posted a 102 wRC+ on the strength of a strong second half that saw him walk at an 11% clip while raising most of his other offensive stats as well.
That might provide even more incentive for the Cubs, who were talking with the Padres about a potential trade back in July before Hosmer’s numbers improved. That comes via Sahadev Sharma, who wrote for The Athletic that the deal would have included “a highly regarded prospect” and “could be rekindled once the lockout ends.” Even if it isn’t, the Cubs may very well continue to explore similar deals with other teams.
Making a move like that to essentially “buy” a prospect or two would obviously improve the farm system, but it could also be a matter of offsetting potential losses from a subsequent trade to add a big leaguer. Or perhaps the Cubs might like to swing big for a shortstop who turned down a qualifying offer from his old team. Either way, they’d be proactively working to balance the teeter-totter.
Another way to ensure the development pipeline remains flowing in earnest is through improved amateur evaluation, which is where VP of scouting Dan Kantrovitz comes in. Hired to replace Jason McLeod, now an assistant to GM Mike Hazen in Arizona, Kantrovitz’s first order of business was to overhaul an evaluation process that had failed to produce much of anything outside of very early first-round picks. Though the fruits of his early labor have yet to be seen in Chicago, all appearances are that the Cubs’ collective selections are an improvement over classes from the recent past.
Sharma laid out several additions Kantrovitz has made to the amateur scouting department, including “internal shifting and external hires” to give the organization better national and regional coverage. What’s really great about this is that the Cubs are actually adding scouts and working to better utilize them, something that runs counter to what seems to be happening elsewhere in the industry.
As much as baseball thrives on raw data and complicated statistical models, there’s no way to adequately replace the human element of the sport. By making counter-intuitive moves, at least in relation to what other teams have done recently, the Cubs may very well be creating an advantage for themselves when it comes to unearthing the next stars of the system. Pair that with a revamped front office and (fingers crossed) a significant budget increase and you’ve got the makings of a very bright future.