There’s a point a which you have to stop dismissing rumors and speculation as merely idle, and I think I’ve gotten there when it comes to the Cubs pursuing a very high-profile shortstop in free agency. They were connected to that market last winter and a lot of reports tied them to Carlos Correa in particular. Then Bob Nightengale quoted an anonymous exec who “guaranteed” the Cubs would play in the shortstop sandbox.
More recent talk has turned the focus to Xander Bogaerts, though that feels more like fallout from the Red Sox visiting Wrigley a while back. We can probably discount some of the specifics in regard to names, but the fact that this keeps coming up from multiple sources feels like more than agents or front office members chumming the waters.
The latest entry in this long-running conversation comes from Ken Rosenthal, who discussed the Cubs’ situation on The Athletic Baseball Show podcast.
“This is the test that they’re going to have this offseason, ‘Okay, you’ve taken the payroll down, but you’re a big market team. You are not the Pittsburgh Pirates, okay? You should be spending money,’” Rosenthal said. “And the Cubs sorta did that a little bit last year with Stroman and … Seiya Suzuki as well, those were two pretty significant investments. But this is the offseason now where they’ve got to start spending again.
“They’ve got to get — and I believe they will get — one of the big shortstops. And they need to do some work around the edges, for sure. They’ve got some promising things happening.”
Rosenthal is one of the most connected and respected voices in the media and he isn’t in the business of throwing stuff out there just for clicks, so this carries some weight. It’s obviously speculation, but of the very educated variety. When taking into account the Cubs’ position both competitively and financially, plus the number of potential targets, such a move makes sense.
In addition to Correa and Bogaerts, Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson could be free agents at the end of the season. Public opinion is divided on which of those would be the best fit in Chicago, though Swanson is a distant third based on my very informal straw poll. That may be less a matter of production — he leads all MLB shortstops with 4.8 fWAR — and more the perception that he’ll stay in Atlanta.
Correa is having the worst season of the three, but he’s also the youngest and might have at least one extra year of prime play in his future. Speaking of which, there’s an even younger shortstop who’s putting up really solid offensive numbers while also ranking near the top in some defensive metrics. That would be Nico Hoerner, who also happens to be much less expensive than any of the other options.
Hoerner is probably never going to develop into much of a power hitter, though, and the Cubs could really use more pop in their lineup. But hey, no one said those free agent shortstops had to stay at the position. Correa and Bogaerts seem like candidates to slide over to third given their bigger frames, but Turner actually grades out as a worse defender and has logged over 700 innings at second base.
Maybe it’s not a matter of signing someone to displace Hoerner, but of convincing a free agent shortstop to slide to a different position. The offensive production will be the same either way, maybe a little better relatively speaking if we’re talking about having them at second. Alas, none of that really matters unless the Cubs get serious about landing one of them.