I have a lot more time on my hands between Labor Day and the Cubs not playing, which should mean really sinking my teeth into a topic. Instead, I’m going to spend a lot of my day reading a book and doing what else I can to be a man of leisure. That means falling back into a trope I’d unintentionally abandoned this year: the bold prediction.
Feel free to take yourselves very seriously and debate the meaning of “bold,” I’m really just here to have a little fun and throw out some plausible prognostications with varying degrees of likelihood. What would make it even more fun is if we can get a good string of reader predictions that we can all look back on in a few months to either congratulate or heckle good-naturedly.
Let’s get to it then, shall we?
Player payroll will increase beyond $175 million
It’s really difficult to nail down estimates for next season, but the Cubs should be at something like $110-112 million before factoring in player benefits and other 40-man considerations. That means they could spend upwards of $65 million in free agency while still remaining nearly $60 million below the competitive balance tax threshold of $233 million. Even though the Cubs should never be operating below $200 million at this point, baby steps would be nice.
Pete Crow-Armstrong is called up by September
This is something I covered briefly in a previous piece, so there’s no need to retread everything here. The big mitigating factor is that once he’s up, he figures to be an everyday player from that point forward. Assuming Brennen Davis is up well before that, the Cubs will have a full outfield between those two and then Seiya Suzuki in right.
Neither Ian Happ nor Willson Contreras will be extended
Even though the failure to trade either player set up additional bargaining time, the above scenario makes it difficult to see how the Cubs and Happ can arrive at an agreeable salary. Contreras, meanwhile, might find value in doing a short-term deal or even accepting the qualifying offer. So even if the catcher sticks around, it wouldn’t technically be an extension.
If Happ does end up working out a deal to remain in Chicago for several more years, the front office almost certainly have to make a move involving one or more young outfielders. In addition to Davis and PCA, they’ve got Alexander Canario, Owen Caissie, and Kevin Alcántara down in the minors. Oh, and let’s not forget Darius Hill, the 25-year-old who’s batting .333 with nine homers at Triple-A Iowa.
Jed Hoyer swings a big trade for a starting pitcher
I’d prefer to see this be Shohei Ohtani, but that feels like more of a pipe dream and it would narrow the focus of this too much. Another name that’s been floating around quite a bit is Shane Bieber, and I can see that one having legs.
If the trade route doesn’t work, give me Jacob deGrom on an obscene AAV 2-4 years.
Nico Hoerner will get an extension
Hoyer spoke recently about having several players who could be in line for extensions and we know the trend across the sport is to give long-term deals to pre-arb players. Hoerner has proven himself as an everyday player who is developing a little more pop to go with an excellent contact-heavy approach. He could well be a 4-5 fWAR player every year for the next five years.
The Cubs will sign a top shortstop
Wait, why would they do this if Hoerner is so good? Because, as I’ve said many times by now, signing someone who has played shortstop doesn’t mean that person will remain a shortstop. The Cubs need more talent and they are trying to better balance power and contact, so it’s imperative that they upgrade the roster and make the pieces fit. The only issue I have with the big three shortstops — Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Trea Turner — is that they’re all right-handed hitters.
Hoerner will win the Gold Glove at short
If given the chance to run with the position, I really believe Hoerner has the capability to earn some hardware. It’ll help if the Cubs become good again and he can benefit from the additional popularity.
Justin Steele will emerge as the No. 2 starter
This is assuming they go out and land a true ace of some sort, as I think Steele will be the best of the pitchers the Cubs carry over from this season. The lefty has an excellent fastball and his breaking stuff works, so it’s really a matter of either differentiating things with a new slider or finally making that changeup work. He’s been throwing the latter a little more of late and that could be a difference-maker.
Matt Mervis will win Rookie of the Year
As an unapologetic Mervert, this one is admittedly more of a homer call for me. That said, he’s having the best offensive season from a Cubs prospect since Kris Bryant in 2014 and he’s gotten better at each level of the minors. I really believe he’s a big part of the answer to the Cubs’ lack of left-handed power.
Hayden Wesneski will be the Cubs’ most valuable reliever, but not “best”
This one probably sounds a little weird because I’m mixing up objective and subjective measures. In short, I believe the Cubs will call the righty up as a long reliever/swingman for next year similar to how they started out both Steele and Keegan Thompson. Wesneski will thus be able to log more innings and build more stats than a more traditional short reliever.
There you go, pretty simple. Let me know where I went wrong and what you’re predicting for the next few months in the comments.