The Rundown: Warming Up to Heaney, New Focus on Improved Baserunning, Free Agent Frenzy Could Hit Winter Meetings
Are the Cubs truly ready to start collecting impact players in free agency? That’s a legitimate question after injuries to two of their top prospects may push the current rebuild out an extra year. The Cubs won 39 of their final 70 games and seem to be on the verge of continuing that upward trend, which is why most of us believe Jed Hoyer is ready to acquire an anchor the way Theo Epstein did when he signed Jon Lester in 2014.
But let’s pump the brakes a little. Chicago needs a top-of-rotation starter, some left-handed power, a middle infielder, an outfielder, a catcher, and bullpen help. Their offense trails pitching in terms of development and impact players at the big league level. Hoyer also has to try to extend Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner, two players who should be cornerstones of Chicago’s next playoff-ready roster. Many insiders expect the president of baseball operations to defer to peripheral additions designed to strengthen the offense short-term while not blocking their top hitting prospects.
That’s probably true of the rotation, too. Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, and Carlos Rodón do not feel very much like potential additions. Hoyer has a number of intriguing prospects and might want to use 2023 as another year of developing those players. He has to feel good about the progress of Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson, and that’s probably why somebody like Andrew Heaney makes a lot more sense than deGrom or Verlander.
If the Cubs do make an impact signing, it will probably be at shortstop. That said, Hoyer may have to persuade Carlos Correa or Xander Bogaerts to sign while admitting that the team’s best championship opportunities won’t begin until 2024. He really has to convince those players and their agents that the correct path is to potentially surprise this year while loading up for the year after and beyond. In that sense, Correa could be seen as that Lester-like signing. And let’s be honest, that’s not too much to ask of a player who is reportedly seeking a deal of more than six years.
I was disappointed in the potential pursuit of Heaney, but I’ve warmed up to the hard-throwing lefty. It seems like he’s always been on the cusp of greatness, and pitchers today tend to be late bloomers. Even if he’s not the ideal choice to lead a rotation, Steele being that guy means Heaney, Marcus Stroman, Hayden Wesneski, and Kyle Hendricks make a helluva top five. It might not be championship caliber, but the Dodgers won 111 games with the likes of Tyler Anderson, Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urías, and Heaney. They had no choice because Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler battled injuries for most of the season.
We are all impatient and want the Cubs to start acting like a big market team. I’d be happy if a shortstop is the only significant acquisition as long as Happ and Hoerner are extended. Roll the dice on Heaney and maybe Koudai Senga while the horses at Iowa, Tennessee, and South Bend take the next steps in their development. Correa or Bogaerts will have to be part of the plan, though. Chicago needs an immediate paradigm shift with regard to impact players. Failure to land one big fish may forever tarnish the ballclub as cheap and shortsighted.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs are still in a transitional phase and that’s how they’ll approach the Winter Meetings. Chicago appears closer to playoff readiness, but their best prospects won’t make a significant impact in 2023.
- An anonymous survey of baseball executives by ESPN reveals the Cubs may not be as active in free agency as most of us are hoping.
- Improved baserunning will be a central focus in 2023. The Cubs finished fourth in stolen bases this year, but also made more outs at home (24) than any other team in the league. Additionally, Chicago made 68 outs on the basepaths, second to the Rays (73).
- Add Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports as another who believes the Cubs have a genuine shot to sign Correa.
- The back injury Brennen Davis has been dealing with might be more serious than initially reported.
- Just Baseball released its top Cubs prospects for 2023 and Pete Crow-Armstrong heads the list. Some might find Owen Caissie at No. 3 a bit of a shocker (I do not), but Matt Mervis is deservedly No. 5 in the system. Their top pitchers are Wesneski (6), Jordan Wicks (7), Cade Horton (8), and Ben Brown (10). The five players who just missed are Alexander Canario, Daniel Palencia, Porter Hodge, James Triantos, and Yohendrick Piñango. The site does a really nice job of breaking down each prospect’s potential.
- Razzball posts prospect lists based on potential fantasy value, and Mervis leads their 2023 list.
- The team’s pitching development made real strides last summer according to Sadahen Sharma of The Athletic. Jackson Ferris and fourth-round pick Nazier Mulé have opened some eyes at instructs ($).
- I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs take a flier on Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who is among 13 change-of-scenery trade candidates. Javier Báez, Nick Castellanos, and Zach Plesac are also listed.
Odds & Sods
How about a Cubs Insider vs. Bleacher Nation battle royale- who are you picking?
And here I thought that was an ice skating rink at Winterland. Bumper-tubes? pic.twitter.com/d94A2EZ8hc
— Wrigley Aerials (@WrigleyAerials) December 1, 2022
This one is behind ESPN’s paywall, but Jeff Passan believes a Winter Meetings free-agent frenzy is coming. “A number of executives and agents envision at least some parts of the starting pitching market moving soon, with Rodón especially and deGrom both contenders to sign within the next week.”
Bogaerts has reportedly severed all ties with the Red Sox.
One under-the-radar reliever who is drawing significant interest is Tommy Kahnle. The 33-year-old righty had a resurgent finish to the 2022 season with the Dodgers, posting a 1.04 ERA over 8.2 innings in September with nine strikeouts.
The Yankees’ latest offer to Aaron Judge is for eight years and “in the neighborhood” of $300 million. I still believe the Giants will outbid New York, and that an announcement could come in San Diego next week.
The free-agent outfielder will be the centerpiece of hype and rumors at the Winter Meetings.
The best free agent after Judge is Trea Turner.
Shelby Miller did indeed have legitimate big league offers and the former Cub has agreed to a deal with the Dodgers.
MLB Radio host Steve Phillips said the Rockies are the favorites to sign Cody Bellinger. The Cubs were not listed among Bellinger’s top five suitors.
The price tag for Jameson Taillon is climbing at a rapid rate.
Portland wants a big-league team. I’d rather see a franchise awarded to Vancouver, which might be the most beautiful city in North America.
The Cardinals and Blue Jays may focus on the trade market more than free agency. Both organizations have a deep enough farm system to be significant players.
The Rick Rosenthal Files
The latest from the resident baseball insider over at The Athletic ($).
The Cubs were in the mix for José Abreu, but the strongest offers came from the Astros, Padres, and Guardians. Abreu signed with Houston the other day.
The Astros are in discussions with free agent Willson Contreras and reportedly plan to meet with him at the winter meetings.
The Cardinals won’t be pursuing one of the top shortstops, but their top priority is finding a catcher to replace Yadier Molina.
Kolten Wong might be an option for the Mariners.
The Rays have checked in on deGrom. If he signed with Tampa Bay that would be equally shocking and exciting.
Billy Williams had one of the best rookie seasons in team history. The sweet-swinging outfielder slashed .278/.338/.822 with 25 home runs, and 86 RBI. He struck out just 70 times in 584 PAs and drew 45 bases on balls.
Hall of Famer Billy Williams, elected NL ROY #OTD 1961, hit 426 HRs in his 18 yr career & set an NL record with 1,117 consecutive games played. Known for his sweet swing w @cubs, he led NL w .333 BA in '72; was 2-time NL MVP runner-up @sabr https://t.co/i1636hdqzt pic.twitter.com/xzR0bjv1Iu
— SABR BioProject (@SABRbioproject) December 1, 2022
Thursday Morning Six-Pack
- Injuries keep mounting for the Bears. After losing WR Darnell Mooney for the remainder of the season, Chicago announced that safety Eddie Jackson is done for the year due to a Lisfranc injury.
- Defensive tackle Justin Jones has been a rare bright spot in an otherwise wretched Bears defense.
- It’s one of those stories that you wish wasn’t true, but Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac passed away yesterday, succumbing to an undisclosed illness. She was 79.
- I’ve never traded crypto because I’ve never trusted it. Sam Bankman-Fried bankrupted FTX and hedge fund Alameda Research, claiming he “didn’t try to commit fraud on anyone” and that he “had a bad month.”
- New documents in the FTX crypto bankruptcy case show that the company owes over $55,000 to the Bahamas Margaritaville beach resort, founded by singer Jimmy Buffett.
- Have you ever seen the HBO series Westworld? Robots that kill might be coming to the world’s tech capital. San Francisco supervisors voted 8–3 on Tuesday to allow the city’s police department to use remote-controlled robots to deliver potentially lethal force.
They Said It
- “I would say it like this — we have not run the bases well. We have gone first to third maybe as good as anybody in the league and we have stolen way more bases than have been projected. But we have run into some outs on the bases that we definitely need to clean up.” – David Ross
- “How do I evaluate our baserunning? Not good enough. We made too many mistakes. We gave out too many outs on the bases. There were times I think we pushed the envelope intentionally hard because we didn’t have the ability to hit a lot of homers. And so we tried to create some runs, manufacture some runs. I think that part of it was understandable. But there were times that felt like we could be a bit sloppy on the bases. That’s the stuff that winning teams don’t do and we have to cut that part of it out. So I think baserunning is an area that we can improve significantly.” – Hoyer
Thursday Walk-Up Song
In honor of the late, great songstress. Ms. McVie was definitely the soul of Fleetwood Mac.
“Christine wrote most of the singles. She was the pop writer and then Lindsey Buckingham would get into the production, which is what he does, and he would try to pull that pop out of her so what would be left was a great pop song with a real great (sings ‘Say You Love Me…’). He brought the perfect touch to her songs.” – Stevie Nicks