Cubs’ Quest for Offense Gets Tougher as Michael Conforto Joins Giants
Actions may speak louder than words, but money uses a bullhorn. So it was that just a few days removed from the Carlos Correa debacle, the Giants were able to land Scott Boras client Michael Conforto for two years and $36 million. That’s more than double what MLB Trade Rumors had predicted and it’s reasonable to believe the Giants, desperate to sign someone after being spurned by Aaron Judge and then backing out of the Correa deal, simply overpaid out of necessity.
The Cubs have a similar necessity, though, and they were reportedly one of three teams involved in discussions as of Thursday night. Conforto just made so much sense for a team that really needed left-handed power and that had already inked a Boras client looking to rebound from shoulder issues with a short-term deal. In the end, they probably weren’t willing to match the Giants, who also gave Conforto an opt-out after the first year.
That’s a helluva good contract for a guy who sat out the 2022 season due to a shoulder surgery that could still impact his ability to play the field. It could also end up being a tremendous bargain because he pretty clearly had the highest upside of any remaining hitters on the market.
As much as any of the other players we’ve discussed as potential targets, Conforto seemed like an obvious get for the Cubs. His pursuit even felt a little like Dansby Swanson‘s in that Conforto was the last, best option for something the Cubs really needed to add. After effectively fouling off pitches in a two-strike count, Jed Hoyer hit a double to the gap by landing a shortstop. Only thing is, his team is still down a run and needs to drive home the man on second.
Conforto would have been that metaphorical hit for a front office that hasn’t come close to following through on the stated plan to add offense. So where do the Cubs turn now? Trey Mancini looks like the next most obvious fit, though he’s a right-handed hitter whose power has been dropping off. My initial thought was that his prolonged slump following the trade from Baltimore to Houston was part of that, but his .188 ISO down the stretch was 52 points higher than he’d posted through August.
That’s actually pretty good news, as maintaining that kind of production would mean easily exceeding 20 homers with everyday plate appearances. Of course, the .622 OPS and 77 wRC+ Mancini had with the Astros dictates that he should not be in the lineup every day. So where else could the Cubs turn?
We looked at a few options the other day, some of which have since come off the board, and I still feel like Evan Longoria is a solid possibility. He’s a righty, though, and the Cubs seem to be looking to squeeze as much value as possible out of their non-Swanson deals, which could mean kicking the tires on a pair of DFA’d former Royals hitters to whom they’ve been connected for a while.
Both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are available for minimum pay after they were designated by the Red Sox and Reds, respectively. There had been speculation and even legit reports of the Cubs having interest in trading for one or the other as a means by which to buy prospects, so it figures that interest would still linger given the low cost.
Hosmer has been an above-average hitter in each of the last three seasons despite failing to generate a full win above replacement in any of them. He actually had reverse splits last season as well, which would be nice in a platoon with Matt Mervis if he’s able to keep that going. But that performance against southpaws might be an aberration and Hosmer has totaled just 20 homers in 984 PAs over the last two seasons.
Moustakas has performed below replacement level over the last two seasons in Cincy, hitting .211 with a 73 wRC+ and just 13 homers in 491 PAs. Injuries have hampered his power and range, eliminating what once would have been enough defensive value to make up for a lack of offense. Power made Moose a hot commodity a few years ago, as he pounded 101 dingers from 2017-19, but a resurgence is really unlikely at this point.
We also need to consider the 40-man roster situation the Cubs are dealing with and how it will be further impacted by additional signings. Swanson’s deal being finalized meant the team is at the full 40, and that’s with Drew Smyly and Tucker Barnhart yet to be added. While Ethan Roberts, Alexander Canario, and probably Codi Heuer will eventually be added to the 60-day IL, that can’t happen until the start of spring training. As such, the Cubs will probably try to sneak a few players through waivers.
A quick perusal of the list gives us Michael Rucker, Erich Uelmen, Rowan Wick, Zach McKinstry, and Alfonso Rivas as potential casualties in the coming days. Unless there’s a way for the front office to turn that surplus into a potential impact hitter without simply giving players away for nothing.
As noted in that earlier piece about non-Conforto/Mancini options, the Cubs could do much worse than contacting the Yankees about Gleyber Torres. Though he’s never played third at the MLB level, the former Cubs prospect can probably handle the hot corner at an acceptable level. He’s also got plenty of pop, tallying at least 24 homers in three separate seasons with fairly split-neutral results.
I’m really bad with trade proposals and I tend to avoid them as a general rule, but Baseball Trade Values puts a deal of Nick Madrigal and Caleb Kilian at close to equal. A package of Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom, and Adrian Sampson slightly favors the Yankees value-wise and would clear two roster spots for the Cubs while also making room at third and in a rotation that has grown a bit lately. Of course, it also begs the question of who shares time Mervis at first.
And then there’s the pesky matter of the Yankees being willing to listen on Torres while also having enough interest in 40-man players the Cubs would be willing to part with. I guess that’s why Hoyer gets the big bucks to run a franchise and I’m sitting here blogging about it. And after already spewing out over 1,000 words on this, I still think it’ll be Mancini and DFAing some dudes.