If there’s anything the Cubs like almost as much as delaying IL decisions, it’s trading with the Mets for guys named Pete. They managed to pry loose their current top prospect, Pete Crow-Armstrong, at the 2021 deadline and were apparently loaded for bear this time around. Though nothing got particularly close, Ken Rosenthal reported recently that Jed Hoyer kicked the tires on slugging first baseman Pete Alonso.
The Cubs were really just mentioned in passing as being among the teams interested in Alonso, the most prominent of which was the Brewers. As Rosenthal wrote, Milwaukee was engaged in discussions even after acquiring Carlos Santana from the Pirates. Still, it’s fun to discuss what might have been.
We had looked at the fit for the Cubs just before the deadline amid rumors that the Polar Bear was on the trading block, but the thought at the time was that the Mets’ asking price was simply too high. In addition to whatever prospect price New York was seeking, Alonso’s prorated $14.5 million salary would have pushed the Cubs beyond the $233 million CBT threshold. The penalty alone shouldn’t have scared them because we’re talking about a minimal overage, but it complicates matters when you’re already looking at giving up big-time players.
In the end, it may not have made much difference for a Cubs team that needs a pitching upgrade far more than an offensive spark. Though they’ve been one of the best teams in baseball since the break when it comes to scoring runs, their 4.74 team ERA ranks 20th in MLB in the second half and their 5.28 starters’ ERA ranks 26th.
Some of that comes from pitching to Alonso, who almost single-handedly won the two games the Mets took from the Cubs back in Queens earlier this month. Hell, trading for him might have been worth it for that reason alone. Then there’s the matter of his club control, which runs through next season via arbitration. The Cubs have been using Cody Bellinger at first for the most part now that Mike Tauchman has taken over as the everyday leadoff man, but they’ll need a replacement unless they re-sign Bellinger in free agency.
And just a note for anyone who’s looking at Alonso’s .224 average and using that as a reason not to covet him: Stop. He’s got 39 homers and a 134 wRC+, marks that would rank first and second among Cubs hitters this season, and he’s done it while battling a bruised/sprained wrist. Dude’s an elite power hitter the likes of which the Cubs haven’t seen in a long time.
While it’s a moot point because the deal never got done, I think the takeaway here is that Hoyer is willing to aggressively pursue upgrades to the roster this offseason. Pitching needs to be at the top of the list because the only sure thing heading into next year is Justin Steele. Marcus Stroman could opt out and he’s only under contract for one more season if he chooses to stay, and Kyle Hendricks has a $16 million club option that’s looking better all the time.
Drew Smyly‘s initial $8.5 million guarantee has climbed to $9 million based on performance escalators and could inflate to $11.5 million if he continues to accrue innings, but his double-digit ERA over his last seven starts puts his future in jeopardy. Jameson Taillon is another sure thing in terms of his deal keeping him around, it’s just that the Cubs can’t necessarily count on him as anything more than a No. 4 or 5 starter at this point.
Adding a high-end starter is a must, and replacing Bellinger’s production — whether it’s with Bellinger himself or a top free agent — has to be a priority as well. Without taking their eyes off of the current playoff race, the Cubs need to be planning for what’s next.