Cubs gain clarity from Winter Meetings

December 6th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Once superstar free agent reveals which cap he will wear next year and beyond, the Cubs’ offseason will truly begin. Either they will have landed a generational player or they will be forced to pivot to the possibilities on other fronts.

Until Ohtani’s Decision Day, the North Siders will remain in a kind of holding pattern. That was where things stood as Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and his front-office team prepared to depart the Winter Meetings and return to Chicago on Wednesday.

“Every market gets held up by usually the best player in that market,” Hoyer said from the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. “If you have a number of teams in on the top player in a different market, then there's a trickle-down impact. And sometimes people don't want to go to Options B and C and D until A is gone.”

As of now, the Cubs have not been told that Plan A (convincing Ohtani to come to Chicago) is not an option. The North Siders have competition in the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Giants and Angels, and they will keep working on multiple fronts while awaiting the two-time American League MVP’s decision.

Biggest remaining needs

Impact bat: If the Cubs do not land Ohtani, they have multiple avenues for adding an impact hitter for the middle of the lineup. First base, third base or center field are positions where Chicago could bring in upgrades. Ohtani’s contract size and status as a designated hitter may impact the direction the Cubs take for other areas of need.

Ohtani aside, Chicago could push to re-sign free agent Cody Bellinger, who was a valuable fit for both center field and first base last year. The Cubs could also follow last winter’s Bellinger blueprint by adding a comeback candidate like first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Free-agent third baseman Matt Chapman also is a logical target.

One way or another, the Cubs need to add offense with the potential departures of Bellinger and third baseman Jeimer Candelario in free agency. Hoyer said he views things through the lens of replacing the offensive production, as opposed to pigeonholing the thinking to a specific position.

Rotation help: The Cubs would like to add an impact starter, especially in the wake of Marcus Stroman’s decision to opt out of his contract in favor of free agency. This is an area where the North Siders are exploring the trade market, and Ohtani’s decision has a ripple effect here as well.

Given Ohtani’s inability to pitch in 2024 due to a right elbow injury, it makes sense for the Cubs to target short-term rotation options. Chicago has been linked to Rays righty Tyler Glasnow, who will be a free agent next offseason. Two more short-term trade candidates to explore are Cleveland's Shane Bieber and Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes.

Bullpen upgrades: The bullpen could benefit from an impact arm for the late innings, but the Cubs really need to add volume and depth here. There is an intriguing free-agent option in Josh Hader, who grew into one of baseball’s elite closers in Milwaukee under new Cubs manager Craig Counsell. Whether Chicago makes a big splash like that or not, the team needs to build out a deeper relief corps for 2024.

Rule 5 Draft

The Cubs did not make a selection or lose any players in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday.

In the Triple-A portion of the Draft, Chicago selected speedy infielder Hayden Cantrelle from the Giants’ system. The 25-year-old Cantrelle hit .215/.390/.305 with four homers, 11 doubles, 14 steals and 66 walks over 99 games at Double-A Richmond in 2023.

Chicago lost infielders Andy Weber (D-backs) and Levi Jordan (Reds), plus pitchers Adam Laskey (Marlins) and Sheldon Reed (Twins), in the Triple-A phase.

The bottom line

“I definitely feel like it was a worthwhile Meetings. I think that it forces conversations. You're up late, talking to people -- I think that's really valuable. I do think in some ways these Meetings are different than they used to be. You don't see many people in person. You do most stuff on the phone. But it does force some action, and I think that we definitely leave here with a lot more information about things we think we might be able to accomplish than when we got here, which was kind of the goal.” -- Hoyer