Belli? Chapman? Cubs ponder priorities minus Ohtani

December 9th, 2023

CHICAGO – The Instagram post heard ‘round the world on Saturday afternoon featured a Dodgers logo and a few paragraphs underneath crafted by . The two-way superstar had made his hyper-anticipated decision, opting to don Dodger blue for the next decade.

Ohtani’s record contract – valued at a reported $700 million across the next 10 seasons – left a handful of other serious suitors needing to pivot their offseason priorities. That included the Cubs, who believed they were still in the running for Ohtani as recently as the Winter Meetings earlier this week.

“Sometimes people don't want to go to Options B and C and D until A is gone,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said on Wednesday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort shortly before departing the Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

Ohtani was Option A and the North Siders’ pursuit of his services put the ballclub in a holding pattern of sorts on a number of different fronts. Now that the two-time American League MVP has picked his new cap for ‘24 and beyond, the Cubs can turn their attention to those other options.

Let’s run through some contingency plans for the Cubs to consider.

Option B: Re-sign

The Cubs and Bellinger left things on good terms after an impressive campaign that earned the center fielder the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. In fact, Hoyer and Bellinger exchanged texts after the star picked up that trophy at the end of November.

“We have a good relationship,” Hoyer said. “He's got nothing but positive thoughts about the organization and we have nothing but positive thoughts about him.”

After hitting .193 with a .611 OPS across the ‘21-22 seasons, in which Bellinger was hindered by an array of injury setbacks, he signed a one-year, $17.5 million deal with the Cubs last winter. He then hit .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers, 29 doubles, 20 steals, 97 RBIs and 95 runs in 130 games.

The Cubs have center fielder  (Pipeline’s No. 1 Cubs prospect) waiting in the wings, but Bellinger can easily move between center and first base. He filled that type of role last year for Chicago, picking up the NL’s Silver Slugger Award for the utility category as a result.

Option C: Sign free-agent third baseman

The Cubs mixed and matched at third base last season between Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom and Jeimer Candelario.  also got some action at the hot corner, but the young power threat was mostly utilized in the designated hitter slot.

Without Ohtani coming to Chicago, that DH role is once again wide open, giving the Cubs flexibility to keep leaning on Morel there until he earns more trust in the field. Candelario is off the board – having agreed to a deal with the Reds – leaving the same platoon setup at third as in ‘23.

Chapman is a four-time Gold Glove Award winner at third. Imagine anchoring him at that spot as the new full-timer with Gold Glovers and  to his left. The Cubs already feature one of baseball’s top defensive groups, but Chapman would enhance the run prevention even more.

On top of his defensive prowess (54 Outs Above Average at third over seven years, with a career-best 17 in ‘21), Chapman offers an above-average bat with power potential. The 30-year-old third baseman has hit .226/.322/.420 across the ‘21-23 seasons, averaging 24 homers, 27 doubles and 70 walks in that span.

Option D: Focus funds on the pitching staff

Signing Ohtani would have required a mammoth contract, but now the Cubs can shift their thinking to where the team’s payroll flexibility can be best applied. Beyond adding an impact bat or two, the North Siders have a need for rotation help and bullpen reinforcements.

In the wake of the Ohtani news, maybe the Cubs can better target one of the Japanese pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Shōta Imanaga (both posted this offseason). The Cubs could also ramp up trade talks for someone like Rays righty . Two more short-term trade targets could be Shane Bieber in Cleveland or Corbin Burnes in Milwaukee.

After ’s decision to opt out of his deal with the Cubs in favor of free agency, Chicago was left in need of adding at least one rotation piece. In the bullpen, the North Siders need not only depth, but some help for the late-innings. Free-agent lefty looks like a fit there, especially given his history with new Cubs manager Craig Counsell.