Cubs eye latest Winter Meetings splash

November 30th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- Count the Cubs’ current players among those who are looking forward to seeing what the front office does throughout the remainder of the offseason. And next week’s Winter Meetings could be a catalyst for roster moves.

If there is one thing Jed Hoyer has displayed in his time as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, it is that he is willing to take big, calculated swings. Hoyer showed that again this offseason, stunning the baseball world with the sudden hiring of manager Craig Counsell.

The players were surprised by the move, but there was also a curiosity about what will come next.

“I feel like we have kind of that optimal trio: Talent in the Major Leagues, talent in the Minor Leagues and money to spend," Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner said recently. "Obviously, what you do with that comes down to some really challenging decisions for the front office.

“But from a player's perspective, it's everything you can ask for, as far as an opportunity to not only be good this year, but be good for a long time. And not just good, but raising the standard to really being great and one of the great teams year in, year out.”

Next week, Hoyer and his front-office team will head to the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., where baseball’s Hot Stove should gather steam. Here's a breakdown of the Cubs’ situation as the Meetings approach.

Key events
Sunday: The Hall of Fame Contemporary Era will release the results of this year’s ballot. The eight candidates for election are Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, Ed Montague, Hank Peters, Lou Piniella, Joe West and Bill White.
Tuesday: MLB Draft Lottery
Wednesday: Rule 5 Draft

Club needs
The potential loss of Cody Bellinger in free agency creates a clear need for an impact bat. Given the current makeup of the Cubs’ roster, the best avenues for addressing that need are via the designated hitter slot, first or third base, and/or center field. Bellinger moved between center field and first base for Chicago in 2023.

From there, the North Siders need to add pitching on all fronts. There was already a need for rotation help, but Marcus Stroman’s decision to opt out of his contract and become a free agent made adding a starter or two essential. There are also trade rumblings about Chicago's interest in names like Shane Bieber, Tyler Glasnow or Corbin Burnes. The Cubs also need to beef up their bullpen depth, including adding some more late-inning options.

Potential trade candidates
An intriguing name to monitor is utility man Christopher Morel. He is only 24 years old and still in his pre-arbitration years, but the Cubs do not have an obvious place for him in the lineup beyond designated hitter. While Morel boasts plus power and has grown into a fan favorite, his whiff rate and lack of clear-cut position make him a trade candidate.

Underneath the Cubs’ Major League roster, the ballclub has built up one of baseball’s best farm systems. While that bodes well for the big league club, it also gives Chicago a deeper pool of talent to draw from in trade discussions. Expect the Cubs to do what they can, however, to hold tight to the prospects leading MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 list.

Prospects to know
A group of highly touted prospects started breaking into the Majors last season for the Cubs, a list that includes center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 1), lefty Jordan Wicks (No. 10), first baseman Matt Mervis (No. 13) and outfielder Alexander Canario (No. 14), among others. Righty Ben Brown (No. 5) likely would have reached The Show as well had it not been for some late-season injury setbacks.

Looking ahead to 2024, Crow-Armstrong and Wicks should be among the prospects in the hunt for Opening Day roster spots in the spring. Brown should be coming soon, too, and it would not be a shock to see the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, Cade Horton (No. 2), make a push for the Majors at some point during the summer. The list of prospects who could impact the ‘24 club is deep.

Rule 5 Draft
The Cubs added righty Michael Arias (No. 12), shortstop Luis Vazquez (No. 21), righty Porter Hodge (No. 26) and lefty Bailey Horn to their 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft. The two Top 30 prospects left exposed are catcher Pablo Aliendo (No. 27) and righty Kohl Franklin (No. 28). Pipeline expert Jim Callis noted that Aliendo “could help a team in a reserve role.”

If Chicago were to make a pick in the Rule 5 Draft, the most logical area to target seems like the bullpen. The Cubs need to build up depth for the relief corps, and while the Rule 5 route does not help with roster flexibility, it does at least offer a chance to get an arm into camp to get a firsthand look at the pitcher and their potential fit.

Burning question
Can the Cubs reel in a superstar this winter? Obviously, the biggest fish in the free-agent pond is Shohei Ohtani and Chicago appears at the very least to be in a solid position to make a run at signing him. If not Ohtani, can the Cubs land Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto? Or, perhaps the Cubs can push to re-sign Bellinger or pull off a trade for Juan Soto. What is clear is the Cubs need to make the most of this important offseason.