How Cubs are confronting offseason market's 'new dynamic'

December 5th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Cubs are going to field an October-ready roster next season, there are a number of areas in need of addressing this offseason. Even so, the ballclub has remained in a transactional holding pattern for the past month.

Like the rest of the baseball world, the Cubs are waiting to learn where some of this winter’s top available chips will fall in order to fully navigate through their list of trade and free-agent possibilities. That includes receiving word of which uniform two-way superstar decides to don for 2024 and beyond.

“It definitely has felt like a little bit of a slower market,” Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said. “These things, sometimes it’s kind of a dam that gives way and a lot of things happen. We just want to make sure that we’re prepared to make moves when those come across our board.”

Hawkins held court with Cubs media for a half-hour on Monday night from within the Cubs’ suite at the Gaylord Opryland Resort on Day 1 of these Winter Meetings. Jed Hoyer, the team’s president of baseball operations, was absent from the Meetings early Monday due to a personal matter.

The Cubs were one of the finalists for Ohtani’s services six years ago and are positioned well to make a second pursuit this winter. The Dodgers and Giants are the perceived favorites to land the two-time American League MVP, while the Angels, Blue Jays and Cubs are believed to be among the other clubs in the hunt.

For the Cubs, there are needs in the rotation (Rays righty Tyler Glasnow is one trade candidate on Chicago’s radar) and bullpen, plus room for upgrading at first base, third base and in center field. Where the Ohtani decision potentially impacts Chicago is in the club’s ability to push forward right now with big additions on some of those fronts (particularly on the position-player side).

That creates an offseason environment in which the Cubs’ front office has to be ready to react swiftly with alternative plans, if Ohtani opts to sign elsewhere. That means engaging in trade talks and contract negotiations now, and being ready to strike when the top-tier dominos topple.

“It's a challenge, of course,” Hawkins said. “Trying to create this perfect offseason where [Plan] A's going to happen and B's going to happen and C's going to happen and D's going to happen, it's way too complex of a challenge to actually do that. And so instead, you have to be able to look at each individual transaction and say, ‘Hey, this makes sense for us in terms of our goals towards winning more baseball games now and in the future.’

“And you have to be prepared to make all those decisions. So where does the bulk of our time go? While there's not a lot of action in terms of things coming to fruition, there is a lot of action in terms of preparation, to be able to make those decisions quickly should they come across our desk quickly.”

Hawkins said new Cubs manager Craig Counsell -- scheduled to meet with reporters on Tuesday in Nashville -- has been an active part of offseason discussions and planning with the front office. Counsell is also working on finalizing his coaching staff, which should come to fruition within the “next couple weeks,” per Hawkins.

When it comes to pitching the Cubs to free agents, Hawkins noted that part of the process is creating a recruiting video for players to see the environment. He said this offseason’s version leans heavily on the successes of 2023 and the core group of players locked in for multiple years.

“I think that part resonates, too,” he said. “You see the excitement in the ballpark. It's not excitement from the 2016 World Series -- it's excitement from Chris Morel hitting a walk-off home run against the White Sox. I think just the proximity of the excitement definitely helps and creates that foundation for us.”

Landing a generational star like Ohtani would add another layer to the buzz around the Cubs. Hawkins would not speak on Ohtani specifically, but did acknowledge: “When you have someone as unique as the players at the top of the market, that just creates a new dynamic.”