3 Cubs storylines from GM Meetings

November 10th, 2022

LAS VEGAS -- The goal for the Cubs this week in Las Vegas was to start laying the foundation for what is expected to be a crucial offseason. Free agency opens Thursday, and the North Siders plan on making moves with next October in mind.

The Cubs might still be a few years away from the type of powerhouse roster president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer hopes to assemble, but he believes the team is still in a position to push for a playoff-caliber product.

"I've sort of talked about what I want to build," Hoyer said. "There's no reason in the interim we can’t be really good. ... I thought we played great towards the end of the season. We've talked about that. Yes, there was some good fortune in there, but I think we can definitely compete in the meantime.

"But we also don’t want to short change what we think we can build. That’s the balance."

Here are three Cubs storylines that emerged this week during the GM Meetings:

1. Mervis has 'earned' chance for first base 
The incredibly swift rise of slugging prospect Matt Mervis in the Cubs' farm system this year is on the collective mind of the front office. Mervis could compete for the starting first-base job in Spring Training, but that will not stop Chicago's search for depth and power this winter.

So, as Mervis continues to launch homers in the Arizona Fall League, the Cubs are looking at possibilities for first base and designated hitter. Free agent José Abreu is one name that has been linked to the Cubs as a possible short-term possibility.

"[Mervis] has earned a lot of runway and playing time going forward," Hoyer said. "He's had such a great year at three levels and now the Fall League. He's a big part of our plans. That said, we've talked about depth a lot and it's important to keep building that depth.

"So, he's very much in our plans, but I think we're also going to be active in exploring alternatives that can play first, that can play DH and I think that's really important."

In 137 games across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A this year, the 24-year-old Mervis hit .309 with 36 homers, 119 RBIs and a .984 OPS. Through 15 games for Mesa in the AFL, he had as many homers (six) as strikeouts, along with a .999 OPS, through 61 plate appearances.

Hoyer said adding lefty power is important for the Cubs, but he noted that a "strength of the market" this winter is right-handed options. Hoyer would not specifically discuss the veteran Abreu, who won the American League MVP for the White Sox in 2020, launched 30 homers in '21 and hit .304 (.824 OPS) in '22.

2. Cubs weighing catching situation
Hoyer has made it no secret that the Cubs plan on offering free-agent catcher Willson Contreras a one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer before Thursday's 4 p.m. CT deadline. If Contreras rejects the offer, that ensures the Cubs will receive a compensatory Draft pick in the event the All-Star catcher signs elsewhere.

The expectation is that Contreras will reject the one-year offer in favor of seeking a multi-year deal, especially after the catcher called free agency a "dream come true" this past season.

Without addressing Contreras specifically, Hoyer was asked how he views Chicago's catching situation for 2023 and beyond. At the moment, the Cubs have veteran Yan Gomes under contract and backup P.J. Higgins in the fold. Adding depth there will be on the team's to-do list this winter.

"It's a two-way position," Hoyer said. "Obviously you want guys that can hit, but it's a run-prevention position. So much of it is game-calling, preparation, feeling strongly about that everything that pitchers do is a 'we' thing. It's about that teamwork and that collaboration."

3. Cubs expected to spend, target shortstop
Multiple MLB executives who were asked about the Cubs this week expressed the belief the North Siders were on the cusp of an important offseason of impact additions. When agent Scott Boras held court on Wednesday, he echoed that sentiment.

"I think that the Cubs are ready to begin the truest form of their rebuilding process at the Major League level," Boras said. "I think they feel that their Minor League system is in the place now where they need multiple Major Leaguers to allow for them to build that platform for their success.

"I think it's identifiable now, where before they were moving veteran players, now their agenda is certainly to acquire them and to build something that they think brings them back to 2016 levels."

Boras, of course, represents Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts, who are in a class of elite free-agent shortstops with Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson this offseason. The Cubs are expected to be involved in the bidding for an impact shortstop, especially given Nico Hoerner's ability and willingness to move to second base, if necessary.

Hoyer deftly sidestepped questions about this winter's shortstop class, but he did reiterate the potential to move Hoerner to a new position.

"Nico was one of the top defensive shortstops in the league last year," Hoyer said. "We're totally comfortable with him playing there, but he also has the ability to play second base and probably many other positions as well. It's a position where you can have multiple guys who can do it."