CHICAGO -- The buzz around the Cubs coming from the GM Meetings this week has been all about the sudden hiring of Craig Counsell to take over as the team’s new manager.
“I felt like it was just the right thing to do,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer told reporters in Scottsdale, Ariz. “A set of circumstances presented themselves to allow us to hire a guy who's considered probably the best, if not one of the best, managers in the game. We had to take that opportunity.”
The hiring of Counsell is just the start of what should be a busy offseason for a Cubs team intent on reaching the playoffs in 2024. MLB.com’s Scott Merkin was at the meetings in Arizona and sent along the following updates from Hoyer’s conversations with reporters about a variety of topics facing the North Siders.
Here are five questions Hoyer answered about the Cubs’ offseason:
1. Will the Cubs be players for the free agents coming from Japan?
The Cubs have plenty of history with acquiring Japanese players -- most recently, Seiya Suzuki -- and the ballclub will be exploring that market again this winter. Orix ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Yokohama lefty Shota Imanaga are expected to be posted this offseason and Hoyer has scouted them, among other players, in person in Japan.
“The guys that are coming over are really talented and we've scouted them heavily,” Hoyer said. “I've gone over to see them, and that's where I'll stop talking.”
And speaking of players from Japan, Hoyer predictably offered up a “no comment” when asked about free-agent superstar Shohei Ohtani and the potential for the Cubs to get involved in that market.
2. How will the Cubs address the bullpen?
The bullpen will be an area of need this winter for the Cubs, who saw their relief corps labor down the stretch amid injuries and high workloads. Expect Chicago to cast a wide net in that department as the team works to build up the depth of options.
“You have to be creative in the bullpen,” Hoyer said. “You have to find guys with good stuff. You have to find guys on bounceback years. You have to find guys coming off injuries. And I think you've got to take all those demographics, and then a couple of guys that might provide certainty, so to speak, and you've got to blend that together. But I do think taking a lot of shots on goal can certainly help.”
3. Was Hoyer surprised by Stroman’s decision?
If it felt like a surprise that starter Marcus Stroman opted out of his Cubs contract ($21 million for ‘24) to become a free agent, know that even Hoyer was not sure what the pitcher was ultimately going to decide. That included up to the moment Stroman’s agent called with the news.
“In this market, I think he felt like he would secure a multi-year deal,” Hoyer said. “And I think that was a priority. But yeah, [it’s] not often when you're really like, ‘I truly didn't know which direction that was going to go.’”
4. How does Stroman’s decision impact the rotation plans?
With Stroman now on the open market, expect the Cubs to look to add an experienced starter to the rotation. The Cubs have Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon and Kyle Hendricks locked in, a depth piece in veteran Drew Smyly, plus some younger arms (Javier Assad, Hayden Wesneski and Jordan Wicks) in the mix and prospects (Ben Brown and Cade Horton atop the list) coming soon.
“We have some depth and we want to give guys opportunities,” Hoyer said. “But we always talk about: You can't have enough pitching. So, I certainly think that's something that we'll explore, but I do like the fact that we can give some young guys some opportunities.”
5. What is the plan for Christopher Morel this winter?
Morel’s power production and potential is undeniable, but the Cubs have had a hard time finding a regular spot for him on the diamond. He has bounced between multiple infield and outfield spots, but Hoyer said the Cubs will have Morel try his hand at first base (a position of need for Chicago) in winter ball with Aguilas in the Dominican Republic.
“We've talked a lot. It's just an ongoing conversation,” Hoyer said. “We've talked a lot about finding him a home. I do think we want to give him some work at first and see how he reacts to that. He's shown he can play third. He's shown he can play second. He can play in the outfield, but finding a home for him is something that would be really valuable.”