Cubs Convention opens, but roster needs remain

January 13th, 2024

CHICAGO -- Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has heard some of the jokes and had a few memes sent his way. Yes, his phone is working just fine. No, he did not forget that the offseason was underway.

Prior to Thursday, Hoyer’s Cubs were the last team in baseball to either sign or trade for a Major League player. On the eve of Cubs Convention, his front office finally ended that drought, inking free-agent lefty Shōta Imanaga to a four-year deal and swinging a four-player trade with the Dodgers for slugging prospect Michael Busch and reliever Yency Almonte.

“The way I see it is: I want to do good deals, I don't want to do deals,” Hoyer said on Friday night at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. “And there was just really nothing early on that presented itself that made a lot of sense for us. So, you've got to be patient.”

Now, there were some elite players available early on in the offseason, but the cost of doing business to try to land the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Juan Soto proved too steep. So, following a 2022-23 offseason in which the Cubs were one of the busiest teams in baseball, the North Siders have waited this market out.

As such, the roster of players who took the stage to blasting music and dancing spotlights while waving to adoring sea of red-and-blue clad fans was an incomplete look at the 2024 Cubs. There are remaining needs in the bullpen, and Chicago could still use another impact middle-of-the-order bat.

“You have to be disciplined,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “We certainly added some really, really good players and interesting players over the last four or five days. It’s still the offseason and we've got a ways to go. So, we'll see what happens in the next couple of months.”

The name that kept coming up throughout Friday night was Cody Bellinger.

Bellinger made the most of a one-year bounceback contract last year, earning the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year Award for his stellar season with the Cubs. He bounced between center field and first base and was one of Chicago’s most potent bats (.881 OPS).

Bellinger remains on the open market and would fill a few areas of need for the Cubs once again. The difference this time around is that the ballclub does not need to sell Bellinger on playing in Chicago. He knows the team and the staff, and he already won over Cubs fans. His name was on the back of jerseys sprinkled throughout the building at Friday’s packed convention.

“He's obviously an awesome player and we'd love to have him back,” Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “I think that's about as clear as day, so hopefully we can make that happen.”

Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner echoed Swanson’s thoughts.

“I would love to play with Belli more,” Hoerner said. “Last year was incredible to watch first-hand -- from the work he was putting in in January in Arizona and through the entire year. He's pretty much everything you could ask for from a teammate, from his versatility to different ways he impacts the game on both sides of the ball. And just the person he is.

“So yeah, I’m wishing him the best. And I obviously hope he's with us.”

Hoyer believes the Cubs have their new first baseman in Busch, who will be given a shot at earning that job this season. Another interesting name still on the open market who could help at that spot would be Rhys Hoskins. Chicago could easily use last year’s success with Bellinger on a comeback contract as a recruiting tool.

Imanaga is likely the Cubs’ biggest move for the rotation this offseason. Hoyer leaned on the old baseball adage that a team “can never have enough” pitching, but said he did not envision another major rotation addition.

“That's an area we probably don't make another transaction,” Hoyer said. “I think if we do, it may be smaller. Something could fall in our lap. We could end up with something, but that's not my expectation right now.”

While Hoyer is generally opposed to longer deals for relief pitchers, he acknowledged that the Cubs have made some multi-year offers to available bullpen arms this offseason. Adding more depth and quality to the relief corps “is an area of priority” for the team.

“We'll end up making more deals this winter,” Hoyer said. “I don't know if they're going to happen next week or if they're going to happen in February. Things could be really slow this year. And that's just the nature of it. Last year, it was the opposite.”