How Cubs plan to build on second-half momentum

October 10th, 2022

CHICAGO -- For the first time since the last rebuild that Jed Hoyer helped oversee on the North Side of Chicago, the Cubs have missed the playoffs for multiple seasons in a row. That reality stung as the team's president of baseball operations watched the Wild Card Series games this past weekend.

"I was struck by just how much I miss it," Hoyer said. "And just how much it hurts not to be there. Everything we do in these jobs is to play deep into October, to give the fans that thrill of October baseball. And I don't like the feeling of being a spectator and watching on my couch."

During a wide-ranging, hour-long discussion with reporters Monday morning at Wrigley Field, Hoyer reiterated that he "absolutely" wants to build a team capable of competing for the playoffs in 2023.

The Cubs will continue to keep an eye on the long-term vision, but the club has also set things up for what could be an aggressive offseason of additions. The improved internal depth and run prevention -- led by stellar pitching -- in a 39-31 second half has generated what Hoyer described as "a real sense of momentum" behind the scenes.

"We have to build on that momentum," Hoyer said. "We want to make sure that what we build creates what we talked about before, which is year after year after year, being in the playoffs and giving these fans what they deserve, which is October baseball."

Here are four highlights from Hoyer's end-of-season press conference:

1. Cubs will 'definitely' make qualifying offer to Contreras
Hoyer said the Cubs will make the expected decision to extend free-agent catcher Willson Contreras a one-year, qualifying offer after the World Series. That step will net Chicago a compensatory pick in the 2023 MLB Draft should Contreras sign with a new team. Before the season ended, Contreras said he will "have to consider" the offer, adding that he wants "to be somewhere that I'm wanted."

"I don't want to make any assumptions there," Hoyer said of Contreras' decision on that front. "We had a great conversation with Willson the other day. We've always had a really good relationship. I admire how he competes and I admire the passion. We'll definitely make him a qualifying offer. We'll be in touch with his representatives.

"And as far as his comments and things like that, I'll take the comments that he sort of makes to me directly -- not [in the media]. I've always enjoyed our relationship and I've really enjoyed watching him grow."

2. Cubs target 'intelligent spending' in free agency
There is a growing sense that the Cubs will be players at the top of the free-agent market. That could include going after help for the top of the rotation and pursuing one of the blockbuster shortstops who could be on the market (Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson or Trea Turner). Hoyer would not go into specifics, but mapped out his thinking on that front.

"Intelligent spending involves making decisions that make sense for the 2023 season but also aren't going to hinder what we're trying to build,” he said. “And the nature of baseball contracts is challenging that way, because we've all seen contracts of certain lengths that can really bog a team down.

"And it's easy to talk about the player you're acquiring, but if that contract ends up hindering the ultimate goal here, which is to build something special and sustainable and lasting, then it wasn't a good transaction. So that's sort of the lens I want to look at everything through."

3. Front office has taken 'first steps' on extensions front
Without getting into specifics, Hoyer acknowledged that the Cubs have started to lay the foundation for extensions with some select players. Two candidates would seem to be left fielder Ian Happ and shortstop Nico Hoerner. Happ has one more year of control via arbitration, while Hoerner is entering his first arbitration-eligible offseason.

"I'd say that we've taken the first steps," said Hoyer, speaking generally. "As you guys know, we're not going to talk about it once we do, but certainly there are players that we'd love to keep in a Cubs uniform for a long time. And hopefully we can work hard on those and get some across the finish line."

4. Cubs have clear needs to address
Hoyer broke down four areas of improvement.

Offensive power: "We have to be a little quicker-strike offense than we were. I liked the fact that we're making more contact. I did think there were times where we grinded our at-bats, but we just lacked the ability to pull away."

Rotation help: "It's important that we continue to add quality innings, I guess I would say, [without] putting the pressure on how I would define 'top of the rotation.' We're actively looking for quality innings."

Bullpen arms: "There's a long-term goal of getting to a place where we're just able to build the bullpens internally. We're not there yet. So yeah, I think there will certainly be a focus on bringing in a veteran presence."

Layers of depth: "There were periods this year that we weren't prepared for [roster setbacks]. We weren't ready for that. We had too many injuries. We didn't have the depth to handle it. And that is going to be a significant focus."