The 2023 Winter Meetings came and went, and the Cubs are essentially in the same place they were when things kicked off Monday morning.
No players were added or dealt away from the major league roster before Cubs officials left the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tenn. As things stand Friday morning, the biggest move of the Cubs’ offseason is still the surprise hiring of Craig Counsell to be their new manager.
Now, it’s not entirely on the team that there have been no roster additions thus far. The Cubs are in on plenty of the bigger names on both the free-agent and trade markets, but because the players at the top of those markets have yet to make a decision, the rest of the dominoes aren’t falling yet, either.
Still, even without major moves for the Cubs, we did learn a lot about what the rest of their offseason might look like, and about how they view how things stand heading into 2024. Let’s take a look at what we’re hearing.
Real progress made in Nashville
Again, the Winter Meetings saw slow movement for the Cubs. But they were that way for everyone else, or at least all the other suitors for some of the top names on the market.
As of about noon on Friday, Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Cody Bellinger and almost all of the other big names are still out there for the taking. Only Juan Soto’s situation has been cleared up (traded to the Yankees Wednesday night), but that’s the only potential Cubs target that’s off the board.
These meetings often saw much more action in the past, with deals actually being completed before team officials left town. That didn’t happen for many of these teams, but on the Cubs’ side, those at the top still see it as worthwhile.
Did they make any additions to the roster? Obviously not. But meetings with other front offices and with agents still have value, and just because nothing happened while the baseball world was in the Music City, the Cubs believe they made real progress toward getting those moves done.
“I definitely feel like it was worthwhile meetings,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “It forces conversations. Up late, talking to people, I think that’s really valuable. I do think in some ways, these meetings are different than they used to be. You don’t see many people in person. You do most stuff on the phone, but it forces some action. I think that we definitely leave here with a lot more information about things we thought we might be able to accomplish when we got here, which was kind of the goal.”
No pressure to ‘win the offseason’
You can see it all over social media. As rumors swirl surrounding some of those top names without the Cubs attached as favorites, fans are already calling the offseason a disappointment.
Yes, the Cubs need to add impact players. This was a team that was on a playoff trajectory before collapsing in September last season. To get to the finish line (and even make a deep run in the postseason), they have to improve the roster. Signing someone like Ohtani or Yamamoto being the team that traded for Soto would’ve absolutely helped.
But would losing out on those players make this a disaster of an offseason? Hoyer doesn’t see it that way. He pointed to the Bellinger signing a year ago, one he says wasn’t considered a major signing but proved to be “best free-agent signings on the market.”
While “intelligent spending” isn’t part of his offseason vocabulary this time around, Hoyer is still going to be mindful of the kinds of deals he’s going to make. Would he love to have all of the superstar players? Absolutely. But he’s also made it very clear that he doesn’t believe he can turn the Cubs into the Braves in one offseason. Instead of “winning” the offseason, Hoyer is looking for moves that make the most sense for the Cubs’ short-term and long-term success.
“There’s immensely talented players on the market, but I think if you go in thinking it’s one of those guys or bust, you can make some really bad long-term decisions,” Hoyer. “Trying to win the offseason is not a good idea. We’ll just try to make the best decisions we can, and I think if we do that, we’ll be in a good position.”
Cubs not completely out on Ohtani
Yes, reports are essentially saying it. As other suitors continue to be discussed in Ohtani rumors, with are even being called “favorites,” the Cubs seem to be losing steam in the Ohtani sweepstakes.
A report earlier in the week from USA Today even said the Cubs were no longer in the race to sign Ohtani, but that was quickly disputed by Hoyer.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Hoyer said earlier this week at the Winter Meetings. “There’s nothing to report whatsoever.”
Who knows for sure what the reality of the situation is. The Cubs may not have been told they’re out, but that also doesn’t necessarily mean they’re still in. As Los Angeles and Toronto start to look more and more like Ohtani’s likeliest destinations, that means the Cubs will have to look to pivot to other options to improve the roster.
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported Friday morning that “Ohtani’s decision is imminent, possibly as early as today.” Other reports seem to backing that up. As far as we know, it’s not a 0% chance that Ohtani moves to Chicago. But it seems we should find out very soon.
Cubs’ interest in Glasgow is real
Tyler Glasnow’s fit with the Cubs makes too much sense for them not to be interested in him (and a source confirmed that discussions about Glasnow with the Rays had taken place). Whereas the rest of the Cubs’ starters are more contact-oriented, Glasnow is has the stuff to add necessary swing-and-miss to the rotation.
Last season, his whiff rate was in the 95th percentile of big league pitchers, and his strikeout rate was in the 97th percentile. Glasnow just brings a different look to the rotation that the Cubs should really want — and at least one insider agrees.
“I think the Cubs are among the most serious suitors for him, based on what I’ve been able to gather here,” Morosi told the CHGO Cubs Podcast. “One of the reasons why they’re so involved is two-fold: No. 1, they have the kind of prospects that the Rays want, and also, Glasnow is the profile of the kind of pitcher that they don’t have a lot of. They have more of a contact-oriented staff, and Glasnow misses bats. He’s got, as one scout said to me, some of the best pure stuff on the planet. He’s that good.”
Of course, acquiring Glasnow comes with risks. The Cubs will have to give up a player or two that could be contributors to the big league team (though for a pitcher of Glasgow’s caliber, that’s not a huge ask). They’d also be trading for someone with injury history who’s only pitched 100-plus innings twice in eight seasons (and never more than 120), and who’s just two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
But bringing him in on the last year of his deal means the Cubs aren’t sacrificing long-term financial flexibility. They only need to see what they can get from him in 2024 and then go from there. The risk is real, but that shouldn’t stop the Cubs from trading for the 30-year-old.
Morel not discussed for Glasnow
As mentioned, the Cubs would have to deal some players with real value back to the Rays to get Glasnow. However, while some earlier reports mentioned that the sides had discussed Christopher Morel, a source said Morel’s name hadn’t been discussed in Glasnow trade talks.
Morel has certainly been discussed by outsiders as the Cubs’ top trade chip this offseason. He’s young, he’s athletic, he’s got tremendous power, he’s a ball of energy and perhaps most importantly, he’s still got five years of control. While his name made a bit more sense in Soto trade rumors (considering his status as one of the best bats in baseball), the Cubs aren’t looking to move Morel for a one-year rental of Glasnow.
In fact, the Cubs still very much see Morel as potentially a very impactful part of the lineup. Consider what his new skipper had to say about him: “Just from looking at Christopher across the field, he’s put himself in a position where he needs to be in the lineup, he needs to be on the field. And that’s a good thing.”
Morel obviously has some development left, especially on the defensive side, as he’s got too much potential value to be limited to the designated hitter role. The Cubs see that potential value, for sure, so they aren’t currently interested in shipping him out in this kind of deal.
Bellinger return possible, but at what price?
Will the Cubs and Bellinger reunite for 2024 and beyond? That’s still anyone’s guess, but that possibility has certainly not been ruled out.
But at the same time, what would it cost the Cubs do bring him back? Some reports have set his price at over $200 million, and at least one report has said Bellinger’s camp may even be asking for upwards of $300 million. Whether those ranges are accurate, at least one insider isn’t sure many suitors would go anywhere near that high.
“I don’t know how many teams are going to be comfortable going to a $200 million contract on him,” Morosi said on the CHGO Cubs Podcast.
The Cubs seem to be in that camp. They haven’t even given out a $200 million contract before, and although they loved having Bellinger in Chicago in 2023, it’s tough to imagine he would be the first. His season was exactly what both he and the Cubs needed last year, for sure, but there are real questions on if that will be the norm — and it’s not just the Cubs who have those concerns.
So yes, a return to Chicago is absolutely still in the cards for Bellinger. As a Scott Boras client, his free agency will likely progress into the new year before he makes a decision. If money is the biggest factor in his choice, a team paying the premium for his services likely gets a deal done, and it doesn’t seem like that team would be the Cubs.
PCA not guaranteed starting CF job
Pete Crow-Armstrong is the Cubs’ consensus top prospect for a reason. He’s got Gold Glove caliber defense already, and at least in the minor leagues, his bat has really improved at every level. The Cubs think highly of him and believe he can be a special player for them.
His first taste of major league action in September didn’t go very well, of course. He never did record his first hit, he seemed overwhelmed by big league pitching at times and he made some mistakes on the base paths. Speaking at the end of the season, Crow-Armstrong was very honest about the struggles and what he knows he needs to work on this winter.
Now, will he be the Cubs’ starting center fielder come Opening Day? That’s a hard question to answer, for a number of reasons. Again, the Cubs think of him as part of their future, but an Opening Day roster spot is not guaranteed. He does need to makes strides in his game to prove he’s ready. So that part of it is up to him.
But the Cubs could also still acquire someone to man the spot. If Bellinger is indeed brought back, does he take back over the center-field job? Is there another center fielder either on the roster — Mike Tauchman or Alexander Canario, perhaps — or on the market that could hold things down if Crow-Armstrong isn’t ready?
There’s no clear answer at the moment, and nothing has been ruled out.
“To say definitively that he’s going to be our center fielder on Opening Day would be disingenuous,” Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said. “To say that he’s part of our long-term plans, absolutely. To say that he has a chance to be our Opening Day centerfielder, absolutely.
“It’s going to depend a lot about the opportunities we have on the market, both in trades and free agency, and candidly, what he looks like coming into spring and the adjustments that he’s made on the field, specifically.
No word on Kyle Hendricks extension
Hendricks wanted nothing more than to remain a Cub.
After some down years and a capsular tear in his right shoulder that kept him on the shelf for almost 11 months, Hendricks returned at the end of May. Was he the Hendricks who finished third in National League Cy Young voting in 2016? No, but he provided a steady, veteran presence in the rotation and earned more time in a Cubs uniform.
The team picked up his club option, but since then, there’s been no clarity on his future beyond 2024. The sides haven’t worked out an extension, and right now, it doesn’t feel like one is imminent.
“I hope he’s a Cub for a long time,” Hoyer said. “Right now, we’re just kind of focused on next year’s team. At some point, we may turn our attention to that. But I was glad we had a club option on him, candidly.”
Cade Horton’s rise hasn’t gone unnoticed
He’s an elite prospect, not just in the Cubs’ system — No. 2 in the system and No. 1 Cubs pitching prospect, per MLB Pipeline — but in all of baseball (No. 29 overall, No. 4 pitching prospect).
Drafted No. 7 overall in 2022 after hardly pitching in college due to Tommy John surgery, Horton didn’t make his pro ball debut until 2023. The Cubs didn’t want to rush his development in any way, so they kept him out of game action immediately after the draft.
If that decision directly led to what Horton did in ’23, then it was absolutely the right call. Horton quickly rose up the ladder in the system. He needed just four starts at Low-A Myrtle Beach before receiving his first promotion, and by the end of the season, he was pitching in the postseason for Double-A Tennessee, the Summer League champions.
“He’s exciting, and certainly, each step of the way last year, I felt like he got better and better,” Hoyer said. “The next step for him certainly will be pitching on a more regular basis and throwing more pitches and things like that. He came back from Tommy John at the end of the ’22 season. We definitely were careful with him last year, as we should have been, but certainly that will be relaxed a little bit.”
Hoyer will still look to make upgrades to the pitching staff, and starting pitching is definitely a need. But actually impacting the big league team in 2024 remains a real possibility.
Counsell’s coaching staff mostly set
When Counsell was officially introduced as the Cubs’ manager last month, he was asked about his coaching staff. Who he would keep and who he might bring with him were questions that would eventually need answers.
But considering how quickly the process of joining the Cubs went, Counsell wanted to take his time and “be deliberate” in crafting his new coaching staff. He hadn’t done a lot of homework on the Cubs because they weren’t even an option until very late in the process, so he decided he wanted to get more information on the who the Cubs already had in house.
Though the coaching staff still hasn’t been made official and there are a couple spots left to fill, Hawkins said “for the most part our guys that have not taken jobs elsewhere are going to be back next year.”
Former assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington is now the Angels’ hitting coach, former bench coach Andy Green is now in the Mets’ front office, and both former bullpen coach Chris Young and game strategy/catching coach Craig Driver were let go. But outside of them, it seems Counsell took a liking to the other coaches left over from 2023.
“Just talking to them — and, frankly, talking around the industry about them — I felt like it was largely a good staff in place,” Counsell said. “There were some really good pieces in place and there were some places for growth on the staff that I think I can help with.”
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