On the first day of 2023, it only makes sense to look ahead to what the year has in store for the Cubs. That will surely include wins, losses, progression, regression and so many other things that describe every single baseball season. But what might happen this year, specifically? Well, leave those predictions that up to me.
Some of these are bold, some are expected, some are serious, some are silly, some I wrote just to make myself happy. But at least all of them have a chance at happening in 2023, however slim that chance may be.
So, without further ado, here are 23 predictions for the Cubs’ 2023 season.
1. Nico Hoerner signs an extension
President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer made it clear at his season-ending presser: he’s open to giving out in-house extensions. Who all might be in that group still isn’t totally clear, but Hoerner feels like the big one. Even though Dansby Swanson will force Hoerner over the second base, he’s still a building block for this club. It would make sense for the Cubs to buy out his arbitration years (which start in 2023) and the next few seasons after that, and it certainly makes sense for them to lock down a player they think so highly of and not let him hit the open market. This would be the right time to get it done, and I think it will get done before the season.
2. Ian Happ ends the season with another team
After Happ’s All-Star, Gold Glove season it would make sense for the Cubs to give him an extension too, right? Despite that, there’s been no news on movement toward an extension on the Cubs’ side. As much as Happ has said he wants to remain with the Cubs, he also knows the business side of the game better than anyone else on the roster, and this is a part of that. He was already involved in trade talks last season when he still had another full season of control, and if an extension isn’t in the cards, then I don’t see the Cubs getting only a compensatory pick for him.
3. Cubs trade for a big bat
There’s still plenty of time left in the offseason, and the Cubs have needs to address. Chief among them, where is the power going to come from? There aren’t many sluggers left on the market, or at least not the ones who would really move the needle for this team. That’s why a trade makes a lot more sense. It may not happen before the season starts, but there’s a real possibility that that’s a move Hoyer would actually want to make. A player like Rafael Devers would check off multiple boxes for the Cubs, though it remains to be seen if that’s a realistic target. But whether it’s him or someone else, I think a trade happens to bring a bat to the North Side.
4. Both starting middle infielders win Gold Gloves
Swanson is a shortstop in his prime coming off a season in which he won the Gold Glove at the position. Hoerner probably should’ve been among the finalists at short along with Swanson, and he was a finalist at second base back in 2020. This pairing immediately becomes one of the best in all of baseball, and they could easily make a run at the Gold Glove at their individual position. In MLB history, a middle-infield duo has won Gold Gloves in the same season 24 times, with the most recent occurrence coming in 2018. I’ve got a feeling Swanson and Hoerner make that 25 this year.
5. Seiya Suzuki tops 25 homers
In a season in which injuries limited him to 111 games while adjusting to a new country resulted in growing pains, Suzuki still managed to hit 14 homers. He also had solid numbers in both isolated power (.171) and slugging (.433). Now that he’ll actually get a real offseason to work in concert with his hitting coaches, I expect Suzuki to have a really impressive 2023. ZiPS projections have him at just 21 homers next season, but I think he can put four more on the board.
6. Brennen Davis is up before the All-Star break
I was adamant last year that Davis wouldn’t be up before the 2022 All-Star break, but I didn’t think it would be because of a surprise back injury that required surgery in June. He later missed all but five games in the Arizona Fall League because of injury. So, a promotion is mostly tied to his health, as well as him improving on his .180/.299/.298 slash from last season. This prediction is based more on hope than anything, but I’m willing to buy that Davis will be healthy and performing well enough to get a first-half call up.
7. No one emerges as the closer
The Cubs have some good, young backend relievers in Brandon Hughes and Jeremiah Estrada to go with newly signed veteran Brad Boxberger, and any of them could emerge as the team’s closer by season’s end. But remember, manager David Ross hasn’t been too interested in naming anyone the closer. The only reason David Robertson became the de facto closer last year was because of how well he pitched. In 2023, I expect Ross to stick with bringing backend guys in where they match up best, regardless of what inning it is.
8. Matt Mervis is a Rookie of the Year finalist
We all expect Mervis to be in something of timeshare if the Cubs end up signing another first baseman. That’ll keep him down early in the season, but he’ll eventually win that everyday job. And when he does that, look out, MLB.
9. Kyle Hendricks throws a complete game
Nobody on the Cubs threw one last year, but Hendricks’ 8 2/3 inning gem on May 9 was the closest. So much of the Cubs’ potential success rides Hendricks being healthy and on him performing like “The Professor,” and him getting at least one complete game in will play a part in that.
10. Cubs lead MLB in stolen bases
Did you realize the Cubs ranked fourth in the majors in stolen bases last year? Me neither, but at least that feels like a sign of things to come. Without many additions in terms of power, this team is still going to have to manufacture run-scoring opportunities. So, being aggressive on the base paths is going to be big for them. And after a year of being pretty bad running the bases overall, expect them to be better in 2023.
11. Three Cubs make the All-Star team
You can probably throw a few different names in here in terms of who may play in the Midsummer classic. Even though the Cubs aren’t World Series contenders, they do have some very good players on this team. Considering they had two All-Stars on the 2022 team, I think they can get one more to Seattle this year.
12. Hayden Wesneski starts the season in Triple-A
This has nothing to do with Wesneski and everything to do with the fact that the Cubs have pretty solid depth on the major league roster right now. They have enough to fill the rotation, and they have at least three multi-inning relievers to boot. I expect Wesneski to begin the year in Iowa solely to keep him on a starter’s schedule, but he’ll be up very quickly.
13. David Ross doesn’t flip the double birds on TV
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Less birds, more thumbs in 2023.
14. Attendance fails to top 3 million again
The Cubs had their lowest overall attendance sine 1997 last year (not including 2020 and ’21). They’ll be better this season, but fans are going to make them prove it. Until that happens, attendance will still be at pre-World Series levels.
15. Cody Bellinger will be around “league average” at the plate
I think Bellinger will be better in 2023. The Cubs are giving him a lot of money to be better. Will he reach 2019 levels? I don’t think so. In terms of wRC+, I think he’ll probably be right around 100 (which is league average). But I also think he’ll be better than the 83 wRC+ he posted last year, which is all the Cubs can hope for.
16. Cubs lead MLB in errors at third base
At this point, the Cubs are set to have some rotation of Patrick Wisdom, Christopher Morel and Zach McKinstry at third base 2023. In 2022, Cubs third basemen led the majors with 27 errors at the position. You’d like to think they’re better in ’23, but without any additions at the spot, it’s tough to see that.
17. Justin Steele ends the season as the No. 1 starter
He had a breakout 2022, and he’s set to be even better in 2023. He limits barrels at an elite level, and the movement on his pitches is still impressive. The Cubs have good pitchers, but they don’t have a true ace. Steele probably won’t be that, but he’ll be the best pitcher on the Cubs next year.
18. Keegan Thompson spends most of the year in the bullpen
Thompson said all last year that he’ll do whatever the Cubs need him to do. That’s good for the Cubs, because this will be another year where they have him coming out of the ‘pen more often than not. I believe he still wants to be a starter at some point in his career, but he was a dominant reliever in 2022. Let’s not fix something that isn’t broken.
19. Jameson Taillon reaches 200 innings pitched
Taillon has been trending up over the last couple of years in terms of innings pitched. The Cubs haven’t had a pitcher throw 200 innings since Jon Lester in 2016, but the further Taillon gets from his second Tommy John surgery, the more it feels like he might be turning into a workhorse type of pitcher. This is the season where he proves that on the North Side.
20. Pete Crow-Armstrong reaches top-10 MLB prospect status
He’s already the No. 1 prospect in the Cubs’ system. He’s also high up on the main prospect rankings, including his No. 30 status on MLB Pipeline’s top 100. This prediction is partly because many of the current top prospects will graduate from prospect status this year, but I’m also confident in Crow-Armstrong continuing to take steps forward. Watch out for another big season from the Cubs’ center fielder of the future.
21. Cubs fans boo Willson Contreras
I wouldn’t have made this prediction a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t have even made it right after he signed with the Cardinals. But the vocal majority of Cubs fans on Twitter were angry over Contreras’ story at The Players’ Tribune, and I can certainly see that vocal majority making their voices heard. St. Louis visits Wrigley Field in May, so we’ll see what Contreras’ welcome looks like.
22. Pitch clock is widely praised
This one is for me. When the pitch clock was introduced as one of the new rules starting next season, I probably jumped for joy. Nobody needs to be at the ballpark for more than three hours, so if this is going to speed up games, I’m all for it. And I think everyone should hop on the train.
23. Cubs finish above .500, don’t make the playoffs
I think this team will be better in 2023. I don’t think there will be any 10-game losing streaks to talk about, so they aren’t going to have to claw back from 20-plus games below .500. The one thing is, a lot has to go right for this team to make the playoffs next year, even in a bad division. And because this is baseball, I don’t know if I see all those things actually going right.