Since announcing the arrival of new manager Craig Counsell back in mid-November, things have come to a screeching halt for the Chicago Cubs. While the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals have been building with big moves for 2024, all has been quiet at the corners of Clark and Addison.
Certainly there is plenty of time left in the offseason for the Cubs to make moves to improve their roster…and it certainly feels like those moves have to be made to not only have Chicago compete for the top of the National League Central, but also to have any chance of more than a one-and-done appearance in the postseason.
So what will it take for the Chicago Cubs to have a successful offseason?
Entering Wednesday, the Cubs were one of four MLB teams (joining the Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins and New York Yankees) who hadn’t spent a single dollar in free agency this offseason.
Obviously that will change for all of four of those teams (and the Yankees have already improved their roster with the Juan Soto addition), but the Cubs feel like the team that entered the offseason with plenty of momentum after swiping Counsell away from the rival Milwaukee Brewers, only to see it fizzle out in the weeks that followed.
So what turns that momentum around?
Well, the simple answer would be the return of Cody Bellinger after he lived up to his “prove it” deal in 2023 by posting a .307/.356/.525 slash line and earning a Silver Slugger Award.
While finishing 10th in the National League MVP voting is a long ways from the MVP title he earned back in 2019, there is plenty of reason for optimism that Bellinger can be a force in the lineup in 2024 and beyond.
But Bellinger landing back with the Cubs is anything but a sure thing, even with MLB insider Jon Heyman saying just before the new year began they were “the favorites” to land him.
And, even if Bellinger returns back to the team that gave him a chance to redeem himself last season, there has to be more moves from the Cubs than just that. After all, Chicago has a solid middle of the infield with Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson, but there is plenty of room for improvement at both corner positions.
Bellinger could be an answer at first base (where he played 59 games last season), but third base needs some help as well. The versatile Christopher Morel could be a partial answer at the hot corner, but Matt Chapman or Justin Turner would not only provide an answer on the field for this season, but also add to the veteran leadership inside the clubhouse.
Last season, the Cubs finished 17th among MLB’s 30 teams in combined bWAR at third base (minus-0.5) and 24th in the same category at designated hitter (minus-1.3). Chapman’s 4.4 or Turner’s 2.1 bWAR would be upgrades for either spot.
Chicago, however, also needs some depth on the mound. Justin Steele will likely be viewed as the Cubs’ top pitcher this season after making 30 starts last season and logging an ERA+ of 146 on his way to a top five NL Cy Young finish. Add in Kyle Hendricks and Jameson Taillon and the Cubs have the potential (key word there) of having a strong top three in the rotation.
However, securing middle to back of the rotation arms this offseason would go a long way to boosting the Cubs’ chances of being in the hunt for the division crown.
The Cubs don’t need to spend big money on Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell (although both would be great), so using dollars on Japanese free agent Shota Imanaga or using prospects to make a trade with Cleveland for Shane Bieber (both names that have been associated with the Cubs in December rumors) would seem to fill a need in the rotation while still saving money to pursue Bellinger and other bats.
So what’s the successful formula for the Cubs this offseason?
It’s likely a mix of landing a bat and an arm.
While Chicago fans would love to see Bellinger and Chapman on the corners in 2024, having one of those plus a solid middle of the rotation pitcher while Morel, Pete Crow-Armstrong and other young players grow into their own roles under Counsell’s guidance may be just enough for meaningful October baseball to return to Wrigley Field this season.