Hot Stove: Cubs ready for contention


With key additions such as Hosmer, Bellinger, and the potential for a trade for a catcher, will the Cubs reach contention – or even the success of their 2016 club? (Tyler Letcher)

Will a team having finished third in the watered-down National League Central really make an impact this year? Yes, it seems, as the Chicago Cubs are proving that, even though they’ve been out of contention for the past 2 seasons (and even then, losing in the 2020 Wild Card), they are ready to play to win. With key players like Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant having left in prior seasons and veteran catcher Willson Contreras joining the team’s longtime divisional rival Cardinals this offseason, the team has needed to rebuild its identity in one way or another.

They’ve tried, with moderate success, to form homegrown heroes, such as Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner, and to sign players who have had at least some impact on the field, like Seiya Suzuki and Yan Gomes. This offseason, though, has seemingly flipped a switch within the Cubs’ front office, making them finally go for more impactful signings.

Free agents that were in view of even the highest caliber teams began to be swept up by the Cubs, including former All-Star and MVP Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers for a year, Atlanta Braves All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson for seven years, power pitcher Jameson Taillon for four years, first-baseman Eric Hosmer for a year, Trey Mancini for two, and Tucker Barnhart for two.

Cody Bellinger has dealt with injuries and slumps with the Dodgers, but has shown his defensive and offensive prowess, including a good postseason run in 2020 and 2021. Dansby Swanson, while not the best shortstop in the league, will prove to be a good cornerstone of the Cubs’ lineup for years to come. Jameson Taillon was one of the most sought-after free-agent starting pitchers this offseason, and the Cubs will utilize him as the ace in their lineup, alongside Drew Smyly (providing he stays healthy.)

Eric Hosmer’s situation is interesting. The former third-overall draft pick won the 2015 World Series for the Royals, leading to an 8-year, $144 million deal with the Padres in 2017. The Padres, however, traded him, despite relatively solid performance, to the Red Sox, alongside two other players and cash, for a minor leaguer. In Boston, he proceeded to have his worst half-season of his career, mired by injuries, and only playing in 14 games. The Red Sox released him after the season ended, and the Cubs picked him up. However, the Cubs won’t be the ones paying the majority of his salary, as they’ll be paying him the league minimum of $720,000 for his one year contract; his Padres contract will pay out the rest of his time there.

This is a fantastic signing for the Cubs, having lost their primary first baseman, Frank Schwindel, to the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball league, Japan’s professional baseball league. They won’t have to pay him basically any salary, and he has proven to be a producer in both the NL and Central divisions in the past.

Trey Mancini is another first baseman signed by the Cubs, and may play an interesting role in the Cubs’ role in the trade market. The former Oriole and Astro, as well as colon cancer survivor, has seen more stable success over the years than Hosmer has, leading many to formulate the belief that perhaps either Hosmer or Mancini may become a trade piece before the deadline for a catcher, given the lack of a star catcher with the loss of Willson Contreras.

It’s not just the Cubs’ additions, either. It’s their divisional opponents’ subtractions.

Arguably the Brewers’ best player, Hunter Renfroe, was traded at the end of the 2022 season to the AL West’s Los Angeles Angels for pitchers. The surprise trade had many believing that the Brewers were “fleeced”, and it truly seems that way. Their offensive output will suffer, with Renfroe hitting .255 and slugging 29 home runs last year alone. The Cardinals will also lose two of their veterans, with future Hall of Fame-caliber players in 700 home run club Albert Pujols and All-Star catcher Yadier Molina retiring at the end of the 2022 season. Their other divisional competition, the Pirates and the Reds, haven’t produced much over the past few years, and haven’t made any changes to make anyone believe that the 2023 season will be any different for them.

Yes, their schedule will include playing stacked teams such as the Astros, Phillies, and Padres, but buy-and-large, they’ll mostly be playing within their own division, and will also play struggling teams, such as the Athletics and the Royals from time-to-time.

David Ross, the Cubs’ manager, was their catcher when they won their “curse-breaking” 2016 World Series, so should be trusted to manage a team to a winning record, at the very minimum. However, one could presume that with the moves they’ve made so far, and with the lack of movement others in the division have made as well, the Cubs may be on their way to a Postseason upset.