The Chicago Cubs made a big splash in free agency last week, landing Marcus Stroman on a three-year, $71 million deal. In the eyes of many, including The Athletic’s Keith Law, the righty was the best pitcher on the market this offseason and heads to Wrigleyville off the back of a campaign that saw him go 10-13 with a 3.02 ERA for the New York Mets.
The move is exactly what we Cubs fans were hoping to see, after Jed Hoyer promised to be “really active” this winter as he and general manager Carter Hawkins set about rebuilding at pace.
Following this season’s teardown, they entered the offseason with a guaranteed payroll roughly $100 million below that of 2021’s and almost $170 million below that of 2019’s. And given the state of their roster, they clearly need to spend money in order to field a team next year.
So what impact has the signing had on the team’s offseason plans and what might they look to do next?
Win now and win later?
When speaking to the media after announcing his decision to sign with the Cubs on Twitter, Stroman said: “I think they’re definitely in not a full rebuild. I think they definitely want to win now”.
While the roster as currently constructed doesn’t entirely support that theory, the signing itself suggests that the Cubs are ready to be aggressive in the market. This makes sense too, as although the trades they made this season flooded the organisation with potential, their farm system ranked 18th overall in late August and most of their prospects won’t be heading to Wrigley any time soon.
That said, next year’s major league roster will likely feature a number of youngsters including Nick Madrigal, Justin Steele and Adbert Alzolay, while others, such as Brennen Davis, Ryan Jensen and Miguel Amaya aren’t a million miles away. By not committing to long-term deals, such as the four-year contract they reportedly declined to offer to Steven Matz, or the five years given to Kevin Gausman, they should be able to create a more sustainable model than 2012’s, built on short-term cycles and “financial nimbleness”, as Hoyer described it this week.
To no great surprise, Hoyer emphasised the Cubs’ need to add quality arms during his end of season press conference. The rotation has been in a bad way since the end of 2019 and this season the pitching staff ranked fourth-worst in baseball with a 4.87 ERA. Stroman will certainly improve that, having recorded his lowest ERA and FIP in a full season, along with career-best walk and strikeout rates in 2021.
By claiming Wade Miley off waivers from the Reds, the Cubs added another starter who recorded a 6.0 WAR in 2021 while also throwing a no-hitter. While neither he nor Stroman quite fulfils the “power pitching” requirement Hoyer claimed teams need to “win in today’s game”, the 35-year-old southpaw went 12-7 with a 3.37 ERA in 2021 and will be able to eat some serious innings in 2022.
If Kyle Hendricks can bounce back from a campaign in which he posted a 4.77 ERA, 4.89 FIP, 1.35 WHIP and allowed an MLB-worst 200 base hits, the Cubs could be on to something. They’re still going to need another arm though and have already been linked to Danny Duffy, who throws a 92.2 MPH 4-seamer and who posted a 2.51 ERA (a 184 ERA+) while striking out 65 hitters in 61 innings of work with the Kansas City Royals this season.
With the addition of an arm like that, the Cubs could probably then turn to Alec Mills, who pitched consistently in 2021, or some combination of him, Alzolay, Steele and Keegan Thompson to round out a solid-looking rotation.
Ready for the big time?
Just a day after signing with the Cubs, Stroman was attempting to convince Carlos Correa to join him in Chicago. Correa has been heavily linked to the Cubs in recent days and Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston claimed on Thursday that they were in the mix along with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Braves. He also reiterated the fact that the Astros offered the All-Star shortstop a lowball, five-year, $160 million deal earlier in the offseason.
If this is how the market for Correa is shaping up, it raises questions about whether the Cubs would seriously consider making a play for him. Even a five-year deal would clog up the team’s payroll to some extent, limiting its ability to be financially nimble in the way Hoyer indicated he wants to be.
And yet, if the Cubs are serious about competing now, they’re going to need to be more ambitious than the position player signings they’ve made to date. Yan Gomes, Clint Frazier, Harold Ramirez and Michael Hermosillo all make a lot of sense for the Cubs, but none move the needle in the way that the Stroman signing has. What’s more, since they made that move, the narrative around the organisation appears to have shifted and Univision’s Mike Rodriguez seems to think that the Cubs and Yankees are now the favourites to sign Correa, adding that Correa asked former-Cub Javier Báez what it was like to be a part of the organisation.
Whether that turns out to be the case or not, the Stroman deal seems to indicate that the organisation is serious about trying to compete now, that they’re willing to spend money in order to do so and that their rotation – which, in its current guise, is likely to generate a lot of weak contact – could use a top-tier defender behind it. As a 27-year-old Gold Glove shortstop with a World Series ring to his name, Correa certainly fits the bill. Whether or not the Cubs are willing to forego their newly-asserted philosophy in order to make such a signing so soon after adopting it is a question they’ll undoubtedly be asking throughout the lockout though.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Sean is one of the Bat Flips & Nerds’ Chicago Cubs correspondents for the 2022 season. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanWGuest