4 Takeaways from the Chicago Cubs GM meeting

4 Takeaways from the Chicago Cubs GM meeting

LAS VEGAS – An offseason spending spree is on the horizon for the Chicago Cubs.

The organization expects the 2023 payroll to be higher than last season, but how significantly it increases depends on the talent they acquire.

The Cubs have about $175 million in competitive balance tax-configured payroll in 2022, according to Cot’s contract statistics from Baseball Prospectus. That ranked 12th in baseball and was $55 million below the CBT threshold. For 2023, the Cubs’ CBT salary is under $135 million and more than $87 million under the penalty cap.

Signing one of the top four free-agent shortstops — Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson — would not only bolster the lineup, but also the perception that the Cubs are actively trying to compete in a division that doesn’t seem like it. Gauntlet to get to the postseason.

“When you look at the last couple of years, certainly the (St. Louis) Cardinals, they’ve been really strong, and I think they’ve got a gap that we’ve got to close,” team president Jed Hoyer told the general manager on Wednesday. Meeting “I definitely think that some of the gap could be closed by raising the salary where it was. We’ve had it down for a couple of years and we need to get it back up. It certainly helps close that gap, but we also know we have to close a lot of that gap with our interior guys.”

Free agency officially began Thursday at 4 p.m., starting roster moves to keep 36 players on the 40-man roster. Infielder David Bote, left-hander Steven Brault, right-hander Anderson Espinoza and outfielders Narciso Crook and Franmil Reyes were waived and moved to Triple-A Iowa. Right-hander Alec Mills and left-hander Brad Wick were activated from the 60-day injured list, cleared waivers and were sent straight to Triple A. Vick is recovering from Tommy John surgery in June while Mills had a low-back discectomy two months ago.

Right-handers Kyle Hendricks, Cody Heuer and Ethan Roberts and outfielders Jason Hayward and Rafael Ortega were activated from the 60-day IL. In the next few days, Heyward is expected to be released with $22 million remaining in the final season of his eight-year contract.

The Cubs could make additional roster moves depending on how many eligible minor-league players they want to keep on their 40-man roster to protect from the Rule 5 draft before Tuesday’s deadline. The Cubs must also decide whether to tender the contracts of their arbitration-eligible players by the Nov. 18 deadline.

Chicago Cubs' Christopher Morrell stands in the outfield during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, May 31, 2022.

Among the roster improvements the Cubs are expected to address will focus on center field. The organization went into the offseason anticipating an outside acquisition for the position, something that became even more important when their depth at the spot began to suffer last month when Triple-A prospects were injured.

Alexander Canario’s devastating injury Brennen Davis’ setback in the Arizona Fall League, which required surgery on his left ankle and left shoulder in the Dominican Winter League and a lengthy rehab after that, complicates their infield choices. According to a source, Davies’ AFL experience was cut short after just five games due to a stress reaction in his back and rest was advised. He will focus on spending off-season building energy in spring training. His back issues over the past year create uncertainty about how much the Cubs can rely on him at some point next season.

“We have guys internally that will definitely play there,” Hoyer said Wednesday. “But the lion’s share may come externally.”

The Cubs still like Christopher Morrell, who started 50 games in center field, but Hoyer likes to move him around the field. Morrell, 23, played at least 13 games at shortstop, third base, second base and center field.

“His value speaks volumes for the fact that he’s a really good defender in a lot of positions,” Hoyer said. “I think he will work hard over the winter to play better in all positions. But his versatility, athleticism is extreme, and we should use it. I don’t think pigeonholing him in one place is the best idea.”

Duke's Matt Marvis (20) bats during an NCAA game, Feb. 22, 2020, in Durham, NC.

No matter where Marvis plays this year, he continues to mash.

The AFL was his latest challenge after playing at three minor-league levels in 2022, eventually reaching Triple-A Iowa for the first time two years into his professional career.

Marvis, 24, is coming off 36 home runs, 40 doubles, a .379 on-base percentage and a .984 OPS in 137 games and continues to roll in the AFL. He earned MVP honors at the All-Star Game this week. In 51 AFL plate appearances, Marvis’ six home runs equaled his strikeout total. His power output is a respectable 18.5 K% complement this year.

“He’s very much in our plans,” Hoyer said. “But we’re going to be proactive and explore options.”

The Cubs want depth throughout the roster and higher positions in the minors, including accounting for when someone might struggle. This includes at first base, where they can use the designated-hitter spot to seek at-bats. The Cubs might add a power-hitting first baseman to the platoon with the left-handed hitting Marvis or use both to split time between first base and DH.

José Abreu, 36, and Josh Bell, 30, are intriguing short-term options if the Cubs prioritize power, which Hoyer has often said is a lineup need this offseason. Miguel Sanó, 29, also has pop, but has missed most of the season with injury and has been in base numbers since his only All-Star Game appearance in 2017.

Chicago Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run in the fifth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sept. 29, 2022, at Wrigley Field.

Suzuki’s transition to Major League Baseball was interrupted by an owner’s lockout during his rookie season. Year 2 may also feature a modified start.

The international tournament of the World Baseball Classic, played every four years, takes place during the middle of spring training. Suzuki will likely play for his country, although it has yet to be officially decided at what level he will feature in the Japanese team.

After signing his five-year, $85 million contract with the Cubs, a normal spring experience is worth it after last year’s hectic three weeks to prepare for Opening Day. The agency understands why Suzuki would want to play for Japan in a major tournament

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“Ultimately I’ll support whatever he wants to do,” Hoyer said. “In a perfect world, you’d be able to fully prepare for our season but also represent your country and I think that’s the perfect scenario.”

Hoyer did not specify what mix of WBC and spring training preparation would strike the right balance for Suzuki.

The options are seemingly in different games. One possible path: Japan, the tournament favorites, will remain in Suzuki camp until they reach the semifinals, which begin March 19 in Miami. Japan opens the WBC for pool play in Tokyo on March 9-13, with the quarterfinals also being played on March 15-16. This arrangement will reduce Suzuki’s travel and time away from the Cubs. It is unclear whether Japan would agree to this setup.

Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, right, is unable to tag Milwaukee Brewers baserunner Mike Brosseau (20) at home plate as Brosseau scores in the fifth inning, June 1, 2022, at Wrigley Field.

Contreras is expected to reject the offer by Tuesday’s deadline. A free-agent reunion between the sides is unlikely. Ian Gomes remains under contract until 2023 with a club option in 2024. Expect the Cubs to emphasize the defensive end for the catchers they acquire in the offseason.

“You want guys who can hit, but it’s a run-prevention position,” Hoyer said. “A lot of it is game calling and preparation, feeling strongly that what pitchers do is a ‘we’ thing. It’s about that teamwork and cooperation.

“Throwing is probably going to become more important with some rule (changes), but it’s an offense and a defensive position. And that relationship with the pitcher is really important.”

Hoyer preferred the three-catcher setup of Contreras, Gomes and PJ Higgins the Cubs employed over the final 4½ months of the season. This created more pinch hitting opportunities and more dynamic versatility. Higgins’ ability to play all three positions (catcher, first base and third base) was a big factor in that element. However, Hoyer does not envision having three catchers on the active roster next season.

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