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How the Cubs could return to contention in 2023 after promising signs in 2022

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After a significant period of relevance in recent years – an understatement for much of the run – the Chicago Cubs haven’t been very newsworthy nationally for most of 2022. Fresh from the golden era of Cubs baseball, will there be a return to relevance. in 2023?

The 2022 season saw some positive signs at both major league and minor league levels. And while they will finish the 2022 season well below .500, there is reason to be glad the team is moving forward. In fact, they could become rivals in 2023. Let’s dive in.

Good performance in specialties

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This will reappear in the minor league section as the organization as a whole has done wonders this season with inning development. Of course, these are the fruits of the labor of the last few years, but progress really showed up in 2022.

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We can start with Justin Steele. In 24 starts, he had a 3.18 ERA and hit 126 strikeouts in 119 innings. There were a few breakdowns that also took his performance down, and he finished strong with a 1.49 ERA in his last 10 starts. It is absolutely a rotating device moving forward.

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To a lesser extent, Keegan Thompson also appeared. He’s struggled with consistency, and he might be better suited to be a long pitcher or hitter (like Ross Stripling) than a main player, but he’s definitely a goaltender.

Hayden Vesnesky came to the Cubs on the trade deadline for pitcher Scott Effross and has a 2.45 ERA, .82 WHIP and 24 strikeouts against four walks in 22 innings. He is 24 and looks the part.

The major league starter was generally great after the break. Only the Dodgers and Astros have a better second-half rotation ERA than the Cubs at 3.15. Markus Stroman has shown that there must be confidence that he will have a good 2023. Adrian Sampson and Drew Smiley (he has a club option that the Cubs are sure to pick) were good enough to guarantee themselves big roles next season. .

After the rotation, the Cubs’ biggest plus this season has been Nico Hoerner. He mostly stays healthy and hits .290 with 111 OPS+, stealing 18 bases in 20 attempts and playing great defense at short range. He will need to increase both base percentage and slug count before becoming a star, but he is definitely a foundational player. It wasn’t clear until this year.

Ian Happ is also having a very good year. Seiya Suzuki has had a mixed season but seems to be really stuck in this season. He hit .337/.406/.535 in his last 25 games.

Christopher Morel looks like he could be working full-time, but with more opportunities.

Looks like the Cubs might let catcher Wilson Contreras go. If so, they still have a positional core of Horner, Hupp, Suzuki and Morel before they get to what could be a huge offseason.

Good signs in juveniles

Individually, we should start with Matt Mervis, even if he wasn’t even drafted and won’t be found in any of the prospects starting this spring. This season, he’s hitting .310/.380/.610 with 39 doubles, 36 home runs and 119 RBIs in 135 games between High-A (27 games), Double-A (53) and Triple-A (55). He may be ready to take over first base as early as next year.

Alexander Canario also hit 35 homers (24 games in High-A, 81 in Double-A, and 18 in Triple-A). He also stole 23 bases. He played in all three outfield positions and could have played center if needed. Brennen Davis had a bad year due to injuries, but he could also make headway and become a center fielder.

Of course, any of these guys will warm up midfield for Pete Crow-Armstrong. The 20-year-old, who signed from the Mets in 2021, played in 101 games (38 in Grade A, 63 in High-A) and hit .312/.376/.520 with 20 doubles, 10 triples, 16 homers, 61 RBI , 89 runs, 32 stolen bases and some of the best underage defenses. He’ll start with Double-A next season, and it might not be long before he ends up with the Wrigleys.

In general, the system as a whole this season is considered to be a big step forward. The volume is much larger than two years ago. As I mentioned earlier, there have been successes with more pitchers as well. Names to keep in mind for the near future: Jordan Wicks, Ben Brown, DJ Herz and Caleb Kilian (who debuted in June after three starts). ranked the Cubs 10th in baseball as of August 23.. Fangraphs launches future value calculator who has newbies fourth. One criticism – and how it differs most from the group that won the World Series – is a ton of depth, but there really aren’t many, if any, elite-level guys. Perhaps Crow-Armstrong will be that elite level guy, but otherwise most say they have a bunch of potentially good unstarred players (again, the PCA might be an exception).

Let’s put a pin in that and get back to it.

Financial impact

The Cubs have Jason Hayward’s $22 million sunk value left in the books for next season, but both sides have already agreed they are parting ways. The kids can afford it. Even with that, they seem to have over $123 million going to 2023, while Suzuki is the only guaranteed paycheck after 2024.

They have the funds to spin a payroll of $200 million or more.

Things are more complicated, but it was just a bare bones breakdown to show that the Cubs could spend a lot of money on free agents in the upcoming offseason. They can easily top anyone in their division, and news from the North Side here at the end of the season indicates that the owners (particularly chairman Tom Ricketts) are ready for a slight increase in spending in the upcoming off-season.

They could also, obviously, be paid in trade. And here we return to the deep farming system. If they have so many good deep figures but lack star power, they can pack up prospects to get recognized major league talent.

How to continue?

If they want to compete anytime soon, they’ll have to do some work because while the Horner/Happ/Suzuki/Morel is a decent start, it’s not good enough without the addition of some big needle engines. Just relying on the help of minors is not enough. In fact, one of the reasons for the farm is to use some of that potential currency to trade for MLB aid, as noted above.

If they take the trade route, what if the Red Sox provide Rafael Devers? He’s only 25, the Cubs can afford to expand him into a monster, they have the promising currency the Red Sox covet, and he’s the kind of player to build a franchise superstar around.

Ozzy Albis is also a tradeable item that could fit in with the Cubs’ plans for the future, and his deal is incredibly beneficial for the team.

And of course, if the Angels make Shohei Otani available, the Cubs can make it work.

In terms of free agency, the Cubs are rumored to be heavily involved in the shortstop market, which includes Trea Turner, Carlos Correa (assuming he opts out), Xander Bogarts (provided he opts out), and Dansby Swanson. . They’ll have to figure out how to get the job done with Hörner if they sign one of these guys, but that’s a bridge you’ll cross if you get to him – plus, Hörner is very good, but not good enough to transfer a big free agent just because of his presence.

Similar to position players, the Cubs’ starting pitch is in decent shape, but also in dire need of at least one first-class caliber pitcher and probably still in the middle of the rotation. Adding two pitchers with Stroman, Steele, and a returning Kyle Hendrix with Thompson as a sixth starting/long pitcher would be ideal, and that’s not to mention Vesnesky’s presence. If it’s just one pitcher, they can add Smyly or Wesneski to the mix. Sampson is a good option for depth, not to mention a lot of young guys including prospects and Javier Asad – and we’ve seen so much these days how important it is to have seven or eight rotation options in a fight. commands.

Between the arrival of a few young hands in the rotation and the bullpen exploits of Brandon Hughes and a few others (maybe this is where Adbert Alsolei fits in the long run), there’s reason to believe the Cubs can fill a solid bullpen with what’s on hand. and supplement it with cheap signatures. From the outset, attention should be focused on high-quality external assistance.

Some free agent pitchers: Jacob deGrom (if he waives), Carlos Rodon, Chris Bassitt, Mike Clevinger, Nathan Eovaldi, Sean Manea, Noah Sindergaard, Tyhuan Walker (provided he waives his $6 million player option) . japanese star Kodai Senga is also expected to be in the game..

Will they bring Rawdon back to Chicago? Will that be enough or do they need to add two starters? Obviously, they could also explore the trading market. Is it time for the Guardians to start listening to, for example, Shane Bieber (he became a free agent after 2024)?

Some of what they do here depends on how things are on the side of the position player. For example, it’s hard to imagine that they could trade both Devers and Bieber, but if they sign someone like Correa, they could very well trade for Bieber. Or they could sign Rawdon and trade for Devers. Or maybe it’s a completely different route, like signing a short stop and an ace before looking to trade elsewhere.

The thing is, the Cubs have a lot of money to spend and also have a promising currency to add salary through trades. They will become an important player in the offseason.

After a quick break in relevance…


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