Commentary: Cubs have tons of roster flexibility now
Geoff Burke - USA Today Sports

Commentary: Cubs have tons of roster flexibility now

by - Staff Writer -

It is no secret that the Cubs are in the midst of their second organizational rebuild in over a decade. President of Baseball operations Jed Hoyer inherited a very tricky situation when former President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein resigned a full year early after the tumultuous 2020 season.

The writing was on the wall when the Cubs let Joe Maddon walk as manager of the team ahead of the 2020 season. The rebuild began when Theo Epstein truly when left the organization before the 2021 season, a year before his contract expired. The rebuild was signified by no major player, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber, receiving a contract extension. The rebuild was put into motion with the Yu Darvish / Victor Caratini salary dump trade to acquire a veteran pitcher and four young prospects (RHP Zach Davies, OF Owen Caissie and Ismael Mena, SS Reginald Preciado and Yeison Santana). Then the rebuild was expedited by the non-tendering of World Series hero Kyle Schwarber.

Then the rebuild was propelled by the massive sell-off at the 2021 deadline of many big league players, including Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera, Craig Kimbrel, Jake Marisnick, Joc Pederson, Trevor Williams, which returned prospects and young players like Nick Madrigal, Codi Heuer, Bryce Ball, Greg Deichmann, Daniel Palencia, Bailey Horn, Kevin Alcantara, Alexander Vizcaino, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Anderson Espinoza, Alexander Canario, and Caleb Kilian.

The 2022 season was one that ultimately looked similar, in terms of the Cubs potentially selling off to stock up on young talent. While the Cubs controversially held on to Willson Contreras (who left in free agency to the St. Louis Cardinals) and Ian Happ (who is a prime candidate for a potential contract extension) the Cubs traded relievers Scott Effross, David Robertson, Mychal Givens, and Chris Martin and the Cubs got utility man Zach McKinstry, and prospects Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brown and Saul Gonzalez.

That, mixed with breakout seasons from young players like Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner, Justin Steele, and Keegan Thompson, it was apparent that the Cubs’ eyes were on the future, but also that the rebuild is finally starting to turn toward the positive direction now.

The next step was to add to this roster via free agency.

"I expect to be aggressive this winter," Jed Hoyer said to NBC Sports Chicago as the offseason began. "There's no question we'll have some money to spend. I think, certainly, we want to invest that money wisely. Our goal is to build something special, and trying to do that too quickly, or trying to do it all at once can be a mistake. But certainly, there's going to be good players on the market, and I'm sure we're going to be involved in those discussions."

While the Cubs missed out on the upper echelon of free agents like Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, and Jacob deGrom — they were aggressive. The organization dished out over 300 million dollars worth of contracts to their roster to Dansby Swanson, Trey Mancini, Jameson Taillon, Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer, Drew Smyly, Tucker Barnhart, Brad Boxberger, and Michael Fulmer.

The Cubs should be much better in 2023, but the roster is actually constructed fairly similarly to the way it was in 2021-2022 — which gives Jed Hoyer oodles of roster flexibility.

While the Cubs' signings of Marcus Stroman, Seiya Suzuki, and Dansby Swanson are moves that indicate a plan for long-term roster security — some of the moves are not for that long of deals. When the Cubs traded Rizzo, Baez, Bryant, Chafin, Tepera, Kimbrel, Marisnick, Pederson, Robertson, and Martin, the Cubs knew they were going to be free agents anyway, which means the Cubs were maximizing the potential value of those players.

Hosmer, Happ, Bellinger, Hendricks, Stroman, Barnhart, Yan Gomes, Smyly, and Boxberger are all players who will be free agents after the 2023 season or have options for the 2024 season — making them the exact contractual situation of dozens of players the Cubs have parted with over the last two seasons and the tens of players that are targeted at the trade deadline every single year.

Should the Cubs get off to a very slow start, or any of those players get off to a very hot start — any number of the aforementioned could be candidates for the Cubs to trade and potentially be very active again at another trade deadline as they attempt to stack up on young talent and bolster their future: and they have the organizational depth and prospect prowess finally to withstand it.

Of course, the one complicated aspect of the roster construction comes with the fact that a strong season from Bellinger or Hosmer could just mean they were pit-stops in Chicago unless the Cubs chose to / are able to resign them after the 2023 season: but with players like Pete Crow-Armstrong and Matt Mervis knocking on the door at those potential positions that appear to be a pill the Cubs are willing to swallow and a bridge the Cubs will cross when they get to it.

One thing is for certain, the rebuild is fully in the building stage, not in the tear down stage. But, Jed Hoyer has operated well for the organization with roster flexibility like the Cubs will have in 2023 in the past — so we’ll see if Hoyer needs to pull some midseason strings once again.

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