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Cubs Off-Season Review

We're happy you're here too, Dansby!

As the off-season officially ends, now is a a good time to look ahead to some of the new players the Cubs Front Office picked up this past winter. After much hand wringing that the Cubs were not going to acquire anyone, the Cubs actually tied for first with signing the most free agents in the league. The Front Office picked up a solid mix of star power and supporting role players.

  • Dansby Swanson: #2 in WAR for free agents (6.4 in '22), 6th biggest contract

  • Jamison Taillon: 2 WAR pitcher projection, $12AAV, on pace with other signings

  • Cody Bellinger: 1.7 WAR projected, $17.5m AAV

  • Drew Smyly: 1.2 WAR projected, $9.5m AAV

  • Tucker Barnhart: .9 WAR projected, $3.25 AAV

  • Trey Mancini .8 WAR projected, $7.72m AAV combined with Hosmer

  • Eric Hosmer .6 WAR projected, MLB minimum contract.

  • Brad Boxberger 0 WAR projected, $2.8m contract

That's one stud, 2 solid pitchers, and a couple of rebound candidates. It's a lot of added depth without major commitments, which is ideal for a Cubs team that is on the brim with some minor league contributors. The Cubs are now in an ideal situation for this stage of their minor league system. To me, it is March 2015 all over again. I also think that players like Bellinger, Smyly, Barnhart and Mancini could easily beat those projections.

  • If the team plays well early in the season, the front office could add at the deadline to push for a playoff spot.

  • If the team struggles to put up wins, they can sell and there are some pieces that should fetch prospects.

This past off-season, the Cubs needed to make some moves, but they had to be smart ones. I feel like the Front Office has accomplished just that. In an off-season where free agent contracts became ridiculous, the Cubs did not desperately overpay like the Padres or Mets did. They added a reasonable amount of talent (4th most projected WAR in the league), while spending less per player than all the other "off-season winners." In my mind, the Cubs have won their off-season. They did what they had to do, without throwing what the team might look like in 5 years into the trash.

To try and measure some of these arguments I'm making, I assembled a chart of the big off-season winners. This chart is based off of FanGraph's 2023 projections, and free agent signings only. The first 5 columns are the facts, then I generated some formulas that help quantify how each team really did.

Added WAR per team: rankings

  • Mets: 17.6: The Mets added the most WAR of any team, but it also cost half a billion dollars and nearly 30 years of service time

  • Yankees:14.1: Most of this is wrapped up in Judge, but the Yankees spent the most of any MLB in the free agent market.

  • Rangers: 12.4: A lot of this is wrapped up in how DeGrom does, but technically the Rangers added more 2023 WAR while spending nearly half as much as the New York teams.

  • Cubs 11.4: Out of the top 5 spenders, the Cubs spent less per WAR than anyone.

  • Padres: 10.1: Not counting extensions (which puts the Padres overall off-season spending near $900 million), The Padres have committed nearly 30 years worth of free agents. Granted, it gets the overall $/year down, but...

It's worth noting that in an off-season loaded with decade long contracts, the Cubs committed to an average of 2.2 years per player. That is much less than the Padres, Phillies, Cardinals, and Yankees. The Cubs aren't sending themselves up for a window to be slammed shut by aging veterans chewing up payroll.

Likewise, if you look at the dollars per WAR, the Cubs are paying less for projected win adding than some of the other teams. Their $27.2m per is fairly middle of the road. Jed didn't overpay.

Overall, I look at that chart and I am content with the off-season. It's very rare that the team that signs the most FAs wins it all anyways, but I really like how the Cubs have added a lot of depth without overpaying, especially when compared to some of the silly overpays the other big market teams did. The Cubs lack star power currently, but there's time for some of the youngsters to step into that. Jed Hoyer didn't need to win this off-season on paper. He just needed to compliment the core, and he's done so.

I don't have extremely high expectations for the 2023 Cubs. To me, it is 2015 all over again. The 2014 Cubs finished the year well with young players contributing. 2015 was a year when they far exceeded expectations, because everything came together unbelievably well. At the 2nd half of 2022, the team went 39-31, for a .557 winning percentage. If they played that way the entire year, they would have locked up the 5th seed for the playoffs. I don't think the 2023 Cubs will jump to 97 wins, but I do think they will compete for a playoff spot, and be division favorites in 2024. We'll see, but the pieces are beginning to assemble.


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