Updated: Mar 29
After seemingly decades of spending absolutely no money whatsoever, #CheapRicketts has loosened up the purse strings and allowed Jed and Carter to go out and drop some dough this winter. And when I say "some dough," I mean north of $315 million. The result? A metric butt-ton (that's a technical term) of new Cubs signed for 2023. Some of them for even longer! Amazing! Keeping that in mind, let's do a quick rundown of the new Cubs.
Dansby Swanson, SS (7 yrs./$177M)
Imagine Jed coming to DNA HQ and asking us what we wanted this winter, and when we said we wanted the team to be both better AND more handsome, he came back with this guy:
The "handsome" part is self-evident. The "better" part comes with a little deeper dive. First, signing Swanson allows the Cubs to move Nico Hoerner to second base permanently, eliminating the lingering uncertainty at that position. Hoerner is a previous Gold Glove finalist at second, and his bat and glove locks up a spot that was very shaky in 2022. Speaking of Gold Gloves, do you know who won at SS for 2022?
Yeah, that's a Gold Glove caliber middle infield at a time when the shift is going away... pretty important when you want to maximize the success and development of your pitchers. Now, 2022 was Swanson's best year, offensively, so you could be concerned about his career 95 OPS+ bat if you want. I, however, choose to be optimistic about the 115 OPS+ he posted in 2022, particularly considering his open battle with anxiety and breakthrough on that front before the 2020 season. Swanson also hits the ball hard and brings some speed and smart baserunning to the table, things the Cubs seriously lacked in 2022.
Jameson Taillon, SP (4 yrs./$68M)
Yankees fans generally love Taillon, and if you know anything about Yankees fans, you know they're a tough crowd. Taillon has a reputation for being a warrior, not the least of which comes from his status as a cancer survivor and a guy who battles on the mound. His 2022 3.91 ERA and 3.94 FIP had him around league average (exactly 100 ERA+), but look for the Cubs to tinker with Taillon's pitch mix going into 2023 to optimize his 6-pitch arsenal. A sinker ball thrower early in his career, the Yankees got away from the pitch due to hitters adjusting and taking him deep down in the zone. Cubs' pitching coaches might look to adjust Taillon's sinker as they have other guys, having him throw it up in the zone to fool hitters and maximize its effectiveness.
Trey Mancini, 1B/DH (2 yrs./$14M with an opt out based on number of 2023 at bats)
You guys, Trey Mancini is a good ballplayer. He is. No, honestly. His 2022 ending stat line of .239/.319/.391 and a 101 OPS+ is incredibly deceiving. See, in Baltimore, Mancini was having a productive season at 113 OPS+ and then he got traded to Houston. Did he get Dusty'd? Was the ballpark not a good fit? Did the sporadic playing time mess with him? Did he just hate being an Asstro? There's no way to really know for sure, but his bat absolutely cratered after the trade. He also had a .191 BAbip with Houston, indicating a ridiculous amount of bad luck once his tenure with Orioles was over. He's not going to set the world on fire, but you can almost bank on him hitting somewhere around 23 HR and landing in that 115 OPS+ neighborhood with neutral splits if he plays regularly. He's also widely known as a great teammate and good clubhouse guy, and that's a very valuable player to have on the squad until the Cubs know what they have in Matt Mervis. Plus, Mancini's bat could have untapped potential playing in a less cavernous ballpark.
Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF (1 yr./$17.5M) Oh look, Jed actually listened to me on exactly ONE free agent signing! No one needs to tell me how bad Bellinger has been over the past two seasons. I mean, really--he's been abysmal at the plate. The 2021 and 2022 seasons resulted in 44 and 78 OPS+, respectively, after he re-injured his previously separated shoulder celebrating a home run during Game 7 of the 2020 Mickey Mouse World Series.
Sorry Cody, but it had to be said.
Whether the shoulder needed more healing time after surgery or he is just a good change-of-scenery candidate, the Cubs clearly see Belli and his Gold Glove CF defense as an attractive placeholder until Pete Crow-Armstrong is ready to take over in 2024. We know what the floor is, but the ceiling has an MVP award attached to it. While we absolutely should not bank on THAT, odds are we get something better than the Dodgers have the past two seasons and Belli gets a decent contract once his time in Chicago is done.
Brad Boxberger, RP (1 yr./$2.8M)
Boxberger had a fantastic season with Milwaukee in 2022, posting a 2.95 ERA and 3.57 FIP with 68 Ks in 64 innings pitched. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say that he's the type of pitcher that will benefit even more from a lock down middle infield defense like, oh say, what these guys will provide.
You can also write his last name using only emojis, which is kind of fun.
Tucker Barnhart, C (2 yrs./$6.5M)
YOU GUYS I AM SO EXCITED. Listen, if you know me at all, you know that I LOVE me some Tucker Barnhart. I was actively bummed out last season when the Tigers traded for him because I wanted him on the Cubs. Little did I know that Yan Gomes would be pretty awesome and we'd wind up with Barnhart anyway, so win-win! And yes, I totally understand that some of you are probably mad about the whole Contreras thing. I'm not going to talk about that. The Cubs have decided to go defense-first at catcher, and given their concentration on pitcher development this is, in my opinion, completely defensible.
Barnhart won't give you a ton with the bat, but he's likely going to be better than the 64 OPS+ he put up in Detroit last year. Everyone sucked in Detroit last year. It was so bad they're reconfiguring their ballpark, for pete's sake. Barnhart is one of those guys who does his homework on his pitchers, as evidenced by this anecdote from Taillon:
Barnhart also brings two Gold Gloves with him, and although his defense took a step back in 2022, I'm also going to chalk that up to the soul-sucking experience of playing for the Tigers. And if there's anyone who shouldn't have his soul sucked out, it's the incredibly fun Tucker Barnhart.
We'll even forgive him for being a Pacers fan.
Eric Hosmer, 1B/DH (1 yr./$720,000)
I'm just going to say this up front: there is nothing wrong with this deal. The Cubs are paying Hosmer almost nothing, in MLB terms, to mentor their young roster and provide a lefty bat in the lineup. In fact, the Padres will be paying Hosmer for another three years to play for other teams, so why not take advantage?
Hosmer hasn't slugged a whole lot since his 22 HR season in 2019, but he's only been a below league average bat three times in his 12-year career (ironically, one of those years was 2019!). What I'm saying is that despite having turned into a ground ball machine, Hosmer somehow manages to remain a productive hitter. The disappearance of the shift could help him like it will a lot of other lefties, but even if it doesn't, the guy will still likely help the Cubs produce at a spot where they simply didn't last season. All that for basically the cost of a roster spot. He's not a great defender at first base despite winning four Gold Gloves (I'll let you judge what that says about how Rawlings' doles out their awards), but this is one time where I'm happy the DH is universal so you can mix and match Hosmer, Mancini and possibly Matt Mervis at will.
Michael Fulmer, RP (1 yr./TBD)
Fulmer has had an up and down career in Detroit, starting with a Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016 and ending in a trade to the Twins midseason last year. He struggled as a starter in the shortened 2020 season, prompting a move thereafter to the bullpen where he seems to have gotten his mojo back. Here's a nice overview of what the Cubs will be getting out of the pen:
I like charts. Charts rule.
Get him in the pitch lab with #HOTtovy and his team, and I figure that all equates to a very useful guy for the Cubs. Maybe even a closer. All in all, Fulmer's another good pick up in an offseason of good pickups.
So there you have it: eight brand new Cubs for 2023. My bet is the team will be markedly better this season, and if nothing else, incredibly fun to watch. And if we want to pump some sunshine, we might even say they could give the Cardinals a run for the division.
I'll just drink it ALL.