This winter is going to be a pivotal time for the Jarter regime and the team's ability to compete in 2023 and beyond. We keep hearing about "intelligent spending," and let me tell you: the Cubs have money to spend. Even with paying Jason Heyward to "pursue other opportunities," Spotrac projects the Cubs post-arbitration payroll to clock in around a measly $140 million. That gives the Cubs brain trust plenty of dollars to play with, and I'm here to tell them just how to spend it.
Extend the Incumbents
There are three guys on the current squad who I'd work on extending right away. First up is Nico Hoerner. If you believe in his glove (I do) and think his bat will stay above average (ditto), then you also think he's a guy you want anchoring your middle infield for years to come, possibly with an elite bat on the other side (we'll get to that in a bit). The Mariners signed J.P. Crawford to a 5-year/$51 million extension at the start of the 2022 season at about a year older, and he was worth half the fWAR of Hoerner this season. Personally, I think Nico's worth more, and I'd go as long as 7/$91 million.
Next, let's take care of left field. "But Staci," you say, "the Cubs have so many outfielders in the system!" I KNOW.
Thing is, Ian Happ is a valuable ballplayer. He finally figured out how to hit for more contact, even though he sacrificed some power, and he's up for a Gold Glove! He might even win it! A good comp here is probably A.J. Pollock, who signed a 5 yr./$60 million deal with the Dodgers going into his age 31 season. Pollock had more power, Happ is a bit younger and a better defender, it's probably a wash. So let's go with that same offer for Ian. And if you're not into America's Ass? Don't worry--just like the Dodgers with Pollock, Happ could easily be traded if his value stays high and the Cubs need the spot for one of their young guys. Besides, recent injuries to Alexander Canario and all that "general soreness" Brennen Davis was having in the AFL means the Cubs may not want to part with Happ after all.
Finally, sitting down with Drew Smyly to work out a deal for a few more years should be at the top of the Cubs' to-do list. Smyly had an objectively good season in 2022 and a terrific second half with a 2.83 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. You can't expect a ton of innings out of him, but if you can get an effective lefty who can potentially act as a swing man? You do it. 2/$14 million. Let's roll.
Throw Some Money Around
This is the fun part: Spending #CheapRicketts' money! My first call is to Trea Turner's agent to ask what he wants, for how long, and where I can send the Cubs-colored sliding mitts and other various and sundry. Turner is, far and away, my top pick for that Cubs big middle infield bat. I get that he's gonna cost a comp pick, and I frankly don't give a rip. He's been worth almost equal fWAR to Carlos Correa in the same number of years, consistently hits for average AND power, and can do this:
I also can't endorse Correa because I'm still salty about the cheating and because he says dooshy things like this:
Does Dior sell trash cans?
Then I'm gonna finally make Verlander to the Cubs a real thing. No, really! As much as I love me some Jacob deGrom, that guy is made of paper. He just can't stay on the mound, and I want the Cubs to compete! Verlander is going to win the AL Cy Young award this year at age 95 after missing an entire season with Tommy John surgery, and that's a dude I want on my team. Plus, he'll probably take a short, expensive deal. Say, 3 yrs./$130M? Yeah, let's go there. And while I acknowledge his little World Series problems, I don't think it's anything #HOTtovy can't fix. He'll be even more willing to sign such a deal if the Astros bang out another World series win. A rotation of Verlander, Stroman, Steele, and Hendricks with Wesneski and maybe Smyly waiting RIGHT THERE as a fifth and sixth option? Looks pretty great to me. Plus, all the best teams have lots of pitching. Let's have lots of pitching!
Now, I want to get Mash Mervis some looks at first base, but I'm also not sure he's gonna stick in MLB. How do we address this? I know Jose Abreu is the popular option, but I might be more inclined to go after Brandon Belt. Belt had a rough 2022 that was plagued by injury, but he's still a career 123 OPS+ hitter, and if he's spending some time at the DH spot, that could help keep him off the IL. Plus, the Cubs need lefty bats and some slug, and Belt gives us both of those. Belt signed a one-year deal for 2022 with SF for just north of $18 million, so I'd offer him 2 years/$30 million to try and bounce back so Mash can get some looks.
Finally, the Cubs need to address center field, especially with the injuries to Canario and (possibly) Davis. Morel can keep playing there, but I see him more as a guy moving around the infield to platoon with Wisdom at 3B and to give Turner and Hoerner a break up the middle periodically. Eventually, we'll (hopefully) see Pete Crow-Armstrong take this spot, but until then, there just might be an intriguing, slightly stoned, 27-year-old stop-gap getting kicked out of L.A. this winter.
IF the Dodgers non-tender Cody Bellinger, it'll be because he's been objectively awful at the plate over the last two seasons and just hasn't been able to pull it together. Bellinger is still arbitration-eligible, which means the Dodgers won't lose a thing if they just move on. It also means that he could be your classic "change of scenery" candidate who would benefit from some new coaches and voices helping him get back on track. He also still rates as a plus defender in CF and can play 1B in a pinch if you need him to. Bellinger is a former NL MVP, a potentially potent lefty bat, and I just can't shake the feeling that there's still something in there. Give him a 1 year, $15 million prove-it deal, and let's see what he's got.
There is one trade that if at all possible, I'm emptying the farm to pull off if I have to. No one is safe except maybe Nico, and even then, I'd listen. The unicorn trade in question? The slight chance the Angels make Shohei Ohtani available.
Now, before you start yelling about him going to the Yankees or Mets in free agency and how it'd be crazy to spend prospect capital on him for one year, hear me out. First, Ohtani is effectively two elite players in one: an ace starter (2.33 ERA, 2.40 FIP, 1.01 WHIP in 2022) and a complete hitter (145 OPS+, .273 BA, .875 OPS in 2022) with a lefty bat. He's any team's absolute dream player. Second, any team would have reason to believe that he would only consider the same teams in free agency that he initially considered when he came to the United States in 2018. You know who wasn't on that list? Any team from New York. You know who was?
The final list included the Angels, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres, and Rangers. Looking at that line-up, I'm thinking the Cubs are uniquely positioned to not only put together a package to acquire Ohtani but then to back up the Brinks truck and offer him whatever he wants to keep him around for many years to come... especially if the Giants are more concerned about signing and paying Aaron Judge. It'd be Ohtani or bust for me if he's made available.
So there you have it: exactly what the Cubs off-season would look like if I could burrow into Jarter's brain and make them do what I want. Yes, this would put them over the Competitive Balance Tax by around $23 million for the first year while Heyward is on the books (if my fuzzy math is right, considering arbitration, buying out Happ and Hoerner, etc.), but that Turner/Happ/Suzuki/Ohtani/Wisdom/Belt(Mervis)/Hoerner/Bellinger/Morel line-up is gonna MASH while the kids get ready on the farm, is all I'm saying.