What’s next for the Chicago Cubs?
The Chicago Cubs stunned the baseball world on November 6 when they announced they had hired Craig Counsell as their new manager on a five-year $40 million deal. The move came out of nowhere as no one expected the Cubs to lure Counsell away from a division rival simply because they already had a manager in David Ross. They finished the 2023 season with a 83-79 record and ultimately played themselves out of the playoffs with a bad stretch near the end of the regular season, paving the way for the Arizona Diamondbacks to earn the final Wild Card spot. Yet, the Cubs are back on the rise after their fire sale in 2021 and are looking to take the next step forward, but there is a lot of work to do heading into 2024.
Re-sign Cody Bellinger
When the Cubs signed Cody Bellinger to a one-year deal with an option for a second prior to 2024, no one could have expected Bellinger to have the bounce-back season that he did. He returned to his 2019 MVP form by batting .307./356/.525 with 26 home runs and 97 RBI in 130 games. He spent a majority of the season in center field but eventually saw more time at first base as the Cubs called up prospects to play the outfield. He showcases elite defense at either position and if the Cubs want to continue their upward trend, retaining Bellinger on a significant multi-year deal to lead the charge is paramount. They already extended a qualifying offer worth $20 million to ensure they at least receive a compensatory pick, but one of the goals for Jed Hoyer will be to bring him back.
Fortify the Starting Rotation
Every team needs starting pitching and the Cubs are no different. Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks had strong years for the Cubs while Marcus Stroman had a great first half but fell off in the second half and dealt with injuries. Drew Smyly and Jameson Taillon both had mixed years but nothing that can’t be improved upon. There was a myriad of other pitchers through the years but the rotation will have to be an area of focus. The team already picked up Hendricks’s option while Smyly exercised his player option for 2024, leaving room for one or two spots in the rotation after Stroman opted out of his contract. While the team could look at bringing Stroman back, it may be wiser to look to the open market for other names.
The team could spend big to pursue Blake Snell or Aaron Nola or opt for more cost-effective yet solid pitchers like when they signed Taillon. There are prospects like Jordan Wicks in the running for a rotation spot, but fortifying the starting pitching has to be a priority for the Cubs heading into 2024. There is also the outside chance they enter the sweepstakes for Shohei Ohtani or Yoshinobu Yamamoto, even if Ohtani won’t be able to pitch until 2025 or later.
Lengthen the Lineup
Whether or not the team is able to bring back Bellinger, the fact remains that the lineup could still use some work. The team saw a further influx of young talent and prospects into the lineup which is promising, but there are still holes in the lineup that could use an upgrade. The corner infield positions should remain the main area of focus. Nick Madgridal saw the majority of playing time at third along with Patrick Wisdom. Madrigal doesn’t provide much inspiration by way of offense while Wisdom is all pop and not much else with the bat. The team acquired Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline but injuries hindered him and he wasn’t that good after the trade. Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini saw time at first base but didn’t do enough offensively to justify their inclusion on the roster, hence Bellinger’s time at the position. Both corner infield positions feature plenty of opportunities to upgrade on the free-agent market or via trade. It would also be the best option to try and replace Bellinger’s production should he sign elsewhere.
Like any team, it takes more than a 26 or 40-man roster to navigate a full season of baseball and the postseason. Like any team, the Cubs have to make sure they have depth to last throughout the year. A problem for the team in their 2023 results was a lack of quality depth in the wake of injuries or underperformance. Some players saw more playing time simply out of necessity rather than anything else. Every team needs pitching, so a focus on quality depth pieces in the rotation and the bullpen can alleviate some of the damage that is bound to afflict those areas of the team. The Cubs have assessed numerous prospects and now have to choose who will become mere depth and bench pieces and who will be key contributors. The organization’s system is growing and they are in the process of weeding through players, which will hopefully help the roster as a whole in 2024.
The National League Central is up for grabs and the Cubs are in a position to make their way back to the top. Acquiring Counsell was a significant first step and precursor to what the Cubs could do this offseason and get back to being one of the best teams in the league.