CHICAGO – The uncertainty of what the next Major League Baseball collective agreement will leave organizations at a standstill as the 2021 regular season draws to a close.
For non-playoff teams like the Chicago Cubs, whose sights will soon turn completely to offseason mode, efforts to strategize for the coming months are in limbo. Without knowing all the parameters of the ABC – the current deal is due to expire on December 1 – he inherently welcomes a wait-and-see approach on how to put together a list for 2022 and beyond.
Cubs’ player payroll next season currently includes around $ 38.5 million in guaranteed contracts for three players – Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks and David Bote – while two more – Willson Contreras and Ian Happ – are able to receive increases in arbitration of the $ 6.65 million and $ 4.1 million they earn, respectively, this year.
The financial flexibility should leave plenty of room for the Cubs to take significant steps to improve the roster and complement the players who have emerged since the trade deadline. Baseball operations president Jed Hoyer acknowledged that the new CBA will have a significant impact on the decision-making of the 30 teams.
As for the Cubs’ strategy for improving a fourth-place team, Hoyer said a general approach ahead of Friday’s series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“We plan to be really active in free agency,” Hoyer said. “We plan to spend money wisely – I think that’s probably the easiest way to put it. Obviously, we are heavily monitoring this market. We will analyze this market in depth. There are some offseason where free agency is something you do a bit, and obviously this year we’re probably going to be a bit more active than usual filling our roster as we have a lot more spots available.
“We want to do it in a thoughtful and intelligent way. “
The tee shot is an obvious area for the Cubs to improve. Rookie pitchers Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson are factoring in next year’s plans, but how Hoyer and the organization view their rotation adjustments could affect the direction they take during the offseason.
As with positional players, Hoyer said free agency and the commercial market will help determine what the rotation ultimately looks like. The trio’s starting potential coincides with some difficulties as each has thrived in using multiple innings out of the box, including Alzolay, who moved to the box in early September to better manage his workload. The 26-year-old right-hander has a 1.98 ERA with 16 strikeouts and zero walks in 13 2/3 relief innings this month.
“Have they proven themselves enough to know that they will be part of next year’s squad?” Yes, ”Hoyer said. “In what role exactly? I think that’s what we need to determine.
The only certainty of rotation is Hendricks, who Hoyer described as being “metronomical with his performance” during his eight years with the Cubs. Of course, this is outside of his worst 2021 season of his career. Hoyer did not identify a specific reason for Hendricks’ recent struggles and the overall roller coaster season. However, Hoyer believes that Hendricks, who is throwing a non-competitor for the first time, has a lot to do with it. Hendricks is tied for the ninth most innings pitched (176) in the majors, nearly 100 more than he pitched last season with a start to go.
“You look around baseball right now and I think there’s a bunch of starting pitchers starting to hang around, and I think that’s understandable,” Hoyer said. “It’s something to watch and think about. But when it comes to Kyle Hendricks, that last stretch obviously hasn’t been the best. But look at the whole work. Its consistency is a bit off the charts.
One of the Cubs’ biggest challenges is to properly assess the position of players who have unexpectedly shone, a group highlighted by third baseman and new franchise home run record holder Patrick Wisdom, first baseman Frank Schwindel and outfielder Rafael Ortega. As they would with any player, the Cubs will try to “disentangle the noise of small samples” and assess performance at a granular level. Hoyer credited the players who took their opportunities, proving something to the Cubs and the league that they can play in the big leagues if given the chance.
The harsh reality is that age makes it difficult for the Cubs to plan and make decisions about their breakout hitters. Ortega turned 30 in May while Wisdom reached her milestone birthday in August; Schwindel will join the 30-year-old club in June. Hoyer left open the question of how the Cubs envisioned Wisdom and Schwindel, in particular, fitting into their plans. At the very least, Hoyer confirmed that they got into the conversation of being regulars.
“I’m not going to say how we feel or talk about our offseason, but they played exceptionally well,” Hoyer said. “At this point they’ve been doing it for a while and not just that, they’ve been really good teammates, and I feel like they played really hard. So we will assess that this winter. I’m not going to declare anything at this point, that’s not what I would. But it was fun to watch and I’m proud of them.
The most likely scenario involves Wisdom and Schwindel being used in the platoons. The San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Rays are ideal examples in recent years of success using this formula. The Cubs could look to use squads in the first, third and with at least one outfield spot, perhaps specifically with Ortega or a mixed approach with the three spots depending on the role of Heyward and Happ.
Over the past seven seasons, the Cubs have primarily employed everyday players in most positions. A platoon configuration presents another avenue.
“There’s more than one way to build a team and fill a position,” Hoyer said. “You can get meaningful performance if you have the right torque and the guys actually do it, and that also gives you a deeper bench if you have two good players, say, third or first. You can do it.
“I don’t know in which direction we’re going to go, but it certainly opens up things that we haven’t really looked at really carefully in the past because it could have been like one or two positions, but we had other players every day. places.
While the focus will soon be on the offseason, the organization has an important decision to make before free agency. The plan was, at one point, to fill Hoyer’s old role and find a new GM since his promotion in late November to replace Theo Epstein as head of the team’s baseball operations. The Cubs are in the early stages of interviewing GM candidates, who are all outside the organization. A general manager would ideally be hired when the off-season picks up.