The Rundown: Cubs Need to Spend to Compete, Front Office Trims Roster to 36, MLBTR Drops Top 50 FA Predictions

Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins are leaving the GM Meetings in Las Vegas with a lot of irons in the fire. They’ve talked to Scott Boras about two of the big four shortstops, checked in on some pitchers and outfielders, and started the process of freeing roster spots. As of this morning, however, the Cubs have yet to make any significant acquisitions.

If I can be frank for a moment, I’m growing weary of the fans who want to strictly build from the farm up. The Astros had 14 homegrown players on their championship team and the runner-up Phillies had nine. Houston’s system players accounted for 34.7 WAR this season, which was tops among all playoff teams. But Houston really did most of its damage in international free agency. Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, José Urquidy and Framber Valdez combined for 112 starts and 56 wins this year. José Altuve cost the Astros $15,000 when he was signed out of Venezuela in 2006.

Houston’s biggest acquisition was Justin Verlander, who arrived from the Tigers in 2017 for Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers. Verlander was technically a free agent when he signed with the Astros for two years and $50 million in March, and he has opted out of that second year.

The Phillies built their team a little differently. They made two big trades in February 2019, shipping Jorge Alfaro, Sixto Sánchez, and Will Stewart to the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto before signing Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract. A five-year, $118 million deal for Zack Wheeler that December also has paid off. Kyle Schwarber joined Philadelphia this year on a four-year deal worth $79 million. Philadelphia’s front office picked up Noah Syndergaard, Brandon Marsh, and David Robertson at this year’s trade deadline.

The Cubs have a decent farm system with a lot of good-but-not-great players and there’s a lot of hope, but no promise with any of their younger talent. The front office is banking on mostly high-floor prospects to get them in a position to strengthen the roster through trades and free agency. Putting it bluntly, Chicago won’t contend for a championship with 26 homegrown players.

Adding free agents whose careers are trending downward won’t make the team any better, either. You have to pay for upside players to add wins in bunches. Buying a 1-2 WAR player and hoping he adds 6-7 wins is folly and, suffice it to say, unintelligent spending. Hoyer knows it, and so does Scott Boras and every other player agent that made the trip to Las Vegas this week.

The Cubs finished 19 games behind the Cardinals this year, but St. Louis was actually two games better than their record indicates. Chicago’s Pythagorean record was one game worse, and they’re losing Willson Contreras and Wade Miley, and perhaps Drew Smyly and Ian Happ, too. That’s 8-10 wins, so the gap between the two teams is not as close as most fans tend to think. Matt Mervis, Brennen Davis, Ben Brown, and Hayden Wesneski won’t cover the losses of those players, let alone the 19-22 wins Chicago needs to challenge the Cardinals.

Chicago is a galaxy or two away from top-tier teams like the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, and Astros. In other words, Hoyer needs impact players.

I feel bad for the guy, but Caleb Kilian provides a lesson in counting too heavily on rookies and midseason call-ups. The 25-year-old righty was overhyped after a strong AFL performance last year. Alexander Canario is injured. Brailyn Márquez and Miguel Amaya have regressed due to injury, and Adbert Alzolay has still yet to prove himself. Relying on the kids can be a dangerous game.

The Cubs had two All-Stars this season in Contreras and Happ. Keegan Thompson was the only pitcher to reach double-digit wins. If you are strictly counting on guys like Mervis, Davis, Brown, Wesneski, Jordan Wicks, Pete Crow-Armstrong, and Kevin Alcántara, you are counting on a team built to win half its games at most. The rest of Chicago’s younger players still have much to prove.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

I’d call the offseason a success if the Cubs signed Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vázquez.

Friday Stove

The MLBPA announced that 14 players have been presented with a qualifying offer. There were no surprises, except possibly Rangers righty Martín Pérez.

The Cardinals intend to increase spending to compete with the Cubs this winter.

Actor Jon Hamm predicted that Turner will sign with St. Louis. Perhaps he has some inside dope since he narrated the shortstop’s hype video for CAA.

The Pirates and Rays agreed on a trade that will send first baseman Ji-Man Choi to Pittsburgh for pitcher Jack Hartman.

The Padres have agreed to a five-year extension with reliever Robert Suárez.

The Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw have agreed on a one-year deal to keep the southpaw in Los Angeles.

Bellinger and Marlins’ third baseman Brian Anderson head the list of potential non-tender candidates.

Corbin Burnes, Rafael Devers, and Pablo López lead the list of potential trade candidates.

Verlander might be a great fit for the Red Sox.

MLB announced its Silver Slugger Award winners on Thursday night.

Extra Innings

A big thank you to Jackie Robinson and to all US veterans past and present.

Friday Morning Six-Pack

  1. Happy Veteran’s Day. We are fortunate to live in this country because of the many people who fought and continue to fight for our freedom. By the way, Gulf War-era veterans now make up the largest share of US veterans, having surpassed Vietnam-era veterans in 2016.
  2. Bears GM Ryan Poles took AGM Ian Cunningham on a scouting trip and filmed it for Bears fans.
  3. The Packers may bench four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers “sooner than later.”
  4. Elon Musk warned some Twitter employees yesterday that bankruptcy “isn’t out of the question.”
  5. A member of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot explained what WNBA star Brittney Griner should expect in a Russian penal colony.
  6. Richie Sambora is talking with the members of Bon Jovi about a possible reunion. Sambora quit the band in 2013.

They Said It

  • “It definitely felt like the Winter Meetings. The biggest difference, obviously, is just where we are in the timeline of the offseason. It’s a lot of get-to-know-you conversations with general interest discussed versus specifics.” – Hawkins
  • “As you looked at our last offseason, I think we added the sixth-most dollars to our 2022 payroll out of all the teams, so we were really active. As our vision for the future continues to come into focus, it’s a little bit easier to think about the types of players that we want to acquire. From that standpoint, we’ve probably moved a step forward.” – Hawkins
  • “Our payroll is certainly going to go up this year, and we expect it’s going to continue to go up as we’re more competitive. I think when you look at the last couple of years, the Cardinals — they’ve been really strong. And we do have a gap that we have to close. Some of that gap can be closed by raising our payroll back to where it was.” – Hoyer
  • “It’s simply a fact that payroll and success correlate rather strongly. And as much as one might try to take lessons from the teams in the World Series — from the Astros, it’s “develop well,” and from the Phillies, it’s “get stars” — nothing novel revealed itself this October.” – Jeff Passan, ESPN

Friday Walk-Up Song

We reached a high of 79 in Milwaukee at 3 pm yesterday, and that’s a new November record.

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