The Rundown: Cubs Coup Could Corner Shortstop Market, Ricketts ‘Mandates’ Big Spending, MLB Holds Draft Lottery Tonight

“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”Rogers Hornsby

“There are only two seasons: winter and baseball.” – Bill Veeck, Jr.

Players didn’t change teams very often when Mr. Hornsby played the game, but, with apologies to Mr. Veeck, we now live in a time where baseball is a 12-month-per-year endeavor. The regular season lasts 26 weeks, the playoffs another six, and you have 15 weeks of roster construction. And then, yes, Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues commence.

We don’t know if the Cubs will make a big splash with two days of Winter Meetings remaining, but they’re certainly on the periphery of a number of earth-shattering rumors. Just when you think Jed Hoyer is busy sifting through the irregulars section for bargains such as Matt Carpenter and Corey Kluber, a report dropped that the president of baseball operations could leave San Diego attached to both Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson.

Even though it sounds as mad as a March hare, it may not be all that crazy. If the Cubs land two of the four shortstops of the apocalypse, we should give Trea Turner a standing ovation the first time the Phillies come to Wrigley Field. His 11-year, $300 million deal established a much higher market floor for Carlos Correa. Why shell out, I don’t know, $350-375 million for one premium shortstop when you can get two for the same price?

It’s not as simple as that, but it’s certainly worth pursuing. Given the financial parameters of the current shopping season, signing both middle infield stalwarts would actually qualify as intelligent spending. The alleged coup has Cubs fans all over the emotional stratosphere, and rightly so. An infield of Bogaerts, Swanson, Nico Hoerner, and Matt Mervis is a huge improvement over Patrick Wisdom, Hoerner, Nick Madrigal, and Frank Schwindel. If Hoerner and Ian Happ agree to extensions, that’s a helluva nucleus to complement Chicago’s incoming farmhands.

Hoyer may have revealed his tell during the GM Meetings in November when he spoke about the flexibility that comes with adding shortstops to the organization.

“I look at the shortstop situation kind of the way you look at the draft,” the executive said at the time. “If you drafted a shortstop every year you’d be in good shape. The best defenders usually play shortstop, the best athletes often play shortstop, and those are guys you can move around.”

Shift limitations will favor the more athletic teams, and besides, Correa may no longer be an option.

Additionally, the cost to acquire pitchers is bordering on the absurd. Matthew Boyd got $10 million and he pitched just over 13 innings in 2022. Chris Bassitt and Jameson Taillon could earn contracts that exceed what Chicago gave to Marcus Stroman last year. The Cubs are deep in starting pitching, though they lack an ace. That said, acquiring two premium middle infielders sets the wheels in motion to possibly trade for someone to lead their rotation. Shane Bieber, Pablo López, or Blake Snell would look damn good in Cubs’ digs. I’d love Tyler Glasnow, too, but he’s not available.

The redundancy that comes with signing two premium shortstops opens up so many doors for Hoyer and his front office entourage. I don’t put a lot of stock in the rumor, but the buzz is slightly reverberating through the halls and gift shops of the San Diego Marriott Marquis. Besides, it sure beats writing about Carpenter and Kluber.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Hoyer basically said he has a lot of irons in the fire. Whether a connection occurs or not is anybody’s guess.
  • He also said that his front office will stick to its original plan despite an aggressive free agent market. “You always have to run your own race. I learned pretty early on, you can’t react to what’s happening. You have to make the right decisions. We all prepare for a bunch of different possibilities all the time, so you try not to be surprised, but certainly, it’s been active so far.”
  • Despite the apparent push to sign a shortstop (or two), Hoyer will continue to cast a wide net because the Cubs have a number of holes to fill.
  • The Cubs were listed as one of the teams that could be in the running to sign Taillon.
  • You can add Chicago to the list of teams who are in pursuit of Athletics catcher Sean Murphy, according to Jon Morosi.
  • David Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago reported late Monday night that Tom Ricketts issued a mandate to Hoyer to go big this winter to turn the team around — that he has the “green light” from the family to spend what he needs for the players he wants. The key word is “mandate,” which I suppose means that Hoyer has as close to full access to all available funds as he ever will.
  • Cubs Convention is five weeks away and it should be crazy given this week’s sudden paradigm shift. I can’t go because my work Christmas Party is on the same weekend. Now I’m kind of sad I have to miss what should be the feel-good event of the winter.
  • The Cubs met with Correa this week and sat down with Bogaerts prior to this week’s meetings.
  • Correa may still be Chicago’s top choice, followed by Swanson and Bogaerts or both.
  • Turner’s signing should be Hoyers’ primary reason to strike big in San Diego.
  • Cubs fans should feel a bit slighted that the Phillies are going all in with Turner to fortify a pennant-winning core. It slaps a little harder because Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos now play for the Phillies, as does Bryce Harper, who actually wanted to come to Chicago.
  • Happ promised baseball fans in England an “exciting series full of action” when the Cubs meet the Cardinals in London next summer.
  • Astros manager Dusty Baker said he hopes his front office will sign catcher Willson Contreras.
  • Baker said he nixed a Contreras deal at the deadline because he didn’t want his pitchers to have to adjust to a new catcher in the middle of a pennant run.
  • The Cubs need a versatile centerfielder who doesn’t require a long-term commitment. Our own Evan Altman believes Diamondbacks outfielder Daulton Varsho could be that guy.
  • Schwindel looks like he is headed to Japan to play for the Orix Buffaloes.
  • Are the Cubs still connected to Koudai Senga? I haven’t heard his name mentioned as a potential target in almost a week.
  • The league will conduct its inaugural Draft Lottery Tuesday night, and the Cubs have a 1.1% chance of securing the top pick. If luck is on their side, they’ll be able to choose among next year’s top 10 draft prospects. Picks 1-6 are determined by a weighted lottery drawing of non-playoff teams. The lowest the Cubs could choose is No. 12.

Odds & Sods

I’d love to see Liam Hendriks on that Red Line Express to Lake View. He’s owed $14 million in 2023 with a $15 million option for ’24. I hope Hoyer is one of the executives that asked Rick Hahn about his all-star closer.

Tuesday Stove

The Mets and Justin Verlander agreed to a two-year $86.66 million contract that comes with a vesting third-year option.

If the Yankees miss out on Aaron Judge and want to make a big splash in the free-agent starting pitcher market, Carlos Rodón is the only option left.

The Padres reportedly made a higher offer to Turner, but he turned it down because he preferred to play on the East Coast.

Lefty starter Andrew Heaney has a couple of three-year offers in hand but is seeking a four-year deal.

The Angels, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are among the teams interested in Senga.

Hahn said the White Sox are more likely to add via trade than free agency this offseason.

The Red Sox are making a push to sign reliever Tommy Kahnle.

The Orioles have reached an agreement with starter Kyle Gibson on a one-year deal.

The Angels inked reliever Carlos Estévez to a two-year contract worth $13.5 million.

The Yankees have extended the contract of GM Brian Cashman.

Former Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello has officially announced his retirement.

Baseball America named Brandon Hyde its MLB Manager of the Year.

The Onion hits the nail on the head with their “coverage” of this year’s Winter Meetings.

The Ken Rosenthal Files

More good stuff from Rosenthal’s “What I’m Hearing…” ($) column in The Athletic.

The Phillies considered Bogaerts as a viable alternative to Turner.

The market for free-agent catcher Christian Vázquez now includes the Cubs, Cardinals, Padres, Guardians, and Twins. The Astros also have an interest in retaining Vázquez but in more of a job share with Martín Maldonado.

Speaking of Houston, their front office is looking at three left-handed hitting outfielders — Andrew Benintendi, Michael Brantley, and Michael Conforto.

The Angels want to upgrade at shortstop and remain in a position to spend, but their immediate focus is a back-end reliever.

Extra Innings

This will bother old-schoolers but I love everything about the aggressive approach by Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies. Not for nothing, it’s also a tremendous tell regarding the massive revenue streams that come with team ownership.

I’ve stopped thinking about baseball players as athletic commodities. They are more like brands or franchisees of a much larger, highly profitable parent enterprise.

Tuesday Morning Six-Pack

  1. Hundreds of Yeti coolers are washing up on beaches from Alaska to Hawaii, thanks to overboard shipping containers. “You’ll be getting reports of people finding Yetis for the next 30 years,” said oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer.
  2. The Flintstones went off the air in 1966, yet the Bedrock family and their neighbors the Rubbles remain marketing fixtures to this day.
  3. At least Fred and Barney are no longer selling Winston cigarettes as borderline misogynists.
  4. George Jetson was allegedly born in 2022, so that means we are less than 40 years from robot housekeepers and hovercraft traffic jams.
  5. Michael Shannon is a terrific actor, and I’m going to start watching the six-episode miniseries “George & Tammy” this weekend. Shannon and co-star Jessica Chastain did their own singing while portraying George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
  6. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an NFL scorigami!

They Said It

  • “I mean, certainly we have a lot of offers out there and we’ll continue to make offers. Whether things come to fruition or not, you never really quite know, but it won’t be from a lack of putting offers out there. You can try, but you never know…getting deals done is complicated.” – Hoyer
  • “I think you always have to kind of run your own race. I think I learned pretty early on you can’t react to what’s happening. You have to make the right decisions. I think we all prepare for a bunch of different possibilities all the time and so, yeah, you try not to be surprised.” – Hoyer

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

This is a sample of my go-to background music when I’m writing my column at 1:30 AM.

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