Do Cubs Have Plan B or Just Planning on D?

The Cubs are considered to be among the favorites to land Dansby Swanson, who reportedly “has offers in hand,” but we’ve already seen several of their other targets choose to go elsewhere. That’s not just about money, either. While Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa inked deals Jed Hoyer never would have considered making, Jesse Rogers told ESPN 1000’s Waddle & Silvy the Cubs made catcher Christian Vázquez the same three-year, $30 million offer he got from the Twins.

Though Rogers dismissed it as relatively insignificant, it’s very notable that the Cubs reportedly wanted to include a club option for a fourth year. That’s actually pretty important because it could have prevented Vázquez from hitting the market after three years and likely would have reduced his annual income over the guaranteed period of the contract.

Let’s say the Cubs’ offer included an $8 million club option with a $3 million buyout. Though that’s certainly not a bad deal, the reduced flexibility may have been enough to push Vázquez to choose the Twins instead. It’s also possible he saw a clearer path to competitiveness in Minnesota, or that he fell in with the rest of us in terms of not having a clue about what Chicago’s plan is at this point.

That lack of clarity should come as no surprise to Cubs fans because Jed Hoyer always plays things very close to the vest. What makes this offseason so different, however, is the series of mixed messages coming from the organization. They have money to spend yet they’re being outbid. They badly need to improve the offense, so they let Willson Contreras walk and have failed to add anyone other than Cody Bellinger and some fringe utility players.

Now it’s looking like Swanson or bust, with bust holding not-insignificant odds. Who should bear the blame for the failure to make necessary improvements to the roster this winter?

“I think it’s Jed, for sure,” Rogers said. “I think it’s Jed.”

Unless, of course, the Cubs aren’t actually failing at all. As difficult as it is to rationalize less than two weeks after talk of potentially adding two of the top shortstops, I’m beginning to wonder whether that pursuit was purely a matter of opportunism. The Cubs never really needed a shortstop, it just so happened that several of the best available players manned that position.

So is it possible that even after openly admitting their offense desperately needed to be upgraded, Hoyer surveyed the landscape and knew he wasn’t willing to pay the going rates to make it happen? Maybe that wasn’t the case at the start of free agency, but it quickly became evident that players were getting much more than anyone initially projected.

Whether it’s a matter of premeditation or improvisation, it seems as though the Cubs are pivoting to a strategy that emphasizes pitching and defense in an effort to extract as much value as possible. Hoyer quipped to Rogers back at one of the recent MLB summits that the Rays manage to win without stars, so it was mildly interesting to see Buster Olney tweet that the Cubs seemed to be following a similar model.

That certainly doesn’t preclude them from signing Swanson to a deal that may well exceed $200 million, roughly twice what he turned down from the Braves prior to the end of the season. What would have looked like a massive overpay even two weeks ago now feels a little more reasonable, plus it would give the Cubs much-improved defense up the middle when you add in Bellinger.

As Sahadev Sharma noted in a recent mailbag segment, the Cubs may not be at all desperate for Swanson because they’re entirely content with Nico Hoerner at short. That flies in the face of the defense-first strategy because none of their available second basemen can match Hoerner’s prowess with the glove, although Swanson doesn’t represent enough of an offensive upgrade to break the bank for.

Then again, Swanson going elsewhere — like *gulp* the Cardinals — would mean falling back on aging veterans in a way that would make Hoyer look like the casting director for an Expendables movie. Some combination of Trey Mancini (31), Elvis Andrus (34), J.D. Martinez (35), and Justin Turner (38) could be in the works even if Swanson joins the fold. While it’s not the spriest group out there, none of those guys will command a long-term deal.

As for the pitching side of things, well, the Cubs almost certainly aren’t adding Carlos Rodón at what is sure to be a steep price for seven years or so. Jameson Taillon was a solid get, albeit one with a pretty limited ceiling. GM Carter Hawkins was brought in to oversee the farm system, specifically pitching development, and a draft that featured nearly all pitchers showed how serious the Cubs are about making that a hallmark of the organization.

One would think they’d then be very intentional about spending on offense, basically the opposite of the path that led them to the 2016 World Series, but that clearly isn’t in the works just yet. You see how there’s really nothing definitive popping out here? You can only follow any one line of reasoning so far before it either veers in a different direction or disappears completely. All we can do at this point is hope the front office really does have a plan and that the next steps taken will illuminate at least a little bit of it for the rest of us.

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