The Rundown: Cubs Counting on Defense, Happ Extension Benchmark Similar to Castellanos, Red Sox Fishing for Pitching in Miami

My family has an annual poker night during the holidays, and I’m never fond of a certain relative who tends to bet lightly before the flop. It’s more frustrating than the guy who constantly checks with the high hand or the know-it-all who lords over every topic of conversation at the table. You’d like to tell him how wrong he is and school him like you’re Will S. Hunting in a Haaahvahd baaah, but you’re better off just letting him spout off, taking all his chips, and then hearing the rest of the group sigh in relief as you just got rid of the table blowhard.

Cubs fans recognize that Jed Hoyer is a master of playing coy just ahead of the river turn. He’s built a team with an ironclad up-the-middle defense that also has some offensive potential. Of course, he needs a lot of things to go right, but the president of baseball operations has been almost deliberate in assembling his 2023 roster. Chicago will win a lot more 3-2 games than 15-10 barnburners, but they’ll lose plenty of close contests, too. They have little hope for separation unless…

I won’t get into the pitching staff in this post, but a legitimate closer will turn a lot of those one-run losses into victories.

Unless Hoyer trades for a new third baseman, Wisdom is key. I’d like to see him stop trading power for contact because he helps the team much more if he hits 40+ bombs, even if it means more strikeouts. I don’t have a lot of faith in Christopher Morel as the Plan B starter at the hot corner, though Jake Slaughter is an intriguing option.

Suzuki is also someone to keep an eye on. He needs to stay healthy and hit 25-28 home runs in 2023. I suppose you could say the same about Bellinger and Swanson, but it seems to me the sophomore season is key for most Japanese imports. Moving to the U.S. and getting to know MLB pitchers is a big adjustment, and any type of regression could label Suzuki a bust. I’m confident he’ll have a big season, he just has to remain injury-free.

Hoerner and Swanson seem like safe bets to me, if only because both middle infielders have similar trajectories. Each has improved every season over the course of his career and both are baseball rats who continually work to improve. Cubs fans are going to love the next 5-6 years of that double-play combination as long as Hoyer can extend Hoerner.

I’ve not mentioned Eric Hosmer and Ian Happ yet because I am bordering on a charge of excessive alliteration, but I think Happ has reached a point of offensive predictability, much like Anthony Rizzo did from 2015-19. We can confidently count on 45-55 XBH and 70 RBI from the switch-hitting outfielder, along with solid-to-stellar defense. Hosmer is a lottery ticket who will give Chicago slightly above-average offensive production and he won’t hurt the team defensively.

The 2023 Cubs will pay pristine defense and, as long as their pitching continues to be among the best in the NL Central, they will have a chance to beat anybody. If their offense surprises, this summer is going to feel an awful lot like 2015. I don’t think the team is there yet, however, and I don’t see a similar 26-win improvement over the previous season. The Cubs just aren’t a 100-win team as currently constructed. But hey, the Phillies made the playoffs last season with 87 wins. If everything goes right and they make a decent addition or two at the trade deadline, these Cubs could be right there.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Bob Feller was the first MLB player to throw an Opening Day no-no and the first to enlist in the military after Pearl Harbor.

Friday Stove

Rafael Devers has agreed to a monstrous 11-year, $332 million contract extension with the Red Sox.

Carlos Correa and his agent Scott Boras have engaged at least one team other than the Mets during his current negotiations with New York.

FanGraphs’ Steamer projects that Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez will hit 32 home runs with 25 stolen bases, making him one of four players projected for a 25-25 season along with Ronald Acuña Jr., Bobby Witt Jr., and Jazz Chisholm Jr.

The Red Sox are working on a potential trade with the Marlins, with infielder Miguel Rojas and pitcher Pablo López specifically mentioned as players of interest. Miami is reportedly targeting top prospect Triston Casas.

The White Sox may be forced to trade closer Liam Hendriks to fill their hole at second base. Nick Madrigal would look really nice back in those Pale Hose duds.

The Yankees are looking for an upgrade in left field even after signing Rafael Ortega to a minor league deal.

The Brewers signed ex-Cub starter Wade Miley and the market for Johnny Cueto is starting to heat up.

Extra Innings

Which guy doesn’t look like a baseball player? By the way, you can’t choose Rick Sutcliffe or Mark Grace. I’ll give you one more clue.

Friday Morning Six-Pack

  1. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of Schoolhouse Rock!
  2. The Bears play their final game of the season on Sunday, and depending on how things shake out, they could end up drafting anywhere from first to fourth. I’d bet on Chicago getting the No. 1 pick, especially since Justin Fields will not play.
  3. Devin Hester is among the 15 finalists for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.
  4. I love that there is a weather event called the Pineapple Express, mostly because I love the movie by the same name. Folks who live on the upper West coast probably aren’t as amused.
  5. Some partake in an annual event called “Dry January” which means that non-alcoholic beer is having its moment.
  6. It looks like 2023 will be the year of the Hollywood blockbuster spinoff...again. I’d be ashamed to look in the mirror if I wrote scripts.

They Said It

  • “I’ve been around long enough to see and to realize you don’t make certain moves unless the eye is to start trending towards winning. I don’t think you go out and sign Dansby Swanson or go after a guy like Cody Bellinger if you’re trying to continue a rebuild or you’re getting ready to tear it down to the studs. I just don’t think that’s the case.”Tucker Barnhart

Friday Walk-Up Song

Darn! That’s the end…

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