Cubs Could Define MLB Offseason, Growing Expectation They Will Make at Least One Big Trade

The Cubs are listed prominently among a group of 13 teams that could define the offseason, though the same things thought to spur their aggressiveness could also be seen as reasons to temper expectations. Hiring Craig Counsell was an incredible coup that signals a desire to go all-in on the offseason, but it might instead mean they expect to win with smaller budgets like Milwaukee did. Losing Brandon Woodruff and reportedly being willing to trade everyone opens the division up for the Cubs, though an easier path won’t take as much work to follow.

Jed Hoyer has done a pretty good job of obfuscating his true intentions, which is what we’ve come to expect from him. After noting during his end-of-season press conference that the Cubs wanted to build on the momentum they’d built by spending big last winter, he cautioned against the idea of having” some crazy aggressive offseason” this time around.

Hoyer immediately followed that by saying they’re very much open to big moves if things line up the right way. So where do we expect them to go? At the risk of parsing the words of a man who has been able to veil some very big signings over the past few years, I think we’ll indeed see the Cubs be aggressive over the next several weeks. With the top of the free agent market moving sluggishly, the first domino to fall may come in the form of a trade.

“I don’t have a sense yet,” Hoyer said recently of the trade market. “My gut is it’ll be robust. These initial conversations are team needs and what you’re looking for. People might exchange some names, but the reality is you don’t see a lot of deals made on November 10. These things take some time. Feels like Thanksgiving is the kickoff where things start to heat up after that.”

Rumors abound as to who the Cubs would like to target on that front, with Pete Alonso and Juan Soto standing out as the biggest names. But the Mets seem to be intent on extending Alonso and the Padres are doing everything they can to show that they’re not owned and don’t need to move Soto even as they shrink into corncobs. There are several mitigating factors here, however, the most obvious of which is that both sluggers have just one year of contractual control remaining.

What’s more, both are represented by Scott Boras and would almost certainly not be willing to sign an extension with a new team prior to the end of next season. That mucks up the calculus a bit when it comes to what the Cubs would be willing to give up in return, especially when Soto is expected to earn more than $30 million in arbitration while Alonso should top $20 million.

The name most commonly mentioned as a trade chip/target is Christopher Morel, who served mainly as a DH but is playing third base and working on first in the Dominican Winter League. That added versatility would be great because the Cubs are expected to solidify both corner infield spots this offseason, but there could also be value in terms of upping Morel’s value to other teams.

“Some of that is based on his skill set, and some of that is based on our personnel,” Hoyer said of getting Morel work at the corners. “I think he’s a very capable second baseman, but we have a guy who’s won a Gold Glove. So that’s not the spot we’re going to put him. I think another team may be able to put him there and have him be able to do that.”

Though I may again be trying to read too much into what Hoyer is saying, the word choice in that final sentence sure seems telling. It’s entirely possible, likely even, that he’s not foreshading. But saying “may be able” really makes it sound like the Cubs are at least preparing for the possibility of dealing Morel. Given that he’s still just 24, isn’t arb-eligible until 2026, and still has five years of control remaining, such a deal would have to be a blockbuster.

As hard as it would be to part with all that potential, you have to get a little uncomfortable when it comes to shaking things up in search of a title. And as Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma wrote in The Athletic, “It is starting to feel like it will be an upset if the Cubs don’t pull off at least one big trade this winter.” Ooh, that’s fun. The two writers also made it sound as though Hoyer wouldn’t be willing to part with Morel for a rental.

Another possibility thrown out there as part of a swap is James Triantos, who just won the Arizona Fall League’s Offensive Player of the Year award and is kind of like Morel in that he doesn’t really have a positional home. Triantos has spent the most time at third base, getting nearly 1,000 innings there in the minors, and has logged nearly 600 innings at second. He’s also played shortstop, left, and center so far.

The middle infield spots are spoken for and Morel establishing himself at the hot corner would effectively block Triantos, who has a 2025 ETA. Even if we assume Morel isn’t the everyday third baseman for one reason or another, the ascension of 2023 top draft pick Matt Shaw might make Triantos as expendable as his AFL play made him coveted. The Cubs also have three outfielders among their top five prospects and won’t be able to keep all of them in the system.

Based on the way things are set up right now, it does make sense for Hoyer to pull off one big trade and perhaps another mid-level exchange or two. That latter category could involve a pitcher, either for the rotation or the bullpen. Maybe both. I think he’s also got one big free-agent signing with one or two short-term deals to bridge the roster into 2025, when more prospects will be ready.

No matter how the details actually end up working out, I’m confident this will be a very active winter for Hoyer and the Cubs.

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