Even Landing Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto Wouldn’t Mean Cubs Focused Solely on 2024

As much as I enjoy sifting through all the various rumors and reports during the offseason, there comes a point when the discourse gets a little tiresome. Like when you’ve got a turkey to brine and the store was out of garlic the other day, so you’ve got to make an extra stop along with squeezing in a workout and haircut. Or when complete strangers find it appropriate to level insults rather than engage in thoughtful conversation.

Blatant negativity isn’t the norm and you’d think someone who pumps out so much public content would have a thicker skin, but that’s not always as simple as it seems. My wife and I recently watched Natural Selection, Matt Rife’s comedy special on Netflix, and his take on social media was so spot-on that I had to go back and watch it again the next day. I didn’t vibe with the whole show, but these lines reached out and grabbed me.

“Nobody who’s a good person and actually contributes anything positive to society is ever gonna go out of their way to leave a negative comment under something you have been so brave as to create and share with the rest of world. We just don’t need people like that around.”

All that said, there are plenty of really great conversations that can get deep in the weeds and even turn mildly contentious without devolving into vitriol. I was tagged in a really great conversation on Twitter that, though I didn’t take part in it, sharpened my focus on a concept I’ve been dancing around for a long time but haven’t necessarily written about directly.

It started with Craig Counsell‘s hiring, which signaled a desire to be more competitive both immediately and well into the future. The Padres made a surprise move of their own by naming Mike Shildt, but only giving him two years tells you something about how much they trust him to guide them forward. You don’t give someone a five-year guarantee unless you expect to build toward something over that whole period.

At the same time, you don’t go all special ops and fire your existing manager if you don’t believe there’s a very good chance to be much more competitive right away with the new guy. Or, and this is much more germane to the bigger overall concept here, Jed Hoyer made the difficult and necessary decision to replace David Ross with Counsell because a similar opportunity would not have been available next year.

So even though Hoyer has said the Cubs have more of a two-year offseason plan, which is something I think we’ve all pretty much been aware of, he could still make huge moves this winter. Engaging in meaningful pursuits of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto and exploring trades for Juan Soto or Pete Alonso doesn’t actually signal at all that the Cubs are pushing everything in on one season.

That’s still true even if those trades don’t include immediate extensions, which they won’t because both players are repped by Scott Boras and are going to want to test the market. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Alonso is being traded anyway. One more time, a little louder for the folks in the back: Trading for a single year of Soto is not a World Series-or-but move and it would not weaken the system in a meaningful way.

There’s a common saying when it comes to drafts that you select the best player available rather than reaching just to fill a need. Hoyer is surely looking at this offseason the same way. We’ve never seen a player like Ohtani when it comes to what he can do on the field and how much revenue he generates as a brand. Yamamoto is unlike any other Japanese pitcher we’ve seen due to his talent and youth. You go after those guys now because next winter won’t offer comparable players.

Soto presents a different situation, but the concept is still the same. You can’t just wait for him to become a free agent next year because that might not be the case at all if the team that ends up trading for him convinces him to re-sign at the end of the season. If the acquisition cost is reasonable, which his high salary and limited control dictate it will be, you go get him now.

The consensus around that cost seems to be something like a younger MLB player who’s still got several years of team control and two prospects within the top 15 or so of a team’s system, the better of which not even be top three. Maybe there’s another lower prospect depending on the other two. Would the Cubs be irreparably damaged by trading Owen Caissie, James Triantos, and Hayden Wesneski to San Diego?

You can mix and match some other guys, maybe throw in another top-40 guy, but that’s more or less what you’re looking at. There was a lot of Christopher Morel talk earlier that I don’t want to dismiss out of hand, but his inclusion lowers the prospect cost a bit. In any case, the point is that Hoyer wouldn’t have to mortgage the future, nor would he be limiting the Cubs’ competitive window.

Even making multiple huge splashes would not mean the Cubs are trying to get everything done in one offseason, as there would still be plenty of work left around the margins. Think of it like laying a home’s foundation and framing it out before getting everything else in place. It’s silly to think Hoyer can catch the Braves and Dodgers overnight just in terms of pure roster talent, though he can do enough to catch them off guard should they meet in the postseason.

Some see the idea of having one or more rental-type deals as creating a revolving door that will hurt the club in the long run, though it’s really more about flexibility. With several prospects nearing the big leagues but not quite ready, Hoyer can effectively bridge gaps in spots not already held down by long-term commitments. And with several contracts expiring after the 2024 and ’26 seasons, there will be space on both the roster and in the budget to replenish through either the farm or free agency.

So yeah, I think we can all agree that this is at least a two-year plan for the Cubs. At the same time, it’s entirely possible that the heaviest lifting will be accomplished this year.

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