The Rundown: Cubs Could Be Better Without Ohtani, Time to Target Bellinger, Dodgers Chasing Yamamoto & Hader

The Shohei Ohtani deal certainly shocked all of baseball and seems to have turned the game’s greatest player into its greatest villain, but life does and must continue. The Cubs and 28 other teams never really had a chance, though in the spirit of “one on the hook and one on the line,” Blue Jays fans have the right to feel as burnt as an Arkansas griddlecake. Apologies to Terry Bradshaw for the metaphor.

Jed Hoyer has some work to do, and Cubs fans can only hope he has been planning for this contingency all along. Looking back at our checklist, Mr. Hoyer has obvious needs at first and third base, center field, and in his bullpen and rotation. Is it just me or does that feel like a broken record that the president of baseball operations tries to play every offseason?

Defensively slick centerfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong answers one of the questions, and please don’t counter with his lack of accumulating statistics — other than strikeouts — in 19 plate appearances. He’s started slow at every level, always comes around, and is a bona fide Rookie of the Year candidate. Christopher Morel is already a favorite of new manager Craig Counsell and will see everyday at-bats despite his 36% strikeout rate. He’ll play several positions because Counsell views Morel as something other than a designated hitter.

Like most managers, Counsell utilizes the DH slot as a rotational repository to give his everyday players a break from their daily duties. That makes Morel the type of super utility player the front office envisioned despite efforts to the contrary by David Ross, who wondered aloud last year if the slugging infielder/outfielder could find at-bats among the likes of Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, Edwin Ríos, Miles Mastrobuoni, Nick Madrigal, and Luis Torrens. Before you rip into Ross, remember the front office had a similar mindset at the time.

Crow-Armstrong and Morel can’t replace Cody Bellinger at the plate, however, so, just like every winter, Hoyer needs left-handed power. Re-signing Bellinger should be Plan A, and if the Cubs can do that, I’d advocate a trade that sends PCA and others to the Guardians for Shane Bieber, Josh Naylor, and stud reliever Emmanuel Clase. Call me crazy if you like, but Hoyer can’t meet Bellinger’s contract expectations and then saddle him at first base. The Cubs have plenty of good-to-great minor league outfield options, and though moving Crow-Armstrong might remind old-timers of the Lou BrockErnie Broglio trade, the ROY candidate is as intriguing to me as a trade chip as he is a player.

Acquiring Naylor could be the underrated move of the winter. He’s yet to reach the potential of his 70-grade raw power and can steal a base or two despite his oversized frame. The big first baseman struggled for the first two months last year but hit .347 with three home runs and 16 RBI with just nine strikeouts against left-handers after June 1. Naylor has excellent contact skills even if the power doesn’t fully manifest, and as recent statistics indicate, he’s no longer a same-side liability in the box.

That would leave Hoyer a third baseman, one starter, and an additional bullpen piece shy of completing his roster. I’d love it if the Cubs could find a way to acquire Tyler Glasnow, especially if Keegan Thompson and/or Hayden Wesneski are the bait, but I believe Cade Horton could be just as successful as Glasnow. Ben Brown would make a great addition to the bullpen with an eye on starting in 2025. Then sign Matt Chapman. I agree with our EIC that the free-agent third baseman could be a lot more productive than most expect.

Losing out on Ohtani sucks and his seemingly shady deal is one bitter pill to swallow. That said, Hoyer can build a better team with a few slick moves and without trying to fit irregular puzzle pieces around a $700 million hybrid DH/RHP sporting two elbow surgeries. The Braves, Phillies, Orioles, and Astros are still better than the Dodgers on paper because Los Angeles desperately needs pitching and didn’t need a designated hitter. You can add the Cubs to that list if Hoyer makes the right moves.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

I wonder if the next generation of Cubs Insider writers will one day compare Ohtani’s contract to the one the Mets gave Bobby Bonilla.

Central Intelligence

Tuesday Stove

Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated has the complete breakdown of Ohtani’s negotiations with the Dodgers.

The next big domino to fall should be Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and the usual suspects (Yankees, Mets, Dodgers) are in hot pursuit.

Los Angeles is also pursuing closer Josh Hader.

The Royals are interested in pitchers Lucas Giolito and Marcus Stroman.

The Red Sox could be a fit for Whit Merrifield.

The White Sox acquired catcher Max Stassi from the Braves and Atlanta is paying Stassi’s contract down to the league minimum. The Braves will receive a player to be named later.

Pitcher Brent Suter believes baseball is as clean as it has been during his career because the league has made subterfuge harder than ever.

Apropos of Nothing

Who is the better Santa Claus: John Travolta or Jon Hamm?

Sliding Into Home

A serious health issue (infection and brain abscess) put me on the 10-day IL, but I’m getting better and hope to be back to a daily routine before the end of this week. As I told Evan, “I’m a little cognitively slow right now, but I’ll be back to my normal brand of stupidity in a week or two.”

Extra Innings

“Hey! We’ve got Gold Gloves over here!”Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner, and Dansby Swanson.

If you filtered the photograph below to black and white it could be Hack Wilson, Clarence Blair, and Clyde Beck getting ready to play some pregame pepper, as Johnny Bench, Dusty Baker, and the San Diego Chicken demonstrate here.

They Said It

  • “[Morel] has earned his way into a lineup, there’s no question about that. He’s an exciting young hitter.” – Counsell
  • “Positional versatility creates a good floor for your team. So when things inevitably happen to your team during the season, you’re choosing from better options than just one option. That’s where the players that have defensive versatility are incredibly valuable players.” – Counsell
  • “We’ve sent some coaches down there to work with [Morel]. He’s getting a lot of pregame work in and is excited about that aspect of things. And, honestly, [his] playing third is beneficial for us as well. I think that’s a potential positional fit for him, too. And really, any reps he’s getting on defense are going to be great for us.” – Carter Hawkins
  • “After you go through cycles of players, you start to learn how hard the transition is to the major leagues for players. The norm is a massive struggle. That’s the norm. And if you come at it from that place, the problem is that expectations for those players are on the other side of the spectrum. And that’s a hard thing for everybody to balance.” – Counsell

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

I don’t know if I’m angrier at Ohtani or the Dodgers but I have middle fingers (and a sea lion or two) available for both.

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