Rhys Hoskins Joins Brewers, Potential Cubs Targets Dwindling

It seemed like a formality once the Cubs traded for Michael Busch and made it clear that they planned to give him plenty of reps at first, but there was still a sense that some of that was a bluff. Jed Hoyer had enough leverage to feel comfortable playing chicken with Scott Boras, so the end result was the same whether it was carefully calculated or his shoelace simply got stuck on a pedal. And that result was Rhys Hoskins joining the Brewers on a two-year, $34 million deal that allows him to opt out after the first year.

For those who might be grasping for the reference, the chicken/shoelace thing from Kevin Bacon’s iconic turn in 1984’s Footloose.

Hoskins is now virtually guaranteed to hit 40 tanks this season, approximately 30 of which will come against the Cubs. Though he is a right-handed batter and the Cubs need more lefty pop, the perception that he was seeking a pillow deal to rebuild value coming off of a season lost to ACL reconstruction increased his relative value. Even if the Cubs were still in on him after the Busch trade, which reports said they were, I doubt Hoyer was willing to guarantee a second year.

One of the dangers of working with a strategy that prioritizes threading the needle over paying a seamstress — getting good deals rather than just making deals — is that you’ll miss out on good fits if it means stretching a little. Hoskins was just one of several short-term options who made sense for the Cubs, so they could still find the right deal out there to add a little offense without losing much flexibility.

If you think that sounds a little like signing Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer last year, well, I probably can’t convince you otherwise.

Brandon Belt is a name that’s been floating around for a while now, and for good reason. Outside of two seasons in which he posted a 98 wRC+ (2019, ’22), the 35-year-old has been an above-average producer who draws walks with the best of them. He’s struck out a lot more over the last three seasons, but his 13.9% walk rate since 2016 is among the top 20 out of 466 qualified hitters in that time.

Flipping over to the right side, the 39-year-old Justin Turner keeps proving he can handle the bat well. He hit 23 homers with 96 RBI while slashing .276/.345/.455 for the Red Sox last season and got most of his plate appearances as the designated hitter. Turner spent the majority of his time in the field at first, making him a solid fit for a Cubs team that seems more than willing to play musical chairs at the corners and DH.

A reunion with Jorge Soler can’t be ruled out, though he’s probably going to want more money and time than the Cubs want to offer. The outfield is set and there are several top prospects ready to come up, so spending signing a guy to be more or less an exclusive DH isn’t likely. That almost certainly rules out J.D. Martinez, who has logged a total of 12 innings in the field since 2021.

Bringing Joc Pederson back seems equally unlikely, not that he or any of the other players mentioned above would be much more than a band-aid on a bullet wound.

That would be Cody Bellinger, one of the few remaining players for whom the Cubs are willing to push past a single year. How much past and at what cost, both total and AAV, remains an open question as neither they nor any other team have yet come close to matching Bellinger’s asking price. The Cubs have not budged from their initial off, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, and the sense is that the gap is significant.

Though any discussion of those numbers is little more than guesswork, the consensus has been that Scott Boras is seeking more than $200 million over at least eight years. The Cubs probably don’t want to go longer than six years and could be at $150 million or possibly as low as $125 million. Either figure would still leave a chasm between the team’s offer and what I believe Boras has set as templates for a hard floor.

Apologies to those who read my stuff consistently enough to have seen this already, but I have to think Boras is unwilling to settle for less than Dansby Swanson (7/$177M) or Kris Bryant (7/$182M). Though that’s low-hanging fruit as far as examples go, one is a deal the Cubs just did and the other is a deal Boras worked out for a former Cub whose pedigree is very similar to Bellinger’s.

Some of you may point out that Matt Chapman is also out there and has been strongly connected to the Cubs, but he lacks Bellinger’s versatility and may have both a lower floor and ceiling. Barring a cratering of his market that sees him seeking a prove-it deal to try again next winter, I don’t see him coming to Chicago.

Rather than further belabor a topic that’s been covered exhaustively given the Cubs’ general lack of activity, I’ll go ahead and wrap this up. Hoskins felt like as much of a sure thing as any free agent on the market heading into the offseason, so seeing him come off the board while several relievers also went elsewhere gives off a very strong vibe that Hoyer could be done with significant signings. Unless, again, players and agents panic over the next 2-3 weeks.

Maybe it’ll take even longer since we’ve got just 21 days until pitchers and catchers report. At the very least, that’ll give us something else to talk about.

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