The Cubs have reportedly signed shortstop Dansby Swanson to a seven-year, $177 million deal. Given that Swanson was the last remaining free agent we could consider a "big" name, he will end up being their biggest splash this offseason. Still, a bevy of moves should follow, otherwise it's a half-measure of an offseason and we all know that half measures just aren't productive for anyone.
Here's why the Cubs should remain aggressive:
- They were 74-88 last season, aided by a 39-31 record after the All-Star break. Some of that was beating up on bad teams, but they also went 9-0 against the Mets and Phillies.
- The most productive offensive player, Willson Contreras, signed with the Cardinals.
- The Cardinals are still easily the best NL Central team and the Brewers haven't torn anything down, but the division lacks a powerhouse. That is, it's a weak enough division that jumping into the mid-80s in expected wins likely makes a team a contender.
- The team right now isn't good enough to contend. It's just not.
- The farm system has some good enough prospects, but lacks star power.
- There's hardly any money on the books moving forward. It was really only Seiya Suzuki's $19 million in 2025 and 2026 and now we can add Swanson's deal, but this is chump change for the Cubs. They essentially print money when they are watchable.
The Cubs can and should be very aggressive in adding to the big-league roster the rest of the offseason. Even without superstars, there are plenty of players out there that could help in the short term.
They could add pitching -- you can never have enough -- but it's reasonable to believe they have good arms in house, especially with what looks like great up-the-middle defense. Between Swanson, Nico Hoerner, Ian Happ and Suzuki, there are offensive pieces that could make up a good team. Cody Bellinger is a lottery ticket. Christopher Morel could be helpful, even if he's best suited as a utility backup. Patrick Wisdom's power could play in spurts. It's possible Matt Mervis builds on his minor-league breakout season.
Even with all that, though, it's hard to squint our way to calling this an offense that could be above-average.
Left on the free-agent market are outfielders Michael Brantley and Michael Conforto. The Cubs look to have a full outfield with Happ, Bellinger and Suzuki, but it's possible they could add one of these two and rotate them through outfield spots when giving one of their regulars a day off, using them as a DH or even playing Bellinger at first.
Third base currently looks like a combination of Morel and Wisdom, which is where free agents Evan Longoria or Justin Turner could come in as an upgrade. Utility man Brandon Drury is still available and could handle first or third.
Let's say, just to see what it would look like, that the Cubs now sign Brantley and Turner. Here's what the lineup might look like:
1. Nico Hoerner, 2B
2. Dansby Swanson, SS
3. Michael Brantley, DH
4. Justin Turner, 3B
5. Seiya Suzuki, RF
6. Ian Happ, LF
7. Cody Bellinger, CF
8. Matt Mervis/Patrick Wisdom, 1B
9. Yan Gomes, C
Obviously we could flip things around (especially since the lefty Bellinger and lefty Mervis wouldn't likely hit back-to-back), but we're just trying to get a rough outline. That offense could be a contender, even if it lacks starpower in the middle -- assuming Bellinger doesn't magically return to MVP form, an unlikely scenario that would certainly be welcome on the North Side.
Take away Brantley and Turner, though, and you're looking at everyday at-bats for Morel and then extra playing time for the likes of Alfonso Rivas and Zach McKinstry.
Simply, the Cubs still need at least two more good hitters to string together a productive offense. The huge names in free agency are gone, but there are helpful players available. As an added bonus, the overwhelming majority of the players the Cubs would be considering right now would be on short-term deals. That is, they could help the club contend in 2023 and if that doesn't work out, they could be traded to help beef up the farm system moving forward.
Of course, there's always the possibility a trade comes together in the offseason to help improve the team in the short term or even long term. Extending the contract of Rafael Devers is said to be the top priority for the Red Sox, but they lost Xander Bogaerts and a few years ago traded Mookie Betts. If Devers somehow becomes available, he'd be an amazing fit on this team. The Diamondbacks are said to be willing to part with a left-handed hitting outfielder and maybe there's a fit. It's possible the Blue Jays trade one of their catchers; Danny Jansen could work. Will the Phillies trade Rhys Hoskins? Come on down.
Regardless of where the help comes from, the Cubs need more in order to contend in 2023 and that should be the plan. The front office has insisted this won't be an extended rebuild and if that's the case, they need to contend in 2023. The signing of Swanson shouldn't conclude the offseason business for president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer. It should signal there's a lot more help on the way and that help needs to be carrying some lumber.