CHICAGO — Heading into 2023, it’s a pivotal offseason the MLB’s fourth most-valuable franchise.
With a farm system on the rise, it’s time for the Cubs to stop acting like rebuilders and compete for an NL Central that doesn’t feature a clear juggernaut at the top. Just a few days into the 2022 Winter Meetings, it appears the Cubs are going to spend big.
On Tuesday afternoon, they Cubs inked former 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger to a one-year, $17.5 million deal. That night, reports surfaced that the North Siders boosted their rotation by signing Jameson Taillon to a four-year, $68 million deal.
On Monday, Trea Turner, one of four superstar shortstops available, signed a massive 11-year deal with the Phillies. Reports indicate that the Cubs met with Turner and the three other shortstops; Correa, Bogaerts and Swanson.
After not touching 75 wins that last two seasons, the Cubs need star power like Homer Simpson needs donuts. While Bellinger and Taillon are nice deals, the club needs a lot more to win a division next year.
Below is a roadmap to get Chicago back on top of the NL Central. With tons of depth in the minor leagues, the North Siders should get another chance at Theo Epstein’s favorite two words — “sustained success.”
Free agent signings:
Carlos Correa (10 years, $325 million)
After a gut-wrenching trade deadline in 2021, which sent World Series champions Rizzo, Bryant and Baez away, it’s time for the Cubs to add a bonafide superstar.
Enter Carlos Correa. Several reports indicated Monday that the Cubs met with the 28-year-old shortstop. Moving Nico Hoerner, who surprised some with a stellar glove last year, to second would instantly create one of the best middle infields in baseball.
Correa, a self-described analytics nerd, would be the most impactful signing since Jon Lester prior to the 2015 season. With a farm system on the rise, inking the two-time all-star would send a message to other free agents that Ricketts, Hoyer and company are done worrying about the luxury tax threshold.
As the holiday season rolls on, Correa is sure to remember when Cubs fans changed the words of “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” to “Correa come play in Chicago.”
Kodai Senga (4 years, $75 million)
After signing Seiya Suzuki last offseason, the Cubs have been connected to Japanese ace Kodai Senga. While they’re some injury history concerns, unlike Suzuki, Senga comes without the usual posting fee associated with Japanese stars.
As of Tuesday, MLB insider Jon Heyman linked the Cubs, and five other teams, to Senga.
The 29-year-old’s splitter is so good it’s known as a “ghost forkball” in Japan. He throws a plus fastball that can top out in the upper 90s and has always had a top strikeout rate — but walks have been an issue.
A top four rotation of Senga, Stroman, Taillon and Hendricks would be the club’s best since their last period of contention.
Trey Mancini (1 year, $10 million)
Matt Mervis, the Cubs’ top first base prospect, is in line to making the 2023 Opening Day roster. However, with the DH in the National League, the Cubs should be looking to add depth.
Notre Dame grad Trey Mancini was a consistent force in the Orioles’ lineup for four seasons before getting traded to Houston this season at the deadline.
He struggled with Houston, which could bring down his value to a one-year deal.
With Mervis likely to make the roster, both Mancini and the Duke product can alternate between first and DH as the coaching staff determines who is the better defender.
Christian Vazquez (2 years, $24 million)
Let’s pretend that Willson Contreras is not linked to the Cardinals for mental health purposes as the Cubs look for his replacement.
Vazquez, known for his defensive prowess and game planning, has been linked to the Cubs since winning his second World Series, this time with Houston.
In fact, fans noted that Vazquez recently started following the Cubs blog Bleacher Nation. He only follows 109 accounts on Twitter.
He’s not just a defensive catcher. In 2019 with Boston, the 32-year-old launched 23 home runs.
Andrew Chafin (1 year, $7 million)
There’s nothing wrong with convincing a former fan-favorite to comeback. Andrew Chafin, known as “Big Country” to Cubs fans during his short 2021 first-half stint with the club, has been lights out since 2020.
Lefties in the bullpen are always needed and after Oakland and Detroit — Chafin may want to shine again in a bigger market.
By semi-recent signings of Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta, Cubs’ brass have shown they are not afraid of reuniting with players they let walk or traded.
Ben Gamel (1 year, $2 million)
It’s not all going to be marquee signings and adding a veteran presence is always preferred for a young ball club. Utility outfielder Ben Gamel, who has spent time in the division with Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, can backup with Happ and Suzuki.
The lefty has been consistent against right-handed pitching and provides much-needed depth.
Trade Nick Madrigal for relief pitcher Dylan Floro
The Cubs can keep Nick Madrigal, who was the big piece in the 2021 Craig Kimbrel trade with the White Sox, but one more disappointing season will sink any potential trade value whatsoever.
With Hoerner likely moving to second and Morel in the utility role, it’s looking hard for the former #4 overall pick to get consistent at-bats.
Reports indicate the Marlins are open to trading most of their roster. Right-handed reliever Dylan Floro has been tough to hit since his cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2017 (9.2 innings.)
Projected 26-man Opening Day roster
Starting Pitchers: Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Hayden Wesneski, Adrian Sampson, Kodai Senga, Jameson Tallion
Relief Pitchers: Keegan Thompson, Adbert Alzolay, Brandon Hughes, Rowan Wick, Codi Heuer, Dylan Floro, Andrew Chafin
Catchers: Yan Gomes, Christian Vazquez
Infielders: Matt Mervis, Nico Hoerner, Carlos Correa, Patrick Wisdom, Christopher Morel, Trey Mancini
Outfielders: Ian Happ, Seiya Suzuki, Cody Bellinger, Ben Gamel