Bogaerts, Bell and Bellinger buzz for Cubs at end of GM meetings

Bogaerts, Bell and Bellinger buzz for Cubs at end of GM meetings

LAS VEGAS – The bustle, buzz, bells, beeps, spin and tinkle all day and night.

“It really felt like winter meetings,” Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said Thursday as he and the Cubs wrapped up four days of what you got, what you want chatter at annual GM meetings. .

It also definitely looked like Las Vegas, making it the perfect place for baseball’s top executives to gather for their first off-season convention since last winter’s 99-day lockdown — and with more of them. flashing bigger wads of cash than at any other of these things since at least the 2019 Winter Encounters.

No one is fully on any of the marquee free agents yet. Teams and agents weren’t even allowed to discuss dollars until Thursday.

“It’s a lot of getting-to-know-type conversations and really making sure there’s a general interest being discussed versus the specifics,” Hawkins said.

Think of it as the ante process before the opening chord. The chips on the table before the roulette wheel begins to spin on what promises an active and spendthrift offseason – with industry-wide revenue saved after the pandemic-related shutdown, significant increases in post-lockdown luxury tax thresholds and more teams looking like they’re trying to win in 2023 than MLB has seen in maybe five years or more.

Hawkins warned that it’s still early enough in the offseason to be skeptical about the extent of aggression among teams, regardless of how aggressive many people were at those GM meetings – when agents walked out. from their flurries of meetings feeling the increasing heat of the markets. in all job areas of teams in all divisions.

“I think people always sound like that early on,” said Hawkins, who suggested few ways to tell how fast free agency might move at this point — whether it’s the star-studded shortstop market or shortages among centre-backs, left-handed catchers or sluggers.

“It really takes a domino to fall to start this process,” he said. “But sometimes it takes a long time for that domino to fall. It will be interesting to see when that happens.

Until then, the Cubs may not be quite ready to go all-in this winter, but they’ve certainly bet, and they have a place at the shortstop table for a four-stud trade.

After meetings with agents for almost every player in the market who could make the roster, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs’ final ‘smart spending’ breakdown will fall, but unlike the Crosstown White Sox, they’re ready. to look more to free agents than trades for additions.

And at least a rough roadmap has emerged on how they might approach their middle field, first base, center field and starting pitching needs, based on conversations with MLB agents and sources. during meetings:

Average infield

The Cubs are among nearly half of MLB teams that are seriously targeting the elite four-man shortstop class that includes Trea Turner of the Dodgers, Carlos Correa of ​​the Twins, Dansby Swanson of the Braves and Xander Bogaerts of the Reds. Sox.

Turner and Correa will command the longest contracts, if early industry predictions are to be believed, which could deter the Cubs from these players in proportion to the years it would take, given the disgust of the team president. Jed Hoyer for the idea of ​​big-dollar commitments beyond, roughly, Seiya Suzuki’s five-year deal in March.

But more than one source said the Cubs ‘like’ Correa, who they worked before his 2012 draft and thought they might have a shot at picking at No. 6 before the Astros took him first. . And going by the years, the Cubs don’t seem seriously concerned about Correa’s minor injury/back issues (he’s played in 89% of his team’s games over the past three seasons).

On the other hand, an agent who has none of the four predicted the Cubs would sign Turner – likely an indication of how serious people in the game believe the Cubs are close to landing one. of the most famous guys. And how much they believe they will spend.

That said, keep an eye out for Bogaerts.

First base

While much has been made of former White Sox MVP Jose Abreu, he is just one of many players the Cubs have their eye on as they consider possible short-term help at the position in the meantime. to see if prospect Matt Mervis, a left-handed slugger, is the “next Anthony Rizzo” he hopes to become.

They also met with agents for Astros right-handed hitter Trey Mancini and Padres switch hitter Josh Bell. Any of those players and right-hander Abreu would also fit a scenario in which Mervis can enter the big leagues with job-sharing support for tough southpaws or other tough matchups, which Hoyer suggested that the club prefers.

And don’t sleep on the Padres’ versatile free agent Brandon Drury, who a source has suggested as a fit in a short-term corner rocker role as the Cubs sort out their longer-term mix on the field (which , beyond shortstop Nico Hoerner, also includes Patrick Wisdom, Zach McKinstry and Nick Madrigal).

There’s also the possibility that former MVP and two-time All-Star Cody Bellinger will become available next week as a no-bid candidate with the Dodgers.

Which brings us to…

Center field

Hoyer said this week he expects most of next year’s center field innings will be handled by someone he’ll add to the roster this winter.

“Certainly with [Alexander] Canario and Brennen’s injury [Davis’] setback, it made that even more evident,” Hoyer said of Canario’s long-term ankle and shoulder injuries sustained two weeks ago during winter ball and the stress reaction of Davis in his surgically repaired back during the Arizona Fall League. They are the Cubs’ top two Triple-A field prospects.

Problem with external solution: There aren’t many outfielders available that fit the bill. And when it comes to the bills, you can forget about the two top guys: megastar, soon-to-be megabuck recipient Aaron Judge and the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo, who looks like a candidate to be overpaid based on his recent numbers, need and shortage. league-wide.

But three-time Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermeier, who had his 2023 option turned down by the Rays, and Bellinger are both on the Cubs’ radar, sources say.

Kiermeier, who turns 33 in April, did not play the second half in 2022 due to a hip injury, and will likely be available for a modest short-term commitment.

Bellinger, the left-handed hitter who made most of his career debuts at center (and second to start), has been a significantly below-average hitter for the past two years after shoulder surgery, which could make him – at 27 – a candidate for one of agent Scott Boras’ one-year “pillow” deals to prove his worth for next year’s free agency.

“He can play first base and center field at Gold Glove,” Boras said. “It’s really about getting his strength back so he can repeat his level of skill.”

Starting throw

The Cubs are basically on southpaw Carlos Rodon, another former White Sox All-Star, unless his market inexplicably deflates closer to the Marcus Stroman lineup (three-year-old/$71 million) than Robbie Ray ( five / $115 million) plus $10 million an agent predicts.

But they’re on Japanese free agent Koudai Senga (with some recruiting help from Suzuki). And left-hander Drew Smyly, who performed particularly well for the Cubs, remains in play for a two- or three-year deal as the parties who admire each other keep in touch after Smyly (as expected) declined their mutual option. . for 2023.

Depending on what happens on those two fronts, the Cubs could turn to the tier of quality starters right behind Rodon for the mid-rotation veteran innings they need to fill to have a chance to compete in 2023.

They’ve loved 30-year-old Taijuan Walker for years, and some predict his 2022 Mets teammate Chris Bassitt will end up a Cub.

“Essentially, Taijuan is on an island,” Boras said after describing its attributes and benefits. “The only question is who is ready for Tai-pei.”

(Ugh.)

Keep an eye out for southpaw Sean Manea.

Boras said he once sensed a demand for this guy, “when GMs call you up and say, ‘Man-Ia needs a left-handed pitcher.

Enough said.

Please.

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