The now-canceled Chicago radio host, Dan McNeil once warned hist listeners on EPSN 1000 “never confuse activity with accomplishment” when scrutinizing our favorite franchises. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the crusty Southsider, but his advice has always stuck with me and I was reminded of it as a conspicuously busy Cubs’ winter saw them add more free agents than any other club to the tune of over $300 million. While that sounds impressive on the surface, a closer look at what they have actually accomplished reveals a less than stellar offseason for Jed Hoyer.
Winning fourth prize in the 2023 Short Stop Sweepstakes is hardly worth celebrating. Yes, his 5.7 WAR and 115 OPS+ in 2022 were great, but seem like an outlier and are not necessarily indicative of what his production will look like going forward. His defensive prowess is unquestioned and his main selling point, but the 7-year, $177M deal feels like a desperate overpay as the market dried up on Hoyer. It is eerily reminiscent of Jason Heyward‘s albatross of a contract that hung over Wrigley Field like the omnipresent seagulls circling for trash. But hey, maybe Dansby is really good at giving team speeches.
Certainly not bad for a 4-years/$68M signing if you’re looking to add a #3 innings-eater, but shouldn’t the aim be much higher when your rotation is already made up almost exclusively of #3 innings-eaters already?
Run prevention is clearly the market inefficiency that Hoyer is trying to exploit because the Gold-Glover and former MVP has completely forgotten how to hit. As the old saying goes, “there are no bad one-year deals,” but $17.5M doesn’t buy what it used to if a 1.2 WAR and 78 OPS+ in 2022 is all you can get these days.
I’ve always liked Smyly since his days in Detroit, but giving the oft-injured lefty a two-year, $19M to be your #4 or #5 starter is a risky proposition that really doesn’t move the needle.
Sold to Tigers fans as a defensive stalwart last season, I was thoroughly unimpressed with Barnhart on both sides of the ball during his underwhelming tenure in Detroit.
Talk about shopping in the discount bin! Despite his surprising 1.1 WAR and 108 OPS+ in 2022, the Padres are essentially paying him to play anywhere else but San Diego and the frugal Cubs were happy to oblige.
The feel-good comeback story of the year, Trey “Boom Boom” Mancini kicked cancer’s ass and made a minor contribution to the Astros Word Championship run. But we’ll have to see if either he or Hosmer can rise above their very average production at first base.
After two solid seasons in Milwaukee’s formidable bullpen, the 34-year-old is still tough on lefties, adds some desperately-needed arm barn depth, and is a bargain for one-year at just $2.8M.
The late signing of Fulmer to a 1-year, $4M deal might be Hoyer’s best move of the offseason. I was surprised to learn the elite setup man and potential closer was still available and at such a bargain.
FINAL GRADE: C–
The defense and pitching depth should be improved as “run prevention” will be a favorite phrase spewed from Marquee Network mouthpieces all summer long. But the bullpen is thin, the rotation that is built around a lot of #3s or #4s lacks a true ace or even an elite #2 to anchor it, and last year’s 22nd-ranked offense doesn’t look to be much more potent.
So after all of the signings and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, the Cubs still only boast the fouteenth-highest payroll in the majors and remain under the toothless luxury tax threshold that owner Tom Ricketts sells to fans as an impenetrable hard cap. Only two long-term deals for second-tier talent have been signed. The rest are short-term flyers who Hoyer is praying will help him “thread the needle” through his “intelligent spending.”
What is more likely, as many of those one-year rentals as possible will get moved at the deadline and we start the cycle again for 2024. Who knows, with $70M coming off the books after this season, the Cubs might finally be ready to act like the major market behemoth they are, put on their big boy pants, and go after top talent in free agency instead of continuing to masquerade as a middle-market underdog fighting for scraps.
The cynical among us might see this whole speeding spree as an obvious and desperate way to simply draw more eyeballs to the severely sagging Marquee Network that was once promised as the panacea for all that ailed Cubs Nation. Ownership’s hope is maybe putting a few actual Major Leaguers on the field instead of a hodgepodge of Four-A players might raise ratings a bit. But more importantly, Ricketts is desperately looking to raise revenues to recoup those precious “biblical losses” that have sent the franchise spiraling senselessly since 2020.
Consider me a cynic.