by Andy Jachim
Through almost 100 games, the Cubs are 48-51 and 6.5 games back of first place in the NL Central. This is coming off an incredible week, with a 5-2 homestand, taking two of three from the Nats and three of four this past weekend from the Cardinals. From a record standpoint, it should be a no-brainer to sell. Let’s face it; this team isn’t built to win a title in 2023, and that was expected.
However, I’m a believer in establishing a winning culture, and with how wide open the NL Central is up to this point, there could be some valuable playoff experience awaiting guys on this roster who have never played in October.
Declaring what the club should do at the moment is almost an impossible task for me. I see both sides very clearly. Knowing that next year is a target year to compete and having a lot of big prospects set to debut, why not continue to load up the farm? On the other hand, knowing those names will be up next year regardless, why not try to make a push by adding as bargain buyers? The possibilities are endless, so we need to look at all the options before making an educated decision.
Option A: Fire Sale
This is the route we’ve seen the Cubs go through in the past two summers. 2021 was the biggest fire sale Cubs fans have experienced, losing Rizzo, Baez, Bryant, and Kimbrel. Last season saw the organization hold onto the two biggest trade chips they possessed in Willson Contreras and Ian Happ. Contreras hit the open market and signed with St. Louis, whereas Happ was rewarded with an early-season three-year extension. Even though Happ and Willson stayed put, arms like David Robertson, Scott Effross, and Mychel Givens were shipped out.
If it wasn’t for the previous two deadlines, the Cubs farm wouldn’t be as loaded as it is today. The 2021 gutting of the roster brought in names like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara, and Alexander Canario. Last season brought in some valuable pieces as well in Ben Brown and Hayden Wesneski.
We know Jed Hoyer and this front office have the ability to land talent when selling. If this is the route they go, I have full trust that they can maximize the value of the pieces that are shipped out.
In a full-on fire sale, expect Marcus Stroman, Cody Bellinger, Yan Gomes, Kyle Hendricks, Julian Merryweather, and Michael Fulmer to be off the team by next week. Other names that are on the fence due to potentially not having a huge market OR because the organization has plans to keep them beyond 2023 include Patrick Wisdom, Mike Tauchman, Mark Leiter Jr. and Drew Smyly.
Option B: Bargain Buy
This option brings a lot of intrigue to the table. If the Cubs can put together another strong week on the road against the Sox and Cards, being “bargain buyers” is certainly a viable way to go. This would include keeping all the current pieces on this roster intact (hoping extension talks with Stroman and Bellinger would follow this offseason).
Bargain buying would be great for this group if it’s decided that they’re built for a playoff push. The core and major depth pieces of this farm system remain unharmed, while the necessary upgrades are made.
In terms of what the Cubs would be buying, there are only two grey areas I would pursue. First would be adding a stable left-handed reliever to the bullpen. One candidate who Chicago could go after is an old friend. A reunion with Andrew Chafin would certainly fill a need down the stretch. Up to this point in 2023, Chafin has an ERA under three (2.97) and a 1.26 WHIP in 33.1 innings. Those numbers fit the bill for what the Cubs would be looking for if they decided to buy and bolster the bullpen.
The other area of concern with this roster lies at the corner infield spots. At the hot corner, Nick Madrigal has been decent when healthy and Patrick Wisdom has brought power to the lineup, but not as an everyday guy. Some were hoping Christopher Morel could take over the third base position, yet injuries and a lack of accuracy in his arm have led to him playing elsewhere.
When looking at a potential lower cost third base option, another former face makes a whole lot of sense. Jeimer Candelario has had a more than solid campaign thus far in Washington and could provide a much-needed spark to the middle of this order. Candelario currently has a 3.2 WAR, 16 homers, 50 runs driven in, is slugging just under .500 (.486) and has an OPS+ of 128 (28 points above league average). Doing all of this on a subpar Nationals squad is impressive, which will reward him at the deadline. Candelario can also play some first base, so the Cubs could kill two birds with one stone from a defensive standpoint by acquiring the switch-hitter.
The first base position for the Cubs has been nothing short of abysmal this season in terms of production. The Eric Hosmer experiment was a major failure (which was expected), as the veteran only lasted with the club for 31 games. The first stint for the touted slugger Matt Mervis didn’t go according to plan, either, and the 25-year-old has been back in Iowa for some time now. Lastly, Trey Mancini has been super underwhelming. His defense has given every Cubs fans headaches, and his under .240 batting average has arguably done the same.
Enter CJ Cron. The Rockies first baseman isn’t having a great season by any means, but that could mean his price tag will be extremely affordable for the Cubs. The former All-Star had 29 homers and over 100 RBIs a season ago and might just need a change of scenery to tap into his true power once again. From a Cubs standpoint, I feel he’s worth the flier as a cheap rental. After all, anything is better than what we’ve seen at first base so far this season.
Option C: Sell Selected Pieces
Selling off certain assets is definitely the more peculiar, yet reasonable choices the Cubs could make. It’s been noted that they could move off a piece like Bellinger, yet keep Stroman as an anchor in this rotation for years to come.
The assets they would choose to keep vs. get rid of outside of the two major chips, I have no idea. However, with this being an idea floated around rather frequently by people across the league, you have to consider it as a real possibility.
Option D: Go All In
This is by far the worst option of them all. It would make absolutely ZERO sense to deplete any of the major assets in this farm system, especially with many of them being so close to reaching the bigs.
It’s a good thing this option will never come to fruition in 2023. The only reason why I have it on this list of choices is to stress how terrible of an idea it is. This isn’t the year for this team to push everything to the middle and we all know that. Patience is key and this front office is aware of that. I wouldn’t expect an approach like this at the deadline until next season at the very earliest. Even then, I wouldn’t be so sure.
At the end of the day, the Cubs will likely sell at this year’s trade deadline. If I had to make an order of the options that I think the organization will do, ranging from most to least likely, it would probably look like this:
The fact that fans don’t know which way is appropriate to lean probably means selling is the way to go. I’m not saying that I’m thrilled about it, but it’s the responsible thing to do. This should be the last year for a while that the Cubs stop acting like a small market team, but I’ve been proven wrong before. I just hope Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins know what they’re doing and get the best possible return for these guys that they can.
If all goes well, I see there being a real chance we compete for a playoff spot in 2024. Unfortunately, all we can do for now is something us Cubs fans are all too familiar with: wait and hope.