A wild week of free agency is just the beginning of an aggressive stretch of spending in Major League Baseball.
The Chicago Cubs leave the winter meetings with a good start to their offseason, building through the additions of center fielder Cody Bellinger and starting pitcher Jameson Taillon. They need more talented players, though, to put a dent in the gap between the Cubs and playoff-caliber teams. It’ll require a multi-year effort of adding on, and they still notably lack the type of power hitters the lineup needs to field a more competitive group in 2023.
After Xander Bogaerts signed with the San Diego Padres for 11 years, $280 million late Wednesday night, the Cubs remain engaged in the free agent shortstop market with Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson still of interest to the club.
As the Cubs continue to gauge free-agent options, the winter meetings set the groundwork for how they will continue to try to improve on a 77-win team.
All-Star Game wait continues for Wrigley Field
When the Cubs began their five-year renovation of Wrigley Field in 2014, one ancillary benefit of the upgrades was supposed to be getting an All-Star Game.
But the Cubs have yet to be awarded a Midsummer Classic. Since the All-Star Game was last played at Wrigley Field in 1990, all but two teams have hosted the game (Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics) while six teams have twice: Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Guardians, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said this week the Cubs are among teams that have expressed a desire to host an upcoming All-Star Game. But, as he noted, the Cubs are not alone in that wish.
Major League Baseball has “an embarrassment of riches” in regards to that interest, Manfred said. The 2025 and 2027 All-Star Games are the next to be awarded by the league.
Although the All-Star Game continues to elude Wrigley Field, the Cubs have been selected for high-profile big-league games. They played in the Field of Dreams Game in August and will be part of the two-game London Series overseas in June. Asked whether the league views those type of marquee events as suitable substitutes in lieu of an All-Star Game, Manfred said, “We do try to spread those special opportunities around the clubs so there is some fairness in the process.
“Having said that, a presence in one has never been a disqualifier for another. I can’t do better than that. It’s just a very imprecise process.”
Former top prospect Brailyn Marquez returns to organization
The Cubs were hopeful when they non-tendered left-hander Brailyn Marquez last month that the two sides would reunite this offseason.
This week Marquez agreed to a minor-league deal with an invitation to big-league camp in the spring. Marquez, 23, had season-ending left shoulder surgery in June. The Cubs’ former top prospect has not pitched in a game since making his MLB debut in Sept. 2020.
“He’s been through a lot over the last few years and obviously the talent and the upside is enormous,” general manager Carter Hawkins said. “He just hasn’t pitched for a couple of years. And it’s been really hard on him, but we’ve done it together. And at the end of the day, he wanted to continue to do it with us. So, it’s our hope that we get him back on a major-league mound and I hope he can do that in a Cubs uniform, and that was his hope as well. This was the best way to make that happen.”
A quiet Rule 5 draft
The Cubs avoided getting hit hard during Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.
Right-hander Chris Clarke was the lone player the Cubs lost during the major-league phase of the draft, to the Seattle Mariners. Clarke, 24, spent the 2022 season between High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee. He was not ranked among the Cubs’ top 30 prospects unlike some of the other Rule 5 eligible players the organization left unprotected.
Clarke must spend the entire season in the majors with the Mariners. Otherwise he can be offered back to the Cubs to $50,000, half of the original fee the drafting team pays to the club to select a player.
The Cubs did not make a selection during the MLB part of the draft.
However, in the minor-league Triple-A phase of the Rule 5, the Cubs took a gamble on two intriguing arms who have dealt with injuries: left-hander Jose Aquino (Mariners’ Arizona Complex League roster) and right-hander Nick Burdi (Padres’ Double-A roster). They also took outfielder Jefferson Encarnacion from the Phillies. Players chosen in the minor-league part of the Rule 5 are now part of their new respective organizations and do not go through the same roster process as the big-league selections.
The Cubs had two players chosen during the minor-league phase, both to the Houston Astros: left-handers Bryan King and Luis Rodriguez.
Seiya Suzuki makes his World Baseball Classic decision
Team Japan’s manager did not make it a secret during Tuesday’s World Baseball Classic media day at the winter meetings that he wanted Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki playing for his home country.
Although Japan planned to give Suzuki until February to make his decision, he didn’t let them wonder any longer. Suzuki announced Wednesday on his social media pages that he will play in the WBC. In the post, Suzuki joked he’d try to avoid getting hurt.
Suzuki also played for Team Japan in the 2017 WBC.