Now that the 2022 MLB season has officially concluded, there are many questions that GM Jed Hoyer and Manager David Ross have to answer when looking at the future of the Chicago Cubs. After an interesting first week of free agency, the Cubs have officially released outfielder Jason Heyward, and catcher Wilson Conteras has declined his qualifying offer which means that, currently, the Chicago Cubs only have $92.5M to their name for the 2023 roster (Of course while still paying Jason Heyward $22M to not be there! Thanks Theo!). Now there are so many different directions that teams can go this offseason that could be franchise-altering moves with players like Jacob DeGrom, Justin Verlander, Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, and many others. Luckily, for the Cubs, this is undoubtedly the best free agent year at the shortstop position in decades with superstars such as Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, and Xander Bogaerts entering free agency.
Grow Young Talent or Bring in Veterans?
With so many young Cubs on the way, it would only make sense to assume that the team will be addressing long-term additions at positions in need that may not be able to be developed quickly enough in the farm system. There are so many young studs on the rise but while we wait for the kids to arrive the organization needs a veteran leader who can lead this new era of Cubs baseball back to the promised land. With young stars like Brennen Davis, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Matt Mervis, and others only a year or two away from entering the show, the one position in question is shortstop. The captain of the infield’s only real look is 18-year-old Cristian Hernandez who still has a few years before we can get a clear understanding of how good he can be at the major league level.
Now the question of the day is what will the Ricketts family do in order to lock up one of these top-tier, generational talents and what would a contract of that magnitude look like? Will they go the cheaper route and wait on in-house products such as 25-year-old Nico Hoerner’s development to take the next step in his career? When looking at the obvious candidates, there are a lot of different factors that each player could bring to the table. For starters, the homegrown product from Stanford, Nico Hoerner, has had a rocky start to his career thus far. Brought up in September 2019, Nico has only 816 at-bats in three and a half years and 481 of them came this season. When healthy, Nico has undeniable Gold Glove talent and is one of the best contact-hitting shortstops in the game today. The issue has been his muscular injuries that he can’t seem to get away from, which has prevented him from playing an entire season so far in his career. Coming into the league Nico’s game was strictly hitting for contact but throughout the 2022 season he really showed improvement with 10 home runs (after going two seasons not having one) and if this type of progression can continue he’d make a strong candidate for the future of this infield. However, you can’t always bank on health in an injury-prone player and with a lack of an everyday second baseman as well the Cubs can definitely move Nico to second and still sign one of the top-level free-agent shortstops. The four shortstop candidates in consideration for the Chicago Cubs to target in free agency are Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, and Dansby Swanson. All have different abilities and skill sets, but it remains true that they are all in the Top 10 at their position.
Carlos Correa, the #1 pick in the 2012 draft and 2017 Champion for the Houston Astros has already had himself a very successful career at only the age of 28. Carlos currently holds a Gold Glove, Platinum Glove, 2x All-Star, Rookie of the Year , and 2017 World Series Champion while posting a career 39.5 WAR, 155 HRs, a .279 batting average, 553 RBIs, and a .836 OPS. Although that wasn’t enough during the 2022 free agent market to get Correa the contract he wanted, he took a one-year deal with the Minnesota Twins and exceeded expectations. Correa’s defensive ability alongside Nico at second base can make for an amazing defensive duo and another huge bat for a Cubs lineup that lacks consistency and power. The only question about Correa right now is how much money he and his agent are looking to command and what the length of a deal of that magnitude might look like long term.
The next candidate which came as a shock to many that the Boston Red Sox couldn’t get a deal done last offseason is 4x All-star and a 5x Silver Slugger winner Xander Bogaerts. Throughout his career in Boston, Bogaerts has been an offensive monster posting a career with a 34.9 WAR, a .292 batting average, 156 HRs, 683 RBIs, and a .814 OPS. Something the Cubs are currently lacking is World Series experience, not including skipper David Ross, the only remaining member of the 2016 Cubs is pitcher Kyle Hendricks. Bogaerts brings in 2 World Series championships with the city of Boston (2013 and 2018) and 5 seasons of playoff baseball. After finishing what would potentially be his final season in Boston, Xander posted a .307 batting average, 15 HRs, 73 RBIs, and 74 stolen bases in only 150 games played. Where he is probably the worst defender out of the five candidates, he is without a doubt one of the best from an offensive perspective and could bring a spark to this young Cubs team that lacks an offensive identity.
When describing an ideal shortstop and what it means to be “the perfect baseball player” a few names come to mind, One of those names specifically being Trea Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Trea Turner is the most complete all-around shortstop and ball player out of the candidates listed so far, making him one of the priciest but also most reliable of the bunch. Throughout his 7-year career, Trea has posted a 29.7 WAR, 124 HRs, 230 stolen bases, 434 RBIs, and an 842 OPS. Trea also hung up some awards, such as winning a Batting Title, a Silver Slugger award, and making 2 All-Star appearances along with winning the 2019 World Series with Juan Soto and the Washington Nationals. The overall leadership Trea Turner brings on and off the field is unmatched by anyone else on this list and what he would be able to do for this young and promising Cubs core could make the future of this team go from good to great in a matter of only a couple of years. Turner brings immediate impact to the team filling any role you ask of him from an offensive and defensive perspective as well. Where defense may not be the best part of his game, he is still an elite defender among some of the best of them.
Our final candidate is the 2021 World Series champion of the Atlanta Braves Dansby Swanson. Tuesday, news broke that Swanson will be rejecting the Braves’ qualifying offer (a surprise to no one) and will be immediately entering free agency. Throughout his young career, Swanson posted a 14.5 WAR, 102 HRs, 58 stolen bases, 411 RBIs, and a .738 OPS. Along with flashing a Gold Glove award and being a 1x All-Star, Swanson hit his stride exactly when Atlanta needed him during the 2021 playoffs and in the World Series. Only 28, there are still many questions as to how much more Dansby’s game will continue to develop into potentially one of the best future shortstops in the game, but at this moment he is undoubtedly the odd man out on this list of four free agents. Regardless of that, it is still amazing company to be a part of and the offense and defense that he can bring to the team would go a long way in not only the development of others but in the deciding factor of winning in the clutch late in games (where the Cubs desperately lacked in 2022).
Who is the best fit?
Personally, if I had to choose out of these five candidates to be my future franchise shortstop of the next era of Cubs baseball, I think the choice is obvious. I would move Nico Hoerner to second base and sign Trea Turner as my everyday shortstop. With the banning of the shift for 2022 and bigger bases being implemented, Trea Turner could potentially have an MVP season if he remains healthy. Of all the candidates mentioned, I don’t see anyone more qualified and experienced than Trea Turner and his overall game is second to none at the position. I would pick Turner based on his leadership ability, World Series experience, and overall October playoff experience alone, but being the best well-rounded shortstop is just the icing on the cake. Give me a future lineup with Trea Turner, Patrick Wisdom, Seiya Suzuki, Brennen Davis, Matt Mervis, Nico Hoerner, and Ian Happ and I think this team will really be able to make some noise down the stretch in a weak NL Central Division. If I had to predict the length and value of the contract offered by the Ricketts family, I would say an offer in the ballpark of a 7-year, $250M deal would be a starting point.
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