It has been a long time since the Cubs have been without an everyday shortstop, but that’s where they find themselves this offseason.
After dealing Javy Baez to the Mets at the trade deadline, the Cubs found out what it was like to not have their three-time All-Star penciled in daily at short.
However, if there was an offseason to have a need at shortstop, this is the one. Not only is this winter’s free-agent class star-studded, but several of the marquee players on the market are shortstops.
Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Baez headline one of the deepest classes in recent memory. All five shortstops would be a fit for a team needing both an offensive and defensive upgrade.
Obviously, the Cubs have a long history with Baez, but the rest of the class also packs a punch, providing the middle-of-the-order bat the team lacks.
The Cubs’ financial situation also bodes well, and with a manageable payroll for the first time in four years, they have the flexibility to make moves they haven’t been able to make in recent years.
‘‘I think I’ve said repeatedly that we do have financial flexibility,’’ Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘We have money to spend this winter, but I think it’s really important that we do that in an intelligent way.’’
The Cubs have a need and they have money. Should be an easy fix, right? Well, it’s not that simple. Wanting to have players like Correa, Seager, Story, Semien or Baez in the middle of a lineup is a no-brainer for many other teams, too. But the question we’re about to find out this winter is: How far do the Cubs believe they are from contending?
Self-awareness is a skill needed by every front office and as Hoyer and new general manager Carter Hawkins sit down and formulate their plan, being realistic with where the team is within their competitive window plays a major role in their decisions.
If the Cubs aren’t realistically contenders for at least two seasons, would they allocate resources to a superstar shortstop, or any elite free agent for that matter, this offseason? With the team coming off a massive roster overhaul and still sorting out the pieces, they aren’t even at the front end of a completive window yet. Would it make sense to potentially waste two years of that player’s prime for no real shot at the postseason.
You could make the argument that signing a player, especially one in his late-20s could expedite a retool and give the Cubs a player to build around for their next contender.
The other side of that equation is: Would those top-tier free agents want to come play for a rebuilding Cubs team?
Correa is coming off his third World Series appearance of his career and Seager has played in two Fall Classics. Barring a significant change, the Cubs aren’t expected to be a contender next season.
For someone like Story who saw nothing but rebuilding during most of his time with the Rockies, he might be looking to play for a contender for the first time since 2017, and rightfully so.
Whether the Cubs fill their hole at shortstop in free agency or not, it does beg the question of how the team will use Nico Hoerner.
People throughout the organization still believe that Hoerner is an everyday player at the major-league level and an important player on a winning team.
Hoerner will have an everyday role for the Cubs in 2022, but likely playing around the diamond as opposed to playing one position.
Throughout his time in the majors, he has played shortstop, second base, third base as well as left field and center field.
The Cubs are in search of new building blocks after their mid-season trades. And with so many potential franchise-altering shortstops on the market, there may not be a better time to strike. Even if it’s a year ahead of schedule.