LAS VEGAS — The offseason of the free-agent shortstop is here again.
For the second consecutive year, the shortstop market is flush with elite talent. And you can bet the Cubs will continue to feel out their options at that position.
“I look at the shortstop situation kind of the way you look at the draft,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at the GM meetings on Wednesday, “which is, if you drafted a shortstop every year you’d be in good shape. The best defenders usually play shortstop, the best athletes often play shortstop, those are guys you can move around.”
Hoyer pointed to his own shortstop Nico Hoerner, who was top-five fielder at his position by defensive WAR this season, according to FanGraphs. He also was a Gold Glove finalist at second base two years ago.
“It’s a position where you can have multiple guys that can do it,” said Hoyer, who helped build a team that played Addison Russell and Javy Baez side by side during the Cubs’ last championship window.
Now, imagine Hoerner playing alongside one of this winter’s top free-agent shortstops. Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson headline the class.
“It’s just a rare, rare time to have players at young ages who are so demonstrated and accomplished at their position,” agent Scott Boras said of the shortstop market in a news conference Wednesday.
Boras also represents Correa and Bogaerts, so he’s inclined to rave about his players. But the point stands: This offseason presents a golden opportunity for teams looking to upgrade their middle infield.
When asked if he expected the Cubs would go after his shortstops, Boras said: “I think that any team that wants to get a lot better is going to go after the best players. And those rare shortstops who give you that two-way dynamic, they’re generational, they’re hard to find.”
The Cubs’ payroll next season is expected to be higher than this year’s. But annual value is only part of the calculation. Length of contract clearly played into their “intelligent spending” approach last winter. That won’t change this year.
In general, contracts approaching double-digit years for position players approaching 30 are going extinct. Don’t look for Hoyer to buck the trend to woo a shortstop.
This phase of the Cubs’ rebuild, after a 74-88 season, makes for a hefty offseason wish list that can’t be checked off with one acquisition. The club will be focussed on adding pitching and offensive power. The latter could come from a number of positions.
The team has an opening in center field, and injuries to outfield prospects Brennen Davis and Alexander Canario have thinned their depth at the position.
“We have guys internally that will certainly play out there,” Hoyer said, “but I think the lion’s share might come from external.”
At first base, Hoyer said prospect Matt Mervis has “earned a lot of runway and playing time going forward.” Mervis climbed from High-A to Triple-A this past season, mashing 36 home runs. He then extended his run of success through the Arizona Fall League.
“He’s very much in our plans,” Hoyer said. “But I think we’re also going to be active and exploring alternatives that can play first, that can play DH. And that I think it’s really important.”
Building in contingencies wouldn’t prevent the Cubs from giving Mervis the chance to prove himself in the big leagues, but depth at first base would also take some of the pressure off him in his debut season.