Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said the “painful” end to his team’s 2023 season would motivate him all winter.
That was during his end-of-season news conference. Now, the offseason kicks off in earnest with the general manager meetings next week.
Though the winter meetings in December are more liable to stir up trades and signings — the Cubs are expected to be active, with Cody Bellinger hitting free agency after declining his mutual option Friday and top-tier talents such as Juan Soto and Pete Alonso available via trade — the GM meetings are set up to provide some early answers for the Cubs and their fans.
Five days after the conclusion of the World Series marks the beginning of free agency and serves as a deadline to exercise contract options. Kyle Hendricks’ (club option or possible extension) and Marcus Stroman’s (opt out) futures with the club should be clear soon. And Hoyer will address the media for the first time since former senior vice president of pitching Craig Breslow left for the Red Sox and the Cubs parted ways with bullpen coach Chris Young and catching/game strategy coach Craig Driver.
This offseason will dictate the Cubs’ trajectory in terms of pitching infrastructure, manager David Ross’ vision for his coaching staff and response to just missing the 2023 playoffs.
“There’s so many different factors you can point to,” Hoyer said of the Cubs’ September fade. “I feel like most of my waking moments are thinking about those moments and what we could have done different, how things could have been different. But we have a lot of time this winter and this fall to think through it.”
The Cubs are expected to bring back Hendricks after a bounce-back 2023 season, but the question is whether they’ll fall back on the club option in his contract for next year or reach an agreement on a longer commitment. An extension could benefit both parties, lowering the average annual value for the Cubs and giving Hendricks the stability of a multiyear deal.
In Stroman’s case, the decision is squarely in his hands. When Stroman posted a 2.28 ERA in his first 16 starts of the season, it seemed inevitable that if the Cubs didn’t offer Stroman an extension, he’d test free agency.
Then, a blister shortened his London Series start, and later an ailing hip contributed to a slump before sending him to the injured list. Finally, a fracture in his rib cartilage extended that IL stint. So, by the time he made his surprise return in mid-September, his opt-out decision was more complicated.
“He and his agent have a decision to make,” Hoyer said. “We’ll find out after the World Series what that is. But if he chooses to come back, certainly the second half of 2022 and the first half of this year were exceptionally good. He’s a really good pitcher. And as we’ve learned, you can never have enough good pitching.”
Keep an eye on veteran catcher Yan Gomes, who has a $6 million club option for next season. Gomes elevated his offensive production in his second year with the Cubs, as he put together a .267/.315/.408 slash line and was one of the team’s best clutch hitters, leading the group with a 198 WRC+ in high leverage.
He also continued to receive praise for his work with the pitching staff and set an example for young up-and-coming catcher Miguel Amaya.
“Those two guys had a really good year,” Hoyer said, “and those are both guys that we can bring forward.”
Front office and coaching staff
The Red Sox officially named Breslow their chief baseball officer last week. Now, the Cubs have to figure out how to replace his leadership in the pitching department. Breslow was at the helm as the Cubs revamped their pitching development in recent years, but the system he put in place remains. And general manager Carter Hawkins, whom the Cubs hired away from Cleveland two years ago, came from an organization with a strong pitching development reputation.
The Cubs want to continue to develop homegrown relievers. And this offseason, they also will be searching for the right coach to guide that group in the big-leagues. There’s always the possibility that another team could poach members of Ross’ coaching staff, but heading into the GM meetings, the Cubs have two spots to fill before next season.
The Athletic reported this week that John Mallee, who served as the Cubs’ hitting coach in 2015-17 and rejoined the organization as the Triple-A Iowa hitting coach this past season, would be joining Ross’ staff.