Where do Cubs need to make changes? Ross points to one spot
PITTSBURGH -- Imagine this scenario for the Cubs offseason:
On the first day of free-agency, Anthony Rizzo's agent calls the Cubs to say his client misses Wrigleyville and wants to return. Does Jed Hoyer answer with a swift, "Absolutely," or does he mention how Frank Schwindel posted a 1.049 OPS since taking over at first base and basically matched Rizzo's home run and RBI total this season in half the at-bats.
That example sounds strange, but it probably isn't all that far-fetched. Certainly one option for the Cubs would be to return the infield they have, with Schwindel at first, Nick Madrigal at second, Nico Hoerner at short and Patrick Wisdom at third.
Of course, that group was not Thursday's infield. The Cubs rolled past the Pirates 9-0 without Wisdom, who went on the injured list with an undisclosed issue; or Hoerner, who has been resting a sore oblique for the past week and won't play in the final series; or Madrigal, who tore his hamstring in June while playing for the White Sox.
But that quartet could be the starting infield on Opening Day 2022. Or possibly not. There is an abundance of shortstops hitting the free-agent market this winter, including ex-Cub Javy Baez, Houston's Carlos Correa, the Dodgers' Corey Seager and Colorado's Trevor Story.
Cubs manager David Ross was asked if he sees shortstop as a position of need.
"I'm not targeting anything," he said. "I'm still trying to get through these four games we've got left. I definitely think there's a need there, but there's probably some needs in a lot of different areas to me, where we can improve.
"What Jed's able to identify that we need and what's out there and the big picture of the future and what we see coming and how to piece that together long-term is probably more of a goal then just saying, 'We need this player and this position right now.'
"I think we definitely need pitching. I think starting pitching is an area we can improve on. I think we're toward the bottom in Major League Baseball in that area, so I think that's an easy statement."
Ross was also asked if he thought Baez would be willing to return to the Cubs in free agency. That could be a question for Baez, Rizzo, Kris Bryant and just about everyone the Cubs traded away in July.
"I've talked to all three of those guys sporadically through text," Ross said. "They all seem like they're in a good place. They're going to be free agents and be able to pick where they want to go.
"I definitely think they enjoyed their time here and know all three of them would be happy to come back, from my understanding. More than the three of them, I actually would say a majority of the ones I've talked to have said that."
From Hoerner's perspective, he'd like to head into next year as the Cubs' regular shortstop, but he's versatile enough to play second, third and the outfield.
"Flexibility is something that definitely helps in a situation like that," Hoerner said Thursday. "I really believe in my ability to play shortstop. I'm going to prepare to play there on an everyday level if that's the opportunity.
"And if it's somewhere else, then I'll do that. The chance to play in the field every day for the Chicago Cubs is pretty awesome, regardless of where it is, so I think I'll always have that in the back of my head."
The Cubs teed off on Pittsburgh starter Miguel Yajure Thursday at PNC Park. Rafael Ortega homered on the first pitch of the game, then the Cubs added 6 runs in the second. Sergio Alcantara homered among 3 hits, while Ortega, Willson Contreras and Matt Duffy had a pair of hits.
This was also a nice outing by Cubs starter Justin Steele, who threw 7 scoreless innings. He gave up 4 hits, 1 walk and struck out seven with an efficient 76 pitches.