Have the Cubs made a philosophical shift in team-building?
Last year, the Cubs loaded up on pitchers in the draft. Then their biggest expenditure in free-agency was the best defensive shortstop in MLB, which will move the second-best defensive shortstop over to second base.
Traditionally, the Cubs have aimed to fill the lineup with power hitters to take advantage of the homer-friendly dimensions at Wrigley Field.
The transactions of the past six months make it seem like Cubs management has decided to emphasize pitching and defense, but president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said that's not necessarily the case.
"The notion like this is exactly how we're going to build it and pigeonhole players around that, I don't think that's the right way to do things," Hoyer said Wednesday after the Cubs introduced shortstop Dansby Swanson. "I do think pitching and defense is incredibly important. I think we have a chance to play really clean games (in 2023).
"That said, I would never minimize the value of offense. When I look at my career, we won in Boston by bludgeoning people and playing four-hour baseball games. We won in 2016 with one of the best defensive teams of all time. There's a lot of ways to skin the cat."
Pitching and defense make sense for any team. A strong case can be made that starting pitching is the most important ingredient toward putting a World Series contender on the field. That was certainly true of the 2016 Cubs, with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks leading the rotation.
Then with the shift being outlawed in MLB starting next season, strong defense might be more important than ever. The Cubs should have the best defensive middle infield in the game with Swanson and Nico Hoerner. Cody Bellinger in center field -- along with top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong down the line -- fits with the "strong up the middle" strategy.
"In some ways, part of how you have to think and build is around what players are available to you," Hoyer said. "Looking at this shortstop class, people ask the question, 'You have a shortstop, is that a priority?' It's like, we need really good players that can help at a premium position. If that moves a really good player to a different position, that's great.
"In short, pitching and defense are really important, but I don't think you go into an offseason and say, 'This is what we're doing.' I think you've got to be somewhat opportunistic based on what's available."
Hoyer said the Cubs sensed a mutual interest with Swanson even before the winter meetings. Swanson's wedding to soccer star Mallory Pugh and subsequent honeymoon might have delayed the process slightly.
Swanson wasn't looking to leave his hometown Braves, but Atlanta's top overall prospect last year was shortstop Vaughn Grissom. So it wasn't a surprise when Atlanta didn't break the bank to try to keep Swanson, whose deal with the Cubs is for $177 million over seven years.
"I got the pretty clear sense that they were going to move on," Swanson said Wednesday. "It got to a point where we felt like this is where we were supposed to be regardless. That feeling was starting to come about even before some of those conversations (with Atlanta) were had."
The four free-agent shortstops had been widely discussed since last winter. Hoerner was well-aware and promised to be happy, not offended, if the Cubs added a player that would push him to second base.
"I'm expecting nothing short of Gold Glove quality out of both guys," Hoyer said. "Nico wants to win, he's excited."
There's still room to add offense to the lineup at third base or designated hitter, likely someone who can spell or take over first base from rookie Matt Mervis if necessary.
One player who has been connected with the Cubs is Trey Mancini. He went 1-for-21 in the playoffs after being traded to Houston last year. But in 2019 for Baltimore, he hit .291 with 35 home runs and 97 RBI. So he's similar to Bellinger as someone looking to resurrect his career.
At third base, free agents Justin Turner (Red Sox) and Brandon Drury (Angels) are off the board. Evan Longoria is still available. The Cubs could stick with Patrick Wisdom, Christopher Morel and Zach McKinstry, or explore a trade.
"There's a lot of good players out there, a lot of conversations that we're having," Cubs GM Carter Hawkins said of third base possibilities. "So I couldn't comment either way outside of saying we're engaged with a lot of different people and we'll see what fits with our roster and resources."