Cubs need to thread the needle between playing the kids and adding proven performers

Craig Counsell and Jed Hoyer will need to strike a delicate balance as the Cubs put the finishing touches on their roster with spring training underway.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Full squad workouts begin this week and the Cubs play their first Cactus League game on Friday afternoon in Arizona. Despite that fact, some of the highest-profile free agents remain unsigned and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer shows no signs of giving into the demands of Scott Boras anytime soon.

Boras represents the top four remaining players in Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, Matt Chapman and Jordan Montgomery. At the right price, any of them fit with the Cubs, but there are also long-term implications to signing them, especially when it comes to Chapman or Bellinger.

Cubs will have to try to balance a number of prospects on the rise, while also adding impact veteran talent in the short-term

Bellinger, primarily a center fielder, feels like a 'must' at this point. Even with him putting up MVP-caliber numbers last summer, Chicago still missed the postseason - so it's hard to look at the roster here in mid-February without him and feel good about the Cubs' chances of playing in October. But Hoyer is treading very carefully, attempting to not only improve the team in 2024, but keep some open runway for the team's up-and-coming prospects, as well.

In Bellinger's case, that applies directly to top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong, who stands to a lose a lot of playing time if the Cubs re-sign last year's NL Comeback Player of the Year. Even so, PCA wants Bellinger back on the North Side because, as we all do, he understands the team is better with him than without.

At third, a lengthy deal for Chapman could block a path to the bigs for former first-rounder Matt Shaw, who skyrocketed up prospect rankings lists after dominating in his first stint of professional baseball. With Christopher Morel now expected to get a long, hard look at the hot corner this spring, a Chapman signing feels fairly unlikely at this point.

If Morel proves himself at third over the next month and the Cubs then look to add offense elsewhere, perhaps in the form of a DH, guys like JD Martinez become a lot more interesting to think about. The six-time All-Star showed he's still a potent threat at the plate and will probably command a 2-year deal, despite the fact turns 37 in August.

But if you sign someone like Martinez, who is strictly a designated hitter at this point in his career, where are you going to find regular at-bats for guys like Alexander Canario, who had an .866 OPS with Iowa last year and looked solid in a brief taste of big league action. There's a long line of guys behind him who could be knocking on the door soon, too, and it's hard to see a path to regular playing time for almost all of them.

Does that mean the Cubs shouldn't go out and re-sign Bellinger or bring in a big veteran bat like Martinez? Absolutely not. Right now, there's a lot riding on guys who haven't proven themselves at this level. You're betting everything on Crow-Armstrong, Canario and Michael Busch hitting over the course of the year - and while that's certainly a path to take, I still expect Hoyer will bring in some more established guys as a short-term safety net, while keeping his eye on the long-term picture.