Typically, when I write this piece up to close out a calendar year, there have been at least one or two additions to the roster. But, as I drink my coffee here on Dec. 28, the Chicago Cubs are the only MLB team to not add a big leaguer this offseason.
Let me say that again. They are the only team that's stood pat as far as roster construction goes, despite two pretty significant departures in Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman, both of whom remain available on the free agent market.
So as we put pencil to paper and craft a potential Cubs Opening Day lineup, there are no new faces here - with the exception of new manager Craig Counsell who, despite being made the highest paid skipper in the game, has gotten zero in the sense of roster reinforcements from the front office. Fun.
Cubs 2024 Opening Day lineup lacks punch in the middle of the order
1. Nico Hoerner 2B
2. Ian Happ LF
3. Christopher Morel 3B
4. Seiya Suzuki RF
5. Patrick Wisdom DH
6. Dansby Swanson SS
7. Matt Mervis 1B
8. Yan Gomes C
9. Pete Crow-Armstrong CF
SP - Justin Steele
As wonderful a revelation as Mike Tauchman was for the 2023 Cubs, I don't see him replicating that performance again in 2024 - and, as long as Crow-Armstrong is healthy and has a solid spring, there's no world where you can block a starting gig in lieu of Tauchman who, on a contending team, is probably your fourth outfielder.
The issue with this mix is its sheer variability. Christopher Morel and Seiya Suzuki in your top run-producing spots might go well; or both could go on month-long cold spells that leaves the offense searching for answers. We all know the shortcomings in Wisdom's game, but without the addition of a power bat, you almost have to pencil him in just in hopes of adding some thump.
The bottom third of the order, again, is loaded with question marks. Mervis wasn't the answer last year at first base but, outside of Wisdom, you don't have another option internally. Yan Gomes was outstanding last year, but even so, he was still a below-average hitter according to OPS+. Given his age, you can probably expect some regression there.
Crow-Armstrong will, as almost all young players do, go through some growing pains as he adjusts to MLB pitching. Slotting him in at the bottom of the order takes the pressure off him in the short-term and, once he starts to figure things out, his speed there gives you a sort of old-school double leadoff man configuration along with Nico Hoerner at the top of the order.
There's no doubt who gets the ball on Opening Day, with Steele looking to build off his fifth-place Cy Young finish from 2023. All told, it's not that this is a bad lineup - in fact, it has the potential to be very solid. But the potential is also there for a lot of holes to be exposed quickly and with a relatively light bench mix of Nick Madrigal, Mike Tauchman, Miguel Amaya and Alexander Canario, there aren't proven answers to turn to should guys falter.