Signing Dansby Swanson to a seven year, $177 million deal last month meant Jed Hoyer and the Cubs could check 'shortstop' off their wish list, while sliding former Gold Glove finalist Nico Hoerner back to second, giving the team one of the best middle infield tandems in all of baseball.
But as rumors of an Eric Hosmer signing continue to percolate, a signficant contingent of Cubs fans still want to add a big bat to the lineup. With the free agent market starting to wear thin, the only way that happens prior to Opening Day is a trade - with the more likely avenue being Chicago waiting to see how 2023 plays out before making their big splash.
After watching Xander Bogaerts pack his bags for San Diego in free agency, the Red Sox and superstar third baseman Rafael Devers are reportedly worlds apart in extension talks - meaning the two-time All-Star could be on the move, either ahead of this year's trade deadline or via free agency next offseason.
Multiple reports have the Cubs as the eventual landing spot for Devers, who won't turn 27 until next October. He'd be a perfect fit on the North Side, balancing out the lineup and giving manager David Ross a potent left-handed bat that's posted a 124 OPS+ in six big league campaigns with the Red Sox.
A Swanson-Devers combo on the left side of the infield would bring a level of star power to Wrigley Field that's sorely needed. If the front office can manage to extend Nico Hoerner or Ian Happ before spring training, that would only further bolster the outlook for the club. The good news, though, is Hoyer doesn't have to push all his chips in on Devers because another elite third baseman could be on the market next winter, as well.
Cubs could have their choice between Rafael Devers, Manny Machado
After the Padres gave Bogaerts a stunningly long 11-year, $280 million contract this winter, the team is all-in on winning now. But with an opt-out at season's end, Manny Machado could hit the open market, foregoing the final five years and $160 million on his current deal. If he puts up numbers like he has in recent years, he could easily outpace that in free agency, despite 2023 being his age-30 season.
In the last three years, Machado has been a National League MVP finalist twice, earned two All-Star nods and brought home the first Silver Slugger Award of his career, while slashing .291/.359/.522 - good for a 147 OPS+.
Offensively, there's not much of a comparison between the two. Last year, Machado was, by nearly every statistical measure, the superior player. But the four-year age gap between the two will undoubtedly impact how teams perceive the long-term value of the two players should they both test free agency next winter.
Given what the market has shown us this winter, with almost every single deal outperforming predictions, I'd have to think Tom Ricketts would be more comfortable shelling out a deal that spans more than a decade to Devers rather than Machado, because you know you're going to have to start at probably $35 million AAV to lure the latter to Chicago given what he'd be walking away from in San Diego.
Obviously, a lot will be determined by the events of the next 12 or so months. Maybe Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox trade Devers midseason and he inks an in-season extension with his new team. The injury bug could bite Machado and he might choose to play out the rest of his deal with the Padres. But the makings of a dream scenario where both of these guys are available in free agency just as the Cubs hit their prime years of a new contention window are very much in play.