Success for 2023 Cubs hugely dependent on veterans producing
By Jake Misener
The Cubs aren't quite ready to hand the reins to its up-and-coming prospects - but with the farm system on the rise, a stopgap infusion of veterans could help the team be surprisingly competitive in the short-term, without sacrificing long-term financial flexibility in years to come.
After a monster breakout season in 2022, Chicago could have gone with prospect Matt Mervis at first base to open the year. Instead, Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins went out and added a pair of veterans in Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer, the latter of which cost just the league minimum, with the Padres still on the hook for the rest of his salary.
Mancini really struggled following a trade from the Orioles to the Astros last summer, but has still been a solid offensive performer in his career. Hosmer isn't what he was when he spearheaded back-to-back World Series appearances (and one championship) in the middle of the last decade with Kansas City but, again, he's only costing the team league minimum and brings valuable insights to the clubhouse.
Behind the dish, it's the experienced duo of Yan Gomes, who returns for his second year on the North Side, and former Gold Glover Tucker Barnhart. It's a dramatic shift at the position which has, for years, been carried by three-time All-Star Willson Contreras, who signed with the rival Cardinals this offseason. The Cubs are hoping consistency and game-calling skills help the team's young arms take another step forward after a strong showing down the stretch in 2022.
Cubs counting on experience, bouncebacks and consistency in 2023
Cody Bellinger, a former NL Rookie of the Year and MVP, is betting on himself in 2023 - signing a one-year deal with the Cubs in hopes of re-establishing his value and hitting the open market again next winter. He hasn't been near the player he was early in his career in recent years, but at just 27 years old, there's cause for optimism here.
"We've got a lot of winners, former winners, hardware, World Series champions. We'll make our identity as the season goes on and what we're all about. But I like where we're at. I love that we're built on pitching and defense. "- David Ross, via MLB.com
On the pitching side of things, right-hander Jameson Taillon marks the Cubs' biggest winter addition, along with relievers Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger, both of whom could figure into the ninth-inning picture at some point. Veteran Drew Smyly returned, as well, and we'll be keeping an eye on Kyle Hendricks as he works his way back from 2022 shoulder surgery, too.
It's not all about these veterans, though, to be sure. Young arms like Justin Steele and Hayden Wesneski will be key pieces of the rotation and second-year outfielder Seiya Suzuki will be counted upon in a big way once he returns to the lineup, hopefully sooner rather than later. The Cubs' elite double-play combo of Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson will help set the tone defensively - and hopefully, it all comes together in a season that sees the Cubs outpace the preseason expectations in a big way.