Last season, the Chicago Cubs finished in the middle of the National League Central with a record of 74-88 and were 19 games back of the first spot. They were well ahead of the 62-100 Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds but fell far behind the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers, both of which had winning records. In short, it was definitely a transition season on the North Side.
2022 record: 74-88 (3rd in NL Central)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 75-87 (3rd in NL Central)
The offseason was a relatively productive one for the Cubs, despite losing a significant contributor in catcher Willson Contreras joining the Cardinals. Their biggest deal came in the form of Dansby Swanson, signing him to a seven-year, $177 million contract. The 29-year-old shortstop and former World Series champion will be a big factor in whether or not the Cubs can bounce back in 2023 after producing a 116 wRC+ and 6.4 fWAR in 2022. It was a career year for Swanson after previously posting a career wRC+ of 88; his glovework is steady but will his bat keep up the pace?
Jed Hoyer and company also added a former National League MVP in Cody Bellinger, who struggled with the Los Angeles Dodgers and has recently battled a lot of adversity. A fresh start may be the best thing for him, and that’s what he’ll get. It will be interesting to see the kind of numbers he can produce, and even though it feels like a fool’s errand to suspect an incredible bounce-back, baseball is a funny game, and Bellinger has the talent.
But wait, there’s more! Trey Mancini, Tucker Barnhart, Eric Hosmer, and Jameson Taillon are all joining the squad in their various roles. Mancini is coming off a World Series victory with the Houston Astros(after some slugging years in Baltimore), while a pitcher like Taillon will look to make some noise in the starting rotation. During his time with the New York Yankees, he was a perfectly adequate middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Barnhart and Yan Gomes will be the two players fighting for the starting catcher position. Meanwhile, Hosmer will be right in the first base mix with Mancini and prospect Matt Mervis waiting in the wings. Outside a few hot weeks in 2021 from the since-departed Frank Schwindel, the Cubbies haven’t found a proper replacement for Anthony Rizzo following the trade at that year’s deadline.
The biggest problem heading toward Opening Day for the Cubs is the loss of Seiya Suzuki, a big producer for the team last season, slashing .262/.336/.433 with a wRC+ of 116 and a 2.0 fWAR. He’s out with an oblique strain, but the hope is that he will be back sooner than expected, given the timeline he’s on currently. The middle of April was suggested as a reasonable time to expect a return.
Chicago also faces questions with its pitching staff. Taillon and 2022 signee Marcus Stroman sit at the front of their rotation, but they seem like more mid-rotation contributors than co-aces. Kyle Hendricks will miss at least the first month of the season recovering from a shoulder injury, and the onus will be on both veteran Drew Smyly and the young starters — including former Yankees prospect Hayden Wesneski — to keep the Cubs afloat.
Are the Cubs going to be contending for the World Series? No, probably not. But they could be on their way to doing so. They made some big signings to help solidify some important positions, and it will be interesting to see how they fare at Wrigley Field. And, who knows, maybe that’s the beginning of something fun. However, a season like the one they had last year might be in the cards.
I don’t believe they will have a losing record in 2023, especially if everyone can stay healthy. However, they could undoubtedly thrive around the .500 range as the new players try to adjust as quickly as possible and the roster talent, in general, sorts itself out. The NL Central is a division that could go in many directions, especially if one of the two teams at the top falters for some reason.
The Cubs have plenty of work to do, but the signings they made over the offseason (as well as some of the players already on their roster) should be able to help out their record even a bit and hopefully push them over that .500 plateau.
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