Tuesday, May 24 2022

Plugging holes: Leaky Cubs roster needs more than pitching originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It’s no secret starting pitching is atop the Cubs’ list of offseason priorities.

“There’s no question that we have to acquire more pitching, better pitching this winter,” team president Jed Hoyer said this month. “I think that’ll be the No. 1 priority because that, said simply, was the downfall of this season.

“Our rotation was short, and we weren’t effective enough in terms of run prevention.”

But that’s only one piece to the puzzle.

The Cubs broke up their roster with a flurry of trades in a July selloff. They’ll be active in free agency this winter as they look to retool following a 91-loss season.

Here’s a look at other areas Hoyer and new general manager Carter Hawkins need to address this winter. 

Backup catcher

The Cubs entered spring training with veteran depth at catcher, but even the best-laid plans go astray — especially at a position that’s tough for any team to find enough depth. 

The Cubs used a franchise record nine catchers in 2021. It got so bad they called up Jose Lobaton, an emergency depth option who had not appeared in a big-league game since 2018. He went down after a rough six games with a season-ending shoulder injury.

The other catchers used behind Willson Contreras were Austin Romine, Tony Wolters, P.J. Higgins, Robinson Chirinos, Taylor Gushue, Erick Castillo and Tyler Payne.

Contreras took on a heavy workload, catching 935 2/3 innings — seventh in MLB. Hoyer made it clear at his end-of-season press conference acquiring catching depth to take some burden off Contreras is high on the to-do-list.

“I think he’s an elite offensive player,” Hoyer said. “But it’s hard to be an elite offensive player when your legs are gone. 

“That’s something that we have to really focus on this offseason, is building a roster and setting it up to make sure that we can keep Willson as an elite offensive player.”

Shortstop

Whether the Cubs are in the market for any of the premier shortstops in this offseason’s class, which includes Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, they at least have a need for an everyday guy.

The Cubs traded Javy Báez — among this offseason’s free agents — this summer, and while their farm system is rich with shortstops, they’re all several years away from the big leagues.

Nico Hoerner is an in-house shortstop and will be a key piece to the 2022 team, but the Cubs are also looking at him as an everyday player who possibly plays multiple positions. 

Hoerner has experience at short, second base — where Nick Madrigal is penciled in next season — and outfield. His plan this winter is to work at short, second and center field.

“That moving around — as Javy has shown, as Kris [Bryant] has shown — that doesn’t detract from your value,” Hoyer said. “In some ways, it actually adds to it.”

Hoerner played 44 games this season while going on the injured list four times. Madrigal played in 54 games before missing the final four months with a hamstring injury.

With Hoerner’s ability to move around and spell Madrigal at second when needed, signing an everyday shortstop would make sense for the Cubs.

Outfield

The Cubs need to add at least one big league outfielder this winter.

Ian Happ is at a career crossroads and the Cubs have a decision to make for 2022. He looked like a non-tender candidate in a down first half until rallying the final two months for a strong finish to the season.

Jason Heyward is a respected clubhouse leader and a hard worker who entered 2021 coming off his best two seasons as a Cub. He struggled offensively in 2021, playing 104 games while missing time due to injury, and may be more of a platoon player next season.

Rafael Ortega was one of the Cubs’ pleasant surprises in 2021. Due to his extreme splits, he could be better suited for a platoon role.

Illinois native Michael Hermosillo debuted in 2021 and can play all three outfield spots. Top prospect Brennen Davis is not on the 40-man but could debut sometime next summer.

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Source: Yahoo Sports

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