Whether the Cubs dip toes into the deep end of the starting pitching market this winter, it’s a safe bet those toes will be at least kicking the tires on some of the big-name free agent shortstops.
For all the good work at shortstop Nico Hoerner did this year — with eye tests and metrics both approving — Jed Hoyer’s front office has at least three good reasons to pursue one of the four premier players at that position who are expected to be available:
Extreme defensive shifts have been banned, effective next season.
The Cubs don’t have much athleticism across their middle infield beyond Hoerner (where have you gone, Javy Báez?).
That position area might be the strongest for top-end hitters (definitely for glove-bat two-way players).
And did we mention the shifts are going away?
“As far as the ability to play shortstop, I thought Nico did a terrific job this year, and I don’t see any reason why he won’t continue to get better as he gains experience and continues to work hard with [coach]Andy Green,” Hoyer, the team president, said Monday during a lengthy end-of-season media conference.
“But the way the game is trending, athleticism in the middle infield will make a big difference.”
Carlos Correa anyone? Or Xander Bogaerts? How about Trea Turner? Dansby Swanson?
How hard might Hoyer be expected to go after someone from that star-studded group?
“I wouldn’t comment on that now,” he said.
About a month ago, manager David Ross made the case for the Cubs to go after one of the big shortstops, despite how much he likes Hoerner’s work there.
“I think it’s like when you want to buy a new car, but you don’t have to; you can be picky, right?” he said.
Hoyer is obviously more reluctant to openly discuss free agent targets.
But he also knows how big a premium range in the middle infield will be for any team’s roster starting next season.
“We have total confidence in Nico’s ability to play shortstop,” Hoyer said. “I think he proved that this year. But the game’s about to trend more athletic. Getting rid of the shift will force that. Some of the base-running rules will force that.
“That will certainly be a focus for us, and probably for 29 other teams as well as they think about their offseason.”