It’s shaping up as a busy off-season for the Cubs as they look to push on with their rebuild and improve on their 74-88 record in 2022. According to remarks made by president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer to Maddie Lee of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs are expecting to add a starting center fielder, while Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports that the team has been one of the most active early on in the shortstop market.
“We have guys internally that will certainly play out there [in center],” Hoyer said, “but I think the lion’s share might come from external.”
Rafael Ortega and Christopher Morel had the bulk of the playing time in center this past season, but while both are under club control for next season, Hoyer’s comments make it pretty clear that neither are seen as their center fielder moving forward. Ortega hit .241/.331/.358 with seven home runs, while Morel posted a .235/.308/.433 line with 16 home runs in his rookie campaign. Morel bounced around the infield positions as well, but neither posted positive defensive marks for their work in center.
A number of the Cubs top prospects are outfielders, but they’re at varying stages of their development. Their top prospect, according to Fangraphs, Pete Crowe-Armstrong is at High-A while Kevin Alcantara (third) is at Single-A. Brennen Davis and Alexander Canario are their best outfield prospects at Triple-A, but both are injured and uncertain timelines.
“Certainly with [Alexander] Canario’s injury and Brennen [Davis’] setback, it made that just that much more obvious,” Hoyer said.
As far as center field options go in free agency, the options aren’t particularly plentiful. Aaron Judge is the biggest name available, but while he played a significant amount of center this season for the Yankees, it seems unlikely the Cubs would be prepared to make the sort of splash needed to land him. Brandon Nimmo’s blend of elite on-base skills, solid power, and adequate defense would make him a strong candidate, but even though he’ll be much cheaper than Judge, he’ll still likely command a deal north of $100MM and there’ll be plenty of suitors to drive his price up.
Two less high profile names to consider are Kevin Kiermaier and Cody Bellinger, and Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports reports that both are n the Cubs’ radar. Kiermaier, 33, is a free agent after the Rays declined his team option for 2023. While his previously elite defensive numbers have dropped off as he’s aged,…