Cubs honing in on a path forward for Christopher Morel
After the floor opened up to questions during Saturday morning’s front office panel at Cubs Convention, a fan broached Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins on one of this offseason’s most-discussed Cubs topics:
What do you guys envision the role of Christopher Morel on the 2024 team, and where do you see him playing in an ideal world?
Morel’s positional fit with the Cubs and whether he would be best-suited manning only one spot instead of a utility role have been buzzworthy topics. The 24-year-old has moved around the diamond in his first two big league seasons and spent a large chunk of time in 2023 as the designated hitter.
His name has also popped up on the trade rumor mill and in loose speculation at times, which the same fan pointed out to Hoyer and Hawkins.
“I can’t overstate enough the number of times this offseason, over the last couple of offseasons, that the rumors sometimes have zero basis in truth, and it happens all the time,” Hoyer said. “Read stuff with a pound of salt, because so oftentimes, something has not a little barring in truth, [but] zero basis in truth.
“There’s been a lot of those this winter. Morel’s linked to this team, or we’re linked to this player. … Sometimes the rumors get going, and it’s a freight train. Be aware of how often these things have no bearing in fruit. Sometimes it’s kind of an alternate universe.”
For all the questions around Morel and his status, it may not be so complicated. He’s a game-changing hitter whom the Cubs want to keep in their lineup, whether he’s playing one spot or moving around.
“We had similar questions — I don’t want to compare talents because it’s not fair to Mo — but similar questions of where José Ramírez is going to play back in 2014, 2015,” said Hawkins, who spent 14 years in the Guardians front office before joining the Cubs.
“He was a shortstop coming up; [Francisco] Lindor was playing shortstop. He could play second; [Jason] Kipnis was playing second. Can he play third? Well, we have some pretty good third basemen. Can he play the outfield? I don’t know, but we think this guy can hit. We’re going to figure out a way to get him into the lineup.
“I think it’s a really similar question that we’re working through with Chris, which is he can hit. We have to figure out ways to get him in the lineup.”
Morel has appeared at six positions in his career — each outfield spot, shortstop, and second and third base. He made 61 appearances in 107 games as a DH In 2023 and hit 26 home runs, tied with Cody Bellinger for the Cubs’ team lead despite opening the season in the minor leagues. Starting with his May 9 season debut, Morel was tied for 19th in MLB with a .508 slugging percentage.
“He’s a guy obviously, offensively, who had a great year last year,” Hoyer said on Friday. “He’s gonna work hard at various positions. It’s a long season. Making out your lineup card and just figuring going around the diamond, that’s not how baseball works.
“We’re gonna have injuries all the time. We’re gonna need that, and the more positions you can play, the better. He’s going to have a big impact on the team. I don’t know if he’s going to have one set position.”
The Cubs have many positions solidified, but there is a potential pathway for playing time at third base. With how Morel has struggled at times there in his career, why not play him exclusively at third this spring to see how he handles it?
“We could put all our chips in one spot, or we can put half our chips in one and the other,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know that one is a better answer or not. Our decision right now is to play him at multiple places. To the extent we feel like there’s better odds in one, we’ll continue to put more chips there. But it’s just a strategic plan we have at this moment.”
He may even add a position to his resume: first base. Morel spent some of his time in winter ball with the Águilas Cibaeñas in the Dominican Republic working at the position in non-game settings.
That versatility could prove just as valuable as Morel locking down one spot.
“You can be the solution long term both ways,” manager Craig Counsell said. “That’s what I see with Morel being. He can be a solution both ways, and even a more valuable solution. The one thing I’ll tell you, I do agree that playing one position every day is gonna make you better at that position. I think that’s true for sure, and that’s maybe a little bit of the sacrifice you make.
“But I’d argue you’re more valuable playing more positions and being versatile. Season to season, putting a team together, daily managing lineups. Versatility is good for everybody, I think.”