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Projecting the 2024 Cubs roster

8 months agoTony Andracki

The Cubs are entering the winter in a very different spot than they were a year ago.

And not just because of the shakeup on the coaching staff that begins with the swap of David Ross for Craig Counsell at manager.

Last offseason, the Cubs had a lot of positions up for grabs as they looked to build to their core.

While there are still openings heading into 2024 (first base, DH, center field, rotation, bullpen), this team has a decent-sized core group of players that are all expected back next year.

“We’re a really strong team in a lot of ways,” Jed Hoyer said at his end-of-season press conference. “We were an above average offensive team. … We had really good run prevention. The shell of a really good team is there.

“Obviously we have to make additions and we have to find ways to improve. But I feel really good given where we were a year ago, the number of pieces we have that are contributing players for a really good team is there. We just need to supplement that.”

The big question of the offseason will be if one other player is back along with them — Cody Bellinger. The Cubs have already expressed a desire to bring back the star outfielder/first baseman and he would fill a lot of needs both defensively and offensively — not to mention the fact that he was integral to the clubhouse culture.

Beyond that, the Cubs are searching for more consistency and more overall depth that will help avoid a late-season lull that kept the team out of the playoffs in 2023. The team that made the postseason over the Cubs (Diamondbacks) wound up making it all the way to the World Series, further proof that the most important aspect is simply getting into the postseason tournament.

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So how do the Cubs get there? What areas do they need to target this winter?

The hope from Hoyer’s front office is that Counsell’s arrival will help get the most out of the team. But a lot will come down to the players, as well.

“The 2023 Cubs team had a good season,” Counsell said during his introductory presser. “There’s a core in that team. It’s 83 wins. And that means that there’s things that are close, right? What you have to be careful about is that what happened last year does not indicate this year. And I think teams are different. I’ve used this analogy for a long time, but there’s a soup made and it can be the same players but it’s gonna taste a little different next year.

“It’s always a little different and you have to create a new dynamic every single year, no matter what’s going on. So there’ll be players that had wonderful years last year, not so much [for other players] and then vice versa. But there’s a solid core and a solid foundation. And that speaks to the health of the organization. And that speaks to a bright future.”

We break it down, starting with a projection of the 2024 complete 26-man roster.

Disclaimer: This is not a prediction of who the Cubs will acquire in the offseason, but rather a look at how the roster shakes out at this current moment and areas the front office will need to address.

CATCHERS

Yan Gomes
Miguel Amaya

The Cubs had a $6 million club option on Gomes, which was an absolute no-brainer to pick up. The veteran backstop enjoyed a nice season statistically but his best asset cannot be truly measured.

Gomes provides a stabilizing presence in the clubhouse as a whole and especially in working with the pitching staff. The Cubs essentially view him as another coach on the field and he is an ideal fit to continue to help mentor the organization’s catcher of the future — Amaya.

The 24-year-old Amaya made his MLB debut in May and flashed his potential throughout a 53-game sample size. He impressed with his defensive ability and game-calling and figures to move into a larger role in 2024.

INFIELDERS

Dansby Swanson
Nico Hoerner
Nick Madrigal
Patrick Wisdom
Miles Mastrobuoni
Matt Mervis

Swanson was exactly as advertised in 2023, turning in the best season of the top free agent shortstops last winter (topping Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa in WAR).

Swanson also helped change the culture inside the Cubs clubhouse, petitioning for the front office to buy at the trade deadline despite the fact the team was under .500 and he was constantly focused on winning.

Swanson’s arrival pushed Hoerner to second base, which leaves the Cubs with what is likely the best defensive middle infield in the game. Both players won Gold Gloves and going into 2024, that up-the-middle defense will once again be the backbone of the team.

Beyond that duo, the rest of the Cubs infield is up in the air.

Wisdom reached a 1-year deal with the team last week to avoid arbitration but he barely played third base down the stretch, shifting over to first and moving to a lesser role with the addition of Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline. Madrigal played stellar defense at third base but he has had issues staying on the field. Mastrobuoni is a solid utility player who can play a variety of positions and provides a left-handed bat and speed off the bench.

Mervis came up in May, struggled, was sent down and never re-appeared in the big leagues. With their sights set on contending in 2024, the Cubs will undoubtedly add other options at first base rather than relying on Wisdom and Mervis at the position — and the return of Bellinger would fill that need.

Christopher Morel could also factor into the equation at third base or first base after an offseason of work at both positions. The Cubs may also add a third baseman this winter, either via free agency or trade.

OUTFIELDERS

Ian Happ
Seiya Suzuki
Pete Crow-Armstrong
Mike Tauchman

A notable omission here is Alexander Canario, who was called up to the big leagues for the first time in September. The Cubs could receive a fourth option year for Canario, which would mean he could start 2024 in Triple-A. If he does not receive that extra option, the Cubs would have to carry him on the big-league roster or risk losing him on waivers.

Happ and Suzuki have the corner outfield spots locked down on an everyday basis and the key for both will be finding consistency.

Happ inked an extension in April and has played a big role behind the scenes. He won the Gold Glove again in left field and offensively, he served as an anchor in the middle of the lineup.

Suzuki was the team’s best hitter down the stretch and flashed the star potential that made the Cubs invest so heavily in him in the first place coming out of Japan. If he can lock it in like that for a whole season, that will be huge for this lineup.

Crow-Armstrong is an interesting case in center field. Tauchman makes a lot of sense as a veteran fourth outfielder but if the team wants Crow-Armstrong to get more seasoning in the minors to begin the year, Tauchman could be the starting center fielder. Even if it’s not on Opening Day, Crow-Armstrong figures to be roaming center field at Wrigley for most of the ’24 campaign (and for years to come after that).

DESIGNATED HITTER

Christopher Morel

Morel served as the team’s DH for a big chunk of 2023 and can do so again, though his future position is very much up in the air. The Cubs need to identify where they see Morel slotting long-term on the diamond and though he made some strides, he struggled to adapt to a new position at DH.

Expect the Cubs to add to this position in the winter, even if it’s bringing in depth or competition and not necessarily making a splash with a Shohei Ohtani signing.

The Cubs are searching for more power in their lineup as well as other left-handed options and DH is an area they could look to fill both needs.

STARTING ROTATION

Justin Steele
Kyle Hendricks
Jameson Taillon
Jordan Wicks
Drew Smyly

Steele emerged as a bonafide ace in 2023, entrenching himself in the NL Cy Young conversation. He will likely get the Opening Day start in 2024.

The Cubs picked up Hendricks’ $16 million team option for 2024 and he will be back to lend his veteran presence to the team after a resurgent season.

Taillon turned his season around in July and enters 2024 looking for a better season from start to finish.

Smyly began the year strong then hit some struggles and finished out the year pitching well out of the bullpen. He is owed $10 million for 2024, which would be a hefty price tag for a middle reliever/setup man, so the bet here right now is that the Cubs give him another shot in the rotation to begin the year.

Wicks could earn the 5th starter spot but it’s more likely he begins in Triple-A to serve as rotation depth and instead, the Cubs add another starter this offseason.

BULLPEN

Adbert Alzolay
Julian Merryweather
Mark Leiter Jr.
Javier Assad
José Cuas
Daniel Palencia
Luke Little
Keegan Thompson

It is impossible to predict how the bullpen will shake out by the time the Cubs open the 2024 season.

The team will undoubtedly add to the bullpen group this winter, likely with multiple veteran arms.

Last week, the Cubs nontendered a trio of young relievers who spent 2023 injured — Brandon Hughes (knee), Ethan Roberts (elbow) and Codi Heuer (elbow). They could still bring them back on minor-league deals but as of right now, they are not in the bullpen picture.

One of the top stories of the season was Alzolay taking the closer’s job and running with it. Merryweather was a waiver claim in January and enjoyed a breakout year. Leiter returned after being designated for assignment and emerged as the team’s top setup arm.

Assad was a valuable piece all season as a reliever and filling in in the rotation. Cuas was an underrated pickup at the deadline and Palencia teased his potential at times throughout 2023.

The Cubs have some other internal options who could factor into the equation here, including Hayden Wesneski and Michael Rucker. Little came up late in the season and performed well in his first 7 big-league appearances (0.00 ERA, 12 Ks in 6.2 IP).

Thompson is the most interesting name here, as he was seen as a weapon out of the bullpen after successful stints as a reliever in 2021 and 2022. But he struggled to recover after outings and had control issues, ultimately spending much of the season in Triple-A. If he can rebound, that would be a major boost for the Cubs bullpen moving forward.

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