LAS VEGAS — Whether they like it or not, a lot of the Cubs’ roster needs this winter go through agent Scott Boras and his latest star-studded stable of players — whether it’s premier shortstops Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts, first baseman Josh Bell or even, just maybe, lefty starter Carlos Rodón.
“The free agent market is very much a carnivore’s market,” the high-profile agent said Wednesday as he opened his annual media session at the general managers meetings in Las Vegas.
“There are many grades available for owners’ menus, and those are more leaning I think to the filet mignon and Wagyu than they are to the hamburger and vegan,” he said. “Different than what we normally see. Our game is very healthy.”
That shows, Boras said, in the aggressive positions he said many teams seemed to be taking in preliminary discussions this week about his clients (though teams are not allowed to talk about money with free agents until after Thursday’s qualifying-offer deadline).
Those teams might even include the Cubs, who met with Boras and his top staff Tuesday night at the Conrad hotel and resort to discuss several players, including both shortstops, sources said Wednesday.
“I think the Cubs are ready to begin the truest form of their rebuilding process at the major league level,” said Boras, who would not discuss specifics about talks with any teams. “I think they feel that their minor-league system is in a place now where they need multiple major leaguers to allow for them to build that platform for their success.”
He certainly has players coming off good seasons in every area of Cubs needs, including left-handed hitting center fielder Brandon Nimmo — who may quickly exceed the Cubs’ appetite, regardless of how carnivorous they are this winter as he comes off a career year commanding a big payday.
Asked if he’s a carnivore, Cubs president Jed Hoyer smiled and turned to other, nearby reporters: “Next.”
Hoyer has maintained he “absolutely” intends to field a competitive team next year, and team officials have said the payroll budget will be higher in 2023, leaving plenty of flexibility for the Cubs to make a splash — even as Hoyer engages in “intelligent spending” with an eye on the long-term picture.
“It’s a good feeling to have flexibility,” Hoyer said, “but we also have a lot of holes to fill, and hopefully over time a lot of those get filled internally.”
Whatever that means for their ability — or appetite — to go after multiple top-tier players, they are one of the more prominent and cash-ready teams trying to land one of the shortstops from an exceptional class that also includes Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson.
Last year the Cubs made two meaty free agent signings: Japanese right fielder Seiya Suzuki (five years, $99.6 million, including $14.6 million posting fee) and starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (three years, $71 million).
Sources say the Cubs kicked the tires on both Bell and Nimmo, in addition to the two Boras Corp. shortstops, during Tuesday’s meeting — just one of many meetings the Cubs had with agents this week exploring the markets for middle infielders, pitchers, center fielders and first basemen (and lefty hitters wherever they might find them within those positional needs).
At this point, the Cubs aren’t expected to pursue Rodon, who might wind up in Texas, after recently buying a home in the Dallas area and given what many anticipate will be another aggressive approach to the winter by the Rangers after hiring four-time World Series manager Bruce Bochy out of retirement.
Among the agents the Cubs met this week was Joel Wolfe, who represents both Seiya Suzuki and free agent starting pitcher Koudai Senga — whom Wolfe said is already being recruited by Suzuki.
It all points to an aggressive, active approach in at least exploring the deep end of the free agent markets for the Cubs’ multitude of needs, if not the actual full-on pursuit of some of the bigger names as things get more serious in the next month or two.
That’s where more definition might finally be shed on Hoyer’s concept of “intelligent spending” — which Boras didn’t seem much more certain about than anyone else within earshot of Hoyer these days.
“Far be it for me to define intelligence,” Boras said when asked about Hoyer’s term.
“I would say intelligence in baseball is a measure of probability,” he added, laying out the case for spending to reach the playoffs in an expanded field that now includes the top 40 percent of the league.
“It’s clear that the Cubs have a lot to do to get into that 40 percent,” Boras said. “There are a number of teams that are well ahead of them right now. But we also know that by the end of this free agent market they could map into that group quite easily.”