Why Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts should be in Cubs plans


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:

  1. Extreme defensive shifts have been banned, effective next season.
  2. The Cubs don’t have much athleticism across their middle infield beyond Hoerner (where have you gone, Javy Báez?).
  3. 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.”

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Hoyer and Ross also know they have an incumbent who not only can handle the position but is willing to do his own version of a defensive shift if the team asks, depending on what the roster looks like after the winter.

“I see myself as a shortstop. I always have. And I’ll continue to work there until I hear otherwise,” Hoerner said as the season wound down in Cincinnati last week. “But whatever they decided to do to put our best version of Cubs baseball out there next year, then that’s obviously what I’ll do.”

Even if the Cubs signed one of the bigger names to a long-term deal this winter, it’s at least unclear how the infield assignments might land, if not immediately the over the length of that player’s contract.

“You never know how it’s going to work out,” Hoerner said. “Hopefully, everyone just stays healthy and whatever the plan is we can stick with it. But it’s tough to predict.”

Hoyer believes in Hoerner enough that the 2018 first-round pick — along with 2015 first-rounder and 2022 All-Star Ian Happ — is expected to get a long-term extension during this first winter of arbitration eligibility.

“It’s hard to imagine a young player more focused on the team than Nico,” Hoyer said. “He actually gets mad when you talk about him, which is pretty amazing. He wants to talk about the Cubs; he wants to talk about winning; he wants to talk about the culture.

“So it was pretty easy with him. As long as you’re talking about winning and what can make us great, Nico’s totally on board.”

If anything, Hoerner is looking forward to seeing what the front office does to build off the team’s strong finish (39-31 after the All-Star break).

“I don’t know what it looks like. I don’t know exactly even who’s available,” Hoerner said. “But I think we’ve done a nice job over the second half of at least controlling our end of it as players to where we’ve put together some strong series in a row, in a place where I think we are a couple pieces away from competing for sure.”

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