Cubs’ Hoyer planning more ‘intelligent spending’ this winter

By JAY COHEN AP Baseball Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — Jed Hoyer was encouraged by how the Chicago Cubs finished the year.

What that means going forward, well, that remains to be seen.

Speaking for the first time since Chicago completed its second straight losing season, Hoyer talked Monday about building on the team’s 40-31 finish. But the Cubs’ president of baseball operations also returned to the ambiguous concept of “intelligent spending” — which could price the big-market club out of the massive contracts at the top end of the free agent market.

“We want to build something lasting and we want to build something that we’re proud of for a long time,” Hoyer said, “and I think that you can get caught up in our game in transactions that feel really good in the short term and don’t make long-term sense. So those are the ones we’ll avoid.

“But we do want to be aggressive to capture that momentum, to fill the holes on the team that we know we have.”

While Hoyer left himself miles of wiggle room when it comes to the team’s offseason plans, he did confirm the club would make a qualifying offer to Willson Contreras. The All-Star catcher, who helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016, is eligible for free agency.

The 30-year-old Contreras talked late in the year about wanting to go somewhere he was wanted, but Hoyer is leaving the door open for a possible return.

“I had a great conversation with Willson the other day. We’ve always had a really good relationship,” Hoyer said, “and I admire how he competes. … As far as his comments and things like that, I’ll take the comments he sort of makes to me directly, not those.”

Hoyer said he wasn’t ready to talk about manager David Ross’ 2023 coaching staff just yet, but he is hoping to make an announcement this week. Asked about the possibility of contract extensions for Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ, Hoyer said the club had taken what he called “first steps” with multiple players about possible deals.

“There are players that we’d love to keep in a Cub uniform for a long time,” Hoyer said. “Hopefully we can work hard on those and get some across the finish line.”

Chicago finished 74-88 this year, a three-win improvement from last season that was good enough for third in the lackluster NL Central. It was the first time that it finished with a losing record in consecutive years since a string of five in a row from 2010-14.

The season was derailed by a pair of long losing streaks: a 10-game slide in June when Chicago was outscored 90-30, and a nine-game skid in July.

But the Cubs played well down the stretch. The rotation had a 2.89 ERA after the All-Star break, third in the majors behind the playoff-bound Astros (2.70) and Dodgers (2.73). A 15-11 September was the franchise’s first winning month since it went 19-8 in May 2021.

While Hoyer enjoyed the strong finish, he acknowledged the danger of making too much of the second-half results.

“Some of what we saw in the first half was probably somewhat schedule-related, injury-related,” he said, “and similarly in the second half, we have to keep in mind that guys were able to kind of play free and easy at the end.”

When it comes to the Cubs’ offseason wish list, power for the lineup, quality innings for the rotation and a veteran bullpen presence are among the top priorities. The team might be able to find some of that power internally, with Seiya Suzuki more comfortable after transitioning from Japan to the majors and Hoerner’s continued development.

“We want next season to look a lot more like our second half than our first half,” Hoyer said, “and I think if it does, then we do have a chance to be in the race and play meaningful games throughout the entire season, and hopefully that means competing in October.”