Cubs’ moves show eye on competing in ‘winnable’ NL Central

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Cubs’ moves show eye on competing in ‘winnable’ Central originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

With six weeks left until pitchers and catchers report, this much is clear about the Cubs based on their offseason moves: they’re serious about competing in 2023.

“I've been around long enough to see and to realize you don't make certain moves unless the eye is to start trending towards winning,"  said Tucker Barnhart, an eight-year veteran catcher who landed a two-year deal with the Cubs last week.

And that’s the point.

Team president Jed Hoyer said after last season the Cubs “absolutely” want to compete in 2023. This winter, they’ve committed a total of over $291.5 million to seven key free agents, most recently the reported deal with first baseman Eric Hosmer.

Hosmer was released by the Red Sox last month, meaning the Padres — who dealt him to Boston at last season’s trade deadline — are responsible for the remaining three years and $39 million on his contract.

Whoever signed Hosmer would only be on the hook for the league minimum, and the 12-year veteran chose the Cubs.

At the least, the Hosmer move is an upgrade from what the Cubs had at first base last season, and it follows the additions of Barnhart, Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Jameson Taillon, Brad Boxberger and Drew Smyly.

“I don't think you go out and you sign Dansby or go after a guy like Cody Bellinger if you're trying to continue a rebuild or you're getting ready to tear it down to the studs,” said Barnhart, who was introduced to Chicago media Wednesday. “I just don't think that's the case.

“The way David [Ross] put it to me was that the eyes are [on] competing in the division. I think we all feel like the NL Central is a winnable division. I mean, I don't think that's news to anyone. The Cardinals are going to be good. The Brewers are going to be good, and it's obvious where the Reds and the Pirates are.”

What’s also clear is that the vision for competing next season starts with pitching and defense.

Barnhart, a two-time Gold Glove winner, joins respected veteran Yan Gomes on the catching depth chart. The plan is for the two to split time behind the plate, Barnhart said, per his conversations with Ross.

Bellinger and Swanson each have Gold Gloves on their resumés; Nico Hoerner will slide to second, where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. Ian Happ won a Gold Glove last season, and Seiya Suzuki won three in Japan.

In the rotation, with Smyly back, the Cubs have every starter minus Wade Miley returning from a group that finished third in baseball in ERA after the All-Star break last season — while adding Taillon to the mix.

“The way that the team is being constructed, I think we're going to hit, but it's centered around pitching and defense,” Barnhart said. “I think it sustains winning when the ebbs and the flows of the offensive side of baseball kind of happen during the season.

“If you can prevent runs, you're going to be in a lot of ballgames. In baseball, as in any other sport, one bounce one way or another can win or lose you a game. If you're in games consistently because you're pitching and you're playing good defense, I think anything can happen.”

None of this means there aren’t questions around the Cubs, including what they'll get from Bellinger, Hosmer and an offense overall that lost Willson Contreras this winter. And, ultimately, the Cardinals still are favorites to win the division.

But at the least, this roster has improved and looks much more competitive than last season, when the Cubs' playoff chances were sunk in June.

“The way that we talked was very positively about moving towards winning,” Barnhart said. “That was one of the things that drew me to Chicago — was to be playing meaningful baseball, obviously in the second half of the season, and into September.

“I think any person or any player in my position, or in the big leagues in general, that's all you can ask for.”

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