Chicago Cubs sign Shōta Imanaga to a four-year, $53 million contract, with a fifth-year club option.
Mark it down, folks. January 10th, 2024, the Cubs make their first non-managerial move to impact their major-league roster of the offseason. The club finished one game out of a playoff spot (the team that edged them out for the sixth seed made the World Series, if you forgot), and management has shown all the urgency of Stanley from The Office.
They have yet to backfill for the departure of Cody Bellinger or mid-season pickup Jeimer Candelario. Until yesterday, Marcus Stroman’s absence also loomed somewhat ominously. Not because the Cubs don’t have internal options—Matt Mervis probably deserves an opportunity with a bit more runway than he’s received thus far at first base, Mike Tauchman’s emergence allowed Bellinger to slide to first (and Pete Crow-Armstrong already debuted last year), and at third they have Nick Madri- okay, you’re going to want to find someone for third. Imanaga’s signing pushes Hayden Wesneski, Javier Assa, and/or Caleb Killian out of the rotation—none of them outright objectionable fifth starting options—and gives the org a bit of a longer leash on someone like Cade Horton, who should debut this coming season.
If, however, a month or so from now, one was to dutifully open their edition of the 2024 Annual (buy here! It’s finalized and in publisher’s hands now!), you’d see that at the time of publication PECOTA projected the Cubs for 81.1 wins. That’s two games below where Chicago landed last season, and a nine-game gap from their pythagorean record. And PECOTA expected the Cubs to win a hair more than 77 games when it launched in the middle of last February (the system being predisposed to mistrust of young teams still establishing their bonafides). Still, though, even if the system is six-ish wins (depending on what date of projection one chooses) behind on Chicago, as it was last year, 87 wins hasn’t taken the NL Central since 2007. This sort of inaction, especially with this much uncertainty on the roster, makes little sense for a club in this position.