Now go get Carlos Correa. Now get a Willson Contreras extension done.
After two months of signaling a tepid approach to free agency, the Cubs flexed their resources just under the wire before Thursday’s lockout to land starter Marcus Stroman, one of the top pitchers on the free agent market.
The three-year deal doesn’t dive quite as deep as the five-year commitments the Mariners and Blue Jays made to Robbie Ray and Kevin Gausman, respectively. But Stroman’s $23.7 million annual average beats both and is second only to Max Scherzer ($43.3 million) among pitchers in the market so far.
This is closer to what a big-market team looks like. And it’s refreshing to see from the Cubs after more than a year of cost-cutting and purging the roster of almost all of its All-Star, championship core — if not a step toward proving the doubters and critics wrong.
Now it’s time to take two more big steps, to signal a plan for building the next championship window, to prove that the Stroman signing isn’t just one more short-term contract built for a trade whenever the winds of a mid-season losing streak blow through Wrigley Field.
“I think them going out and getting me kind of speaks to that point,” Stroman said Wednesday night. “I think they’re definitely not in a full rebuild. I think they definitely want to win now.
“I’m coming in here to win.”
Unlike Cubs fans, Stroman has the escape hatch of an opt-out clause after the first two seasons built into his new deal.
Make no mistake: This is exactly the kind of pitcher the Cubs needed to sign this winter after blowing up the core, tanking the back end of the season and promising their paying clientele that they planned to spend in the offseason and compete in 2022.
But now it’s time to show they have a blueprint for building the next championship core — or at least their vision for it.
They’re building a starting staff of contact pitchers, including one of the most ground-ball-heavy pitchers in the game in Stroman — without so much as a reliable everyday big-league shortstop on the roster.
So they need to go get one.
“Yeah, for sure. I’m not going to say no,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said of that specific need as the season came to a close in October. “We need a solid shortstop. And that’s one of the decisions we have to make.”
That’s where Carlos Correa comes in, as one of only two of the big All-Star shortstops in this year’s class still on the board (also Trevor Story) — and as close to an ideal, long-term building-block fit for anybody with a need at the position.
It might take a 10- to 12-year deal and maybe even as much as $350 million to get it done. But the former No. 1 overall draft pick will be 27 when next season starts (assuming it starts on time), is one of the smartest players on the market at any position, has the kind of hitting skills the Cubs specifically seek, is a Gold Glove fielder, has won three pennants and a ring and hits well enough to think he can produce even if he ages out of the shortstop spot when one of the Cubs’ handful of A-ball prospects might be ready.
“Infield defense is always important,” said Cubs president Jed Hoyer about where the priorities shift as the Cubs regroup for the next push for players after the lockout and transactions freeze ends. “Definitely it’s going to be a focus.”
Even in the final hour before the shutdown began Wednesday night, another report out of Houston linked the Cubs — among a handful of teams — to Correa.
Make it happen.
Wait — did somebody say Contreras?
The Cubs have not broached the subject of an extension for their lone, remaining player from their homegrown championship core, and they’re banned from contact during the lockout.
And word is that’s not sitting well with the two-time All-Star catcher who has pledged his loyalty to the Cubs if they want him to lead the rebuild — especially after he saw the Cubs sign a former All-Star catcher with starting pedigree in Yan Gomes this week.
That needs to change the minute the lockout ends, and the Cubs need to take a strong offer to Contreras, an important tough, emotional and competitive tone-setter for the team that has too often lacked fire since some of its edgier veterans began cycling off the roster after 2017.
Contreras, who started five World Series games four months after his big-league debut, has done nothing less than win every season as a Cub until Hoyer pulled the roster out from under him and the few holdovers left after the trade deadline. His public criticism of the team’s effort as it slumped toward the All-Star break in July should have been a clarion call to management.
It should be now.
In separate conversations with NBC Sports Chicago in May and again after the deadline purge, Contreras said he needed to know the front office’s plan and direction before determining whether he wants to lock into an extension regardless of whether the team wants to offer him one.
He wants to win, he said. And as the season closed, he said that was the hardest part of this one: “to accept going from a winning team to a losing team.”
If the Cubs don’t plan to accept the losing anymore, maybe that started with Stroman’s signing.
But it can’t stop there.
Whenever baseball gets to the other side of this shutdown, the Cubs need to make sure they pick up where they left off.
And take two more major steps toward that next championship core.