With Matt Chapman remaining unsigned, the Cubs will focus on Christopher Morrell at third base

Mesa, Arizona: Cody Bellinger or Matt Chapman? The Chicago Cubs are keeping both free agents on their radar, waiting to see how Scott Boras progresses and whether a deal falls within their range, league sources said. For Jed Hoyer's group, it appears to be more about making the right deal than choosing between a former MVP and a Gold Glove third baseman. Uncertainty is a constant theme around the Sloan Park Training Complex. Within the club, there is curiosity about what it will take to break the deadlock. The standard running question in spring training – who's the No. 1 starter on Opening Day? – A reporter jokingly asked new Cubs manager Craig Counsell to name his favorite Boras client.

The advisor speaks like someone working in the front office, highlighting the overall health of the organization and the untapped value in young talent. Thanks to his open nature and problem-solving skills, the counselor will change his thinking and adapt to the moment. This doesn't necessarily mean trying to create leverage because the Cubs are monitoring the situation more than aggressively pursuing Chapman. But Counsell's updated plan to play Christopher Morrell at third base is interesting.

“Christopher has done a lot with the bat, and it's our job to figure out the best way to deploy him,” Counsell said Saturday. “My idea going into camp is to focus mainly on third base. Let's see where we are at. Let's evaluate that as we go. But let's give him a chance at third base. Let's give him some consistency at third base and see where we are, roster-wise, at some point.” What's in the camp and then we move forward from there.

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Morell will be on hand for the team's first full practice on Monday, which wasn't guaranteed when last season ended and trade speculation began. Probably Morrell's most natural position is second base, where Nico Hoerner has become a Gold Glove defenseman and one of the team's most valuable players. The Cubs' starting cornerbacks, Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ, are both signed through 2026 and earn about $20 million per season. Former manager David Ross – who always collaborated closely with his coaching staff and front office – viewed Morrell as unlikely to remain an everyday third baseman.

Nico Hoerner won his first Gold Glove in 2023 for his work at second base. (David Banks/USA Today)

As the offseason began, the Cubs decided they would not trade Morrell, 24, to a rental player. After starting last season with Triple-A Iowa, Morrell sparked the team by hitting 26 home runs in 107 games. Morel's OPS of .821 represents an 80 percentage point improvement from his rookie season. It's also worth noting that it helped when Ross gave Morrell a mid-season reprieve on the bench to watch and exhale. At last month's Cubs conference, Hoyer described some of the trade rumors as “ludicrous” and “alternative universe.”

“Players that get asked about it, that's good,” Counsell said. “These are good players, so there's nothing wrong with that. I look at this as a young player who has had a lot of offensive success at a young age. We have to figure it out positionally. We don't have to decide today. But hopefully we can get some definition of what we're asking him to do.” Defensively because there are too many offenses to ignore.

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To recap, the Cubs wanted Morell to work at first base while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and they even hired coaches to help with that project. But the Cubs don't control Águilas Cibaeñas' lineup, so Morrill never got any reps at first base. From the Winter Meetings to the Cubs Convention, team officials have highlighted the value of Morrell's versatility. When Rhys Hoskins, for example, signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, it didn't change the course of the offseason significantly because the Cubs had already acquired Michael Bush as their first baseman and installed Morrell as their primary right-handed hitting DH.

More than just sending a message to Boras, the advisor appears to be weighing all of his experience in player development and roster management. After many years in Milwaukee, Chancellor can take a fresh look at Morrell, who has been a member of the Cubs organization since he was a teenager. Morrell missed the minor league season in 2020 and made his major league debut after a minimum of triple-A hits. With Morrell and third base, the Cubs don't appear to have exhausted that possibility yet.

“I'm really excited about the offensive potential and I know that defensively, this is still a young player,” Counsell said. “It's the work we're going to have to do and see where it takes us.”

(Top photo: Penny Siu/USA Today)

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