After a 15-point loss at the hands of the Reds yesterday, the Cubs dropped to fourth in the NL Central at 18-26. Chicago’s early performances haven’t strayed too far from preseason expectations. After the Cubs saw much of their previous core leave, the 2022 season seemed like a year of transition.
Especially as playoff contention grows more outlandish, it makes sense that the organization is using this year as an opportunity to assess potential members of the Cubs’ next competitive team. To that end, manager David Ross indicated this week that Nico Hoerner will be the primary shortstop throughout the season (link via Athletic’s Patrick Mooney). This is despite the club’s offseason signing of Andrelton Simmons to a $4 million deal.
“Nico has proven he can play big league shortstop quite consistently this season,“, Ross said. “Let’s see what happens at the end of the year and evaluate it. It’s easy to say you can be a big league shortstop for the long haul, but you have to be too. You have to prove it. … We’re going to move them around a bit, but Nico is going to start shortstop.”
It’s a sensible run for the organization, as Hoerner, 25, is controllable for another three seasons through officiating. A former first-round pick, the Stanford product has shown promise on both sides of the ball over the past two years. Hoerner didn’t hit a single home run in 170 plate appearances last season, but he made contact at a higher rate and reached base with a solid .382 clip. He saw a dramatic drop in his walk and base numbers at the start of 2022, but he collected a trio of homers – his first since his rookie season in 2019. Hoerner boasts a .292/.350 slash line /.392 dating from the start of the 2021 campaign.
Hoerner was a well-regarded prospect, but some evaluators questioned whether he would eventually need to move to second base. He divided his time in MLB almost equally between the infield midpoints (with additional cameos at third base and in the outfield), and public defensive measures loved his work at both positions. However, Hoerner has never had a full season of reps at shortstop, and the likely uncompetitive 2022 campaign provides the Cubs with an opportunity to give him that challenge.
The team’s assessment is particularly significant when considering the next free agent class. Chicago opted not to make a big splash at shortstop last time out, looking like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semienold friend Javier Baez and Trevor’s Story signed elsewhere. The Cubs, meanwhile, took cheap shots on Simmons and Jonathan Villar while returning things to their internal options.
Next winter’s shortstop class may not be as strong, but there will still be a handful of high-end players. Correa can opt out of his deal with the Twins, while Xander Bogaerts is a virtual lock to do the same on his contract with the Red Sox. Trea Turner will hit free agency for the first time, just like Dansby Swanson. The Cubs could be a viable suitor for any of that group, especially if they’re willing to raise the payroll to reopen a contention window.
Jon Heyman of the New York Post suggests that the organization could do just that, writing that they “expect to spend the next winter again.” That’s not to say the Cubs sat out last offseason. They signed a breathtaking 12 players to big league free agent contracts, but only Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman have commanded particularly notable long-term investments. The bulk of the team’s moves were shorter, lower-risk additions to the fringes of the roster.
The team’s long-term spending outlook leaves open the possibility of a more aggressive hunt for the best talent in the market in a few months. According to Jason Martinez of List resourcethe Cubs have about $94 million in guaranteed commitments on the books for 2023. Ian Happ will be in line for a sizable umpire salary — assuming he’s not traded this summer — but the team should otherwise be fairly light class. That would leave room for additions before it even hits the approximate $145 million payroll of opening day players the past two seasons, and the organization has spent north of $200 million on its rosters. in the past.
Whether the Cubs dive into the top of the shortstop market could be determined by how Hoerner performs over the next few months. In the shorter term, Hoarder’s regular playing time means Simmons is set to take on an unfamiliar utility role. The 32-year-old has never played a big league run outside of shortstop (aside from yesterday’s raking performance), but Ross indicated he’ll likely see the time pass at the second goal.
Simmons is widely regarded as the best defensive shortstop of his generation, and there’s no doubt he can handle second base with similar excellence. Still, he’s coming off a dismal offensive season with the Twins, and there probably won’t be a place for him in the regular infield when the Cubs are at full strength. Patrick Wisdom is the first third baseman, while Nicholas Madrigal is likely to play regular keystone when he returns from the injured list.
Madrigal has been out for a few weeks with a lower back problem, but the team announced he will be reporting to Triple-A Iowa for a rehab assignment this weekend (h/t at Maddie Lee of the Chicago Sun Times). Acquired from the White Sox last summer Craig Kimbrel swap, Madrigal only hit .203/.250/.241 in his first 23 games for his new club. Nonetheless, the contact-oriented infielder is controllable through 2026 and a potential showpiece, so he’ll surely be in the everyday roster once healthy.
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