Cubs outfielder Rafael Ortega fractured his left ring finger during tonight’s contest with the Mets, relays Sahadev Sharma of the Athletic (Twitter link). The injury is expected to end his 2022 season.
Ortega suffered the injury while attempting to lay down a bunt against Jacob deGrom. He was immediately replaced by Michael Hermosillo, who’s a candidate to assume the vacated center field reps for the season’s final few weeks. Utilityman Christopher Morel has also played a fair amount of center field this year, but defensive metrics have panned his work there (and indeed all around the diamond). Chicago also has rookie Nelson Velázquez on the active roster, but he’s struggled offensively at both the MLB and Triple-A levels this year.
Signed to a minor league deal over the 2020-21 offseason, Ortega cracked the big league roster in May 2021. The journeyman impressed during his first season on the North Side, hitting a career-best .291/.360/.463 with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases. A .349 batting average on balls in play certainly propped up those results, but Ortega had a decent blend of contact skills and power that earned him a permanent roster spot.
Ortega retained that job and has tallied a career high 371 trips to the plate this year. His offensive output has dipped from last year’s heights, as he carries a .241/.311/.358 line. The batted ball fortune has swung in the opposite direction, as Ortega has posted a below-average .285 BABIP this year. He’s nevertheless drawn walks at a robust 11.9% clip while only striking out 19.9% of the time.
The 31-year-old is a virtual lock to reach arbitration for the first time this offseason as a Super Two qualifier. He’s controllable through 2026, but the Cubs could entertain trade offers this winter given his age and the team’s retooling status. Ortega’s capable of covering all three outfield spots and offers a high-contact lefty bat that could make him a decent fourth outfield option for a contender. The offseason center field market is quite thin beyond Aaron Judge and Brandon Nimmo, so it’s possible teams searching for depth at the position could consider Ortega, assuming the finger injury isn’t expected to affect his readiness for next Spring Training.