The Cubs have made a number of additions to their lineup, none more impactful than the signing of Dansby Swanson at shortstop. That pushed Nico Hoerner over to second base. Chicago also brought in Cody Bellinger to play center field, signed Tucker Barnhart to share time with Yan Gomes at catcher in place of Willson Contreras, and added Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer for the first base/designated hitter mix.
It was a dramatic overhaul, with the corner outfield tandem of Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki the only players whose positions haven’t seemed up in the air at any point. The other position the front office left untouched, third base, looks as if it’ll come down to a battle between a handful of internal options with the free agent market all but picked through. There are two players who have the clearest path to reps at the hot corner in the early going.
Wisdom has been the primary third baseman on Chicago’s north side for the last two seasons. He’s tallied just under 700 plate appearances at the position since the start of 2021, handily topping second-place Matt Duffy (204 PAs in 2021). The only other player with even 100+ trips to the dish as a third baseman, David Bote, lost his spot on the 40-man roster at the start of the offseason.
Signed to a minor league deal over the 2020-21 offseason (following a cup of coffee with the MLB club the year before), Wisdom has combined for 53 home runs and 41 doubles in 239 games over the last two years. He carries a .465 slugging percentage and .248 isolated power mark over 909 plate appearances, continually making an impact from a power perspective. The right-handed hitter has paired that with significant on-base concerns, however. He’s hit just .217 while reaching base at a below-average .301 rate. That’s mostly due to massive swing-and-miss in his game, as he’s gone down on strikes in 37% of his plate appearances. That’s the highest rate in the majors for any player with as much playing time, narrowly topping Joey Gallo’s 36.6% clip.
Wisdom’s power has been sufficient to manage a slightly above-average slash line in spite of the contact issues. That’s fine production, particularly when paired with the above-average defensive grades he managed in 2021. Metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average estimated he was well below average with the glove last season, however, leading both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference to value his 2022 campaign around one win above replacement.
The 31-year-old has proven he deserves a spot on an MLB roster and the Cubs have made out exceptionally well on their no-risk signing two years ago. Yet the on-base and defensive concerns suggest Wisdom might be better suited as a role-playing power bat who can rotate through all four corner positions off the bench than as an everyday third baseman. He’s been far better against lefties (.238/.329/.533) than against righties (.209/.290/.438) over the past two seasons.
If the Cubs were to scale back Wisdom’s playing time, Morel would seem to be the primary beneficiary. The 23-year-old made his major league debut last season and generally impressed, albeit with some of the same question marks facing Wisdom. Morel connected on 16 home runs, 19 doubles and four triples in just 435 trips to the plate. He posted an overall .235/.306/.433 line through his first 113 big league contests. That slightly topped Wisdom’s .207/.298/.426 showing from last season.
That said, Morel also struggled significantly to make contact. He struck out in 32.2% of his plate appearances. Perhaps more alarming was that he swung and missed at 18.1% of the pitches he saw. That was the sixth-highest rate in MLB (minimum 400 PAs), and those concerns became more pronounced down the stretch. Morel carried an impressive .266/.338/.477 line into the All-Star Break despite a 30.7% strikeout rate. In the second half, his strikeout percentage jumped to 34.2% and he limped to a .194/.269/.376 finish.
At age 23, Morel is certainly capable of taking a step forward as he gains experience against big league pitching. He’s long flashed promising power but posted higher than average strikeout totals throughout his time in the minors. Concerns about his bat-to-ball skills kept him from emerging as a top-tier prospect prior to his debut despite evaluators’ praise for his power potential, athleticism and arm strength. Morel’s an interesting player, but one whose approach could make him a volatile offensive performer. He had reverse platoon splits in 2022, hitting .190/.297/.300 against left-handers against a .251/.313/.470 mark versus righties. That’s too small a sample from which to glean meaningful conclusions, though Wisdom’s more traditional splits could point towards him getting a few more reps against left-handed arms than Morel will.
It’s a similar story on the other side of the ball. Morel played mostly infield in the minor leagues, with third base his primary position. The Cubs bounced him around the diamond at the MLB level but deployed him most often in center field, hoping his speed and arm strength would translate. DRS and Statcast agreed he was a below-average center fielder in spite of his athleticism, as his inexperience at the position was evident. He also drew lackluster marks in limited action on the left side of the infield, though the sample in that case was exceedingly small.
While Wisdom and Morel seem the two likeliest candidates to battle for playing time, the Cubs have a few other infield options on the 40-man roster. Miles Mastrobuoni, 27, was acquired from the Rays at the start of the offseason. He has only eight MLB games under his belt but hit .300/.377/.469 with 16 homers and 23 stolen bases in 573 plate appearances with Triple-A Durham last year. He’s primarily been a second baseman in the minors but has experience everywhere on the diamond aside from first base and catcher. His left-handed bat would pair well with the righty-hitting Wisdom and Morel if skipper David Ross wanted to play matchups. Mastrobuoni mashed at a .315/.396/.497 clip while holding the platoon advantage in 2022.
Nick Madrigal was displaced by Hoerner’s move to second base. He had a dismal 2022 season, hitting just .249/.305/.282 in 59 games while thrice landing on the injured list thanks to a back strain and strains of both groins. Madrigal had started the previous season with a solid .305/.349/.425 showing for the White Sox before suffering a season-ending hamstring tear. He’s only ever played up the middle dating back to his time at Oregon State — primarily at the keystone — but third base might be the clearest path to getting his bat in the lineup if the front office is still intrigued by his elite bat-to-ball ability.
His 5’8″, 175-pound frame isn’t the build of a traditional third baseman and that’s been manifested in his below-average arm strength. Perhaps that’s untenable at third base, though the Cubs could at least consider getting him some work at the hot corner to expand his defensive flexibility. It’s also at least worth contemplating whether Hoerner could kick to third base if Madrigal earns everyday playing time but isn’t capable of manning the left side of the infield.
The Cubs also picked up Zach McKinstry from the Dodgers in last summer’s Chris Martin trade. The 27-year-old has just a .208/.269/.384 line in 121 big league games over the last three years. He got 171 trips to the plate for the Cubs down the stretch, hitting .206/.272/.361. McKinstry has the ability to play second, third and both corner outfield spots and is a .323/.401/.550 hitter in parts of three Triple-A campaigns. He’s out of minor league option years and has to stick on the active roster or be taken off the 40-man entirely. Given his lack of big league track record, he could find himself on the bubble — particularly if the Cubs want to give Mastrobuoni a lengthier look instead.
There are a handful of players behind this group on the depth chart who’ll be in camp as non-roster invitees. Bote, Esteban Quiroz and Jared Young all remain in the organization after clearing waivers in November. Sergio Alcántara signed a minor league deal this offseason, while former second-round pick Chase Strumpf got an MLB invite after hitting .234/.379/.461 with Double-A Tennessee.
While there are a few candidates who could play their way into consideration, it’d appear the third base job will be a battle between Wisdom and Morel to open the year. Both have minor league options remaining. The former has a more established big league track record, while the latter probably has greater upside but might also be more likely to post untenable numbers on both sides of the ball. They’re broadly similar as right-handed power bats with OBP concerns, though Morel has a little more defensive versatility if he’s relegated to a utility role.
deGrom Texas Ranger
Remember Kris Bryant?
Remember the Alamo?
Pepperidge Farm remembers.
What’s your point? Rockies got 42 games out of him and who knows how much they’ll DH hin this season to keep him healthy. I’d rather take the guy who’s slightly cheaper and played 162 games last year at SS.
Are you asking Cub fans of Rockies fans? Cause I’m guessing most Rockies fans only know him from the back of a milk carton.
Well, that and the $27M he’s stealing every year
Superstar Prospect Wander Javier
“Every?” It’s only been one season
I’m clairvoyant… Although you don’t have to be in order to see it all falling apart. Back issues, leg issues, foot issues… Running around in the largest outfield in baseball.
If he were better at 3rd, he’d be playing there.
Bart Harley Jarvis
Does anyone remember laughter? (Sorry, something I recalled from ‘The Song Remains the Same’.)
Yes, the live version of stairway from the epic 1973 concerts at Madison Square garden.
To add more context to Kris Bryant not being on the Cubs roster and Wisdom being the primary 3B.
Cost per HR since Bryant left Chicago.
Bryant – $2.2M
Wisdom – $24k
Production since Bryant left Chicago
Bryant – 56 R, 25 2B, 12 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB
Wisdom- 100R, 37 2B, 41HR, 104RBI, 10SB
Bryant’s LF defensive numbers have been really bad in only 252 innings (28 games).
-5 DRS, -1.5 ARM, -2 UZR, -2 OAA
Superstar Prospect Wander Javier
In a perfect world, Madrigal can be the hitter he is capable of being and Hoerner plays 3B. I just don’t know if Madrigal can sustain a high enough obp to offset his complete lack of slug.
Morel is more useful playing everywhere so it looks like Wisdom will get to bat near he bottom of the order, hit bombs, strike out, and the Cubs will look for his replacement this offseason.
Hoerner is a potential gold glover at 2B tho, that might be able to translate to 3B but why weaken 2 positions defensively? especially since Madrigal is as much offensive risk/upside as Wisdom/Morel/McKinstry/etc. Reports are that the Cubs are working Madrigal out at 3B in ST but I’m not sure how well thats gonna work
Nico was snubbed from being a GG finalist for 2022. He moves to 2nd and he immediately becomes a top 10 2B. I’d put him at 5 of 10. He available can win a GG. And I think he’s gonna have a great defensive year. And he’ll win bis first of hopefully many GG at 2nd.
Let Madrigal prove himself at Iowa. He has an option left.
This. Exactly. Then trade him back to the White Sox who have no solution at 2B.
They’d be trading him when his market is very low.
At 31, Wisdom’s chances of substantially improving his K rate is somewhere between fat chance and winning the lotto.
That would be a cub thing to do, moving a GG caliber MI to an unfamiliar position to play a below average 2B with no power.
Superstar Prospect Wander Javier
Madrigal is a terrific defender at 2nd.
One of the reasons the White Sox were not concerned about trading Madrigal away, was because he definitely not ‘a terrific defender’ at second. Just ask Steve Stone.
No, Madrigal is not a good defender at 2B, at all.
No, he is not a good defender at 2B. Not sure where that take came from.
Believe it or not, players can improve defensively. Madrigal collecting 4 DRS and 2 OAA in just under 500 innings suggests just that.
Of course he isn’t Nico Hoerner on the right side, in 2021, playing just 250 innings he collected 4 DRS and a whopping 9 OAA! Nico is an unbelievable defender at second.
Madrigal will most likely get the Tommy LaStella treatment by the Cubs, fill in at third in a pinch, back up second base and be utilized as a pinch hitter. Let’s not forget either that both he and Hoerner have rather large injury histories.
Madrigal gets a bad wrap on arm strength and I’m surprised to see Anthony perpetuate it. If you check arm strength at statist for 2B with at least 100 attempts, he is ahead of real good players.
I once got a bad wrap from a food truck. Tore me up something fierce.
Patrick Wisdom is Mark Reynolds.
Bart Harley Jarvis
I remember when more than a few sports pundits pronounced Mark Reynolds the next Mike Schmidt. That led to a few unfortunate and untimely spit-takes.
Not even remotely
That’s a pretty good comp I think. If Wisdom pokes 300 bombs with a career ops of .780, I think the Cubs would gladly take it.
If Wisdom even hits the BALL 300 times I’ll be impressed.
Barring a trade this spring I would bet on Wisdom starting out there. His defensive metrics are skewed by the fact that the Cubs shifted more than any other team and mostly left Wisdom on an island when that happened. If the guy could just make decent contact he’d be more than adequate. The more Morel plays a position the better he’ll get but moving him around will hamper his defense always. I think Morel will eventually make better contact but I’m not sure about Wisdom. After 2 years of watching him, I’m not encouraged.
’21 – 40.8%
’22 – 34.3%
I’m expecting that we’ve seen the end of Hosmer, Mancini and Wisdom as useful major league players and feel like the Cubs are going to be forced to make some changes to their planned defensive alignments this season. I think those 3 will flame out in spring training and the early season and that the Cubbies will be forced to move Bellinger to first base full time due to his experience there. I actually don’t think that Hosmer will still be on the roster come Opening Day. I believe that he’ll be cut loose before then. Mervis will likely be up in the 2nd half after Bellinger is traded, but I really don’t see him as a starter there this season. He reminds me a whole lot of Brian Dopirak.
Bellinger’s unexpected move to first probably means that Morel has to start in center again leaving third base to Mastrobuoni. I think that he and Madrigal (and Morel!) are all a lot better than a lot of prognosticators are giving them credit for and I think all end up with 400 or more plate appearances this season. McKinstry is out of options and will probably make the bench to start the season but will likely be DFA’d or traded somewhere mid-season. Non roster invitees Esteban Quiroz and David Bote will likely see some time on the big league roster this year as well and both can serve as backups at the hot corner.
All in all, I’m a huge Cubs fan but realistically I think they over performed late in the year last year and I’m expecting a very similar 74-88 record this season. If anything I’d take the slight under on that tally. I think it’s a safe bet that they finish with a for more similar record to the Pirates than either the Cards or Brewers.
I think you’re wrong
The Cubs are an 86 win team next year.
You haven’t seen the end of Wisdom, Hosmer or Mancini as useful major league players. None of the evidence supports that claim as Mancini and Hosmer both posted OPS+ above league average. Wisdom also posted some of the highest exit velocities in baseball last season. P-Wiz, despite the strike outs, will continue to be a useful bat.
The Cubs are going to have the benefit of having two of Thompson, Wesneski and Alzolay in the pen. Three guys that can give the Cubs multiple innings of lock down relief. That’s going to be greatly beneficial to Ross who typically has a short hook for guys. An added benefit of some solid option in AAA as well.
Odds are, Bellinger isn’t moving off center field. Why on earth would the Cubs do that given the first base depth they have, Wisdom, Hosmer, Mancini, Mervis.
With that said, I don’t think the Cubs compete for a WC spot unless something magical happens.
Please don’t call him “Pee Wiz”
Only the blowhard Boog Sciambi calls Wisdom by that idiotic nickname.
Ask yourself, would you want to be called Pee Wiz?
Hoyer made all those changes, yet the Cubs are still a 3rd place team. Geez.
Coop, you forgot to preface your comment with your usual false statement, that you are a Cubs fan ‘but’.
Give it to Morel and let him grow into it. Leaving him at a defensive position he is comfortable with may help him be more comfortable at the plate. He is only 23 so they have some time for improvement before he hits his prime.
Morel didn’t play in AAA at all and he had a horrendous end of the season. Odds are he is going to start the season in Iowa unless he has a remarkable spring.
Would be my guess.
I could see Morel starting the year in Triple-A. I imagine the Cubs would want him to be the future at third, but he only appeared in 45 games there over the past couple seasons.
If Wisdom is the starter on Opening Day, he’d likely just be a placeholder until the Cubs are confident Morel can handle the position full-time—much like how Hosmer is just keeping the seat warm until they think Mervis is ready to take over first.
If you look at Morel’s body of work, there really isn’t any evidence that he will be much more than a good back up player.
All they need is a decent placeholder. The Cubs best 3B prospects are now Triantos who struggled in A ball last year, And now Hernandez who should finally make the leap to A ball after the 2 year loss of playing time from COVID and the fact that he’s now blocked pretty well by Swanson and Hoerner at SS. Hernandez is now 20 and should start moving up the ladder pretty fast I would think, At least that’s my hope anyway.
Don’t miss him. But the Rockies do.
I know he has been hurt but is a good clubhouse presence. Why has no team took a flyer at the league minimum on Mike Moustakas?
Great point. I thought the same earlier in the off-season if the Cubs would consider a Moose/Wisdom-platoon at 3B, while using Morel as a UP. I still wonder if they should stick Madrigal at DH, while platooning Hoz/Mancini at 1B, and see what happens. If Madrigal is still struggling to hit in early May, then make a change. Could be Mancini to DH full-time, could be Canario or Mervis.
Canario is going to miss most of the season if not all.
Davis is this years “wild card” so to speak. If Davis and Mervis tear it up in AAA the Cubs will have some interesting decisions to make.
He can’t play either 3rd or 2nd base and can no longer hit well enough to justify it. That answer your question?
What cf89 said…defensive numbers say he’s been a liability in the field since 2016. Paste that with +wRC the last two seasons of 69 & 76. OPS .653 & .640.
Supposedly the Orioles have at least “shown interest”. The Phillies are another team that fits as they have DH AB’s to give, at least until Harper comes back.
Formerly Unknown As . . .
The Yankees might give you a great deal on a used third baseman.
Naaa, prolly not.
Put Torres at SS, they’d have an infield of former Cubs.
Formerly Unknown As . . .
They tried Torres at shortstop. Bad idea. His fielding struggles also affected his hitting. He’s a second baseman.
Yes, I am aware. Good friend is a Yankee fan. I heard all the gripes. I also watch baseball. The only reason I said to slide Torres over is to get Donaldson, Torres, LeMahieu and Rizzo on the field… All former Cubs. Scenario wouldn’t have worked if I left IKF at short, it wouldn’t have been an infield of all former Cubs.
Formerly Unknown As . . .
I see what you’re saying. “Put Torres” wasn’t a suggestion; you meant “If you put Torres.” Got it.
shoulda kept swanson
Wait when did bellinger get traded?
he didn’t, he was non-tendered by the Dodgers, and signed a new contract with the Cubs.
shoulda kept swanson
Wait when did bellinger get traded
he signed w/ the Cubs as a FA
shoulda kept swanson
Cody bellinger got traded
Are you having a stroke or something?
Wisdom is gonna keep the job unless he strikes out even more or loses his power. He has a rocket for an arm and he is a good dude who has built up a lot of good will. I’m sure Morel,Mkinstry and even Madrigal might get some time there too but it is Wisdom’s job to lose.
Wisdom is the guy until the power evaporates. I’ve said it many times, he’s the Dave Kingman of his generation. Moonshot power, with decent-to-good D, that can play all the corner spots in the OF & IF and DH as well. But he’s gonna K constantly and struggle to hit above the Mendoza line. So yeah — Kingman.
Exactly, Wisdom has a lot of value because he has a lot of defensive versatility and power always plays.
They should see what they have in Morel. If he proves he is their future, then great. If not, they can throw money at Machado next off season
“The other position the front office left untouched, third base, looks as if it’ll come down to a battle between a handful of internal options with the free agent market all but picked through.”
Nope, this is not how you write that sentence. As much as MLBTR writers love to do this, I can’t believe they didn’t here:
“Third base, the other position the front office left untouched, looks as if it’ll come down to a battle between a handful of internal options with the free agent market all but picked through.”
Or you can use em dashes:
“The other position the front office left untouched—third base—looks as if it’ll come down to a battle between a handful of internal options with the free agent market all but picked through.”