There’s been plenty of chatter regarding Cubs slugger Christopher Morel as a potential trade candidate this offseason, but president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and general manager Carter Hawkins downplayed any such possibilities over the weekend when talking with fans in a Q&A at Cubs Convention (link via Marquee Sports’ Tim Stebbins). Hoyer repeatedly used the phrase “zero basis in truth” regarding Morel speculation. He added that while the slugger might not have a set position this coming season, he’ll likely be used all over the diamond.
“We’re gonna have injuries all the time,” Hoyer said. “We’re gonna need [versatility], and the more positions you can play, the better. He’s going to have a big impact on the team.”
Morel’s name has indeed surfaced a lot on the rumor circuit this winter — in part due to a lack of a clear defensive home. His best position, second base, is spoken for by Nico Hoerner, who was pushed there by the team’s signing of Dansby Swanson. Morel has played all three outfield positions, but the Cubs have Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki locked into corner spots. Veteran Mike Tauchman is in the mix in center field but perhaps only as a placeholder to top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong, who is considered one of the best defensive center fielders in the sport. The Cubs have gotten Morel some looks at first base during winter ball, but their recent acquisition of slugger Michael Busch from the Dodgers might impact that possibility.
It should be noted, of course, that some of the speculation regarding Morel’s status stems from comments Hoyer himself made on the record earlier this winter. While he never plainly stated that Morel was available in a trade or even being discussed, Hoyer acknowledged “another team might be able to put him [at second base]” when discussing his defensive home and the decision to get Morel some winter exposure at first base. As we noted at the time, that’s far from a declaration a player is on the trade block, but it’s nevertheless understandable that many took the comment and began to consider the possibility. At various points this winter, reporting from the Chicago Tribune, ESPN and USA Today have all suggested that, to varying extents, Morel’s name has at least surfaced in trade talks.
Hoyer and Hawkins pushing back on the narrative is natural, particularly given the backdrop against which those comments were made. Cubs Convention is heavily attended by fans, many of whom would bristle at the notion of seeing Morel shipped out. Publicly pushing back on the notion of a trade surely offers some peace of mind to the player himself, too. The offseason is now months old, and other clubs have surely called to at least inquire on Morel. The Cubs presumably have a feeling on what the realistic possibilities might be, and if there’s nothing that’s piqued their interest by now, the chances of something new being presented in the remaining few weeks seem quite thin. Neither Hoyer nor Hawkins definitively stated Morel will not be traded, but the obvious implication was that it’s a highly unlikely scenario.
Morel, 24, has seen big league time in each of the past two seasons with the Cubs and shown off considerable power in addition to alarming swing-and-miss tendencies. In 854 plate appearances, the righty-swinging slugger has belted 42 home runs while adding 36 doubles and seven triples. He’s swiped 16 bags as well, albeit in 25 tries (64% success rate).
Morel has walked at a roughly average clip and doesn’t chase off the plate at an egregious rate — his 32.8% rate is less than one percentage point north of 2023’s league average 31.9% rate. However, Morel’s contact skills are suspect. He’s fanned 31.6% of his MLB plate appearances while logging contact rates more than 10 percentage points south of the league average both on pitches off the plate and those within the strike zone. Morel’s 64.5% contact rate on pitches inside the zone is well shy of last season’s 76.4% league average, and his 50.5% contact rate on pitches off the plate is similarly distanced from the league-average 62.4%. He’s had issues with contact in the minors as well; Morel fanned in 30.6% of his Triple-A plate appearances in 2023 and in 29.7% of his Double-A plate appearances in 2021.
Suffice it to say, while Morel’s power is quite intriguing, there are still some notable areas for improvement. That’s true of many 24-year-olds, of course, most of whom don’t have the type of power output Morel has already shown in the big leagues. He may need to improve his contact skills, pitch selection and/or defensive aptitude — Morel hasn’t graded as an above-average defender at any of the six positions he’s played — but the Cubs clearly believe in his long-term potential. Scouting reports on Morel have long questioned his hit tool, but his power, speed and throwing have consistently drawn plus marks.
The Cubs control Morel all the way through the 2028 season, and he still has a minor league option remaining as well. There’s little urgency for them to move him, and even if he never makes huge gains in terms of contact rate, there’s a role as a bat-first utilityman with impressive power that can clearly be achieved.