The Cubs have agreed to a minor league contract with veteran catcher/first baseman John Hicks, as first indicated on the team’s official transactions log. Hicks, a client of Full Circle Sports Management, figures to be in big league camp whenever the lockout ends. The Cubs haven’t formally announced the move or a non-roster invite, but a player with Hicks’ track record and experience generally warrants such an offer.
Hicks, 32, has spent parts of six seasons in the Majors, mostly coming with the Tigers. He’s also had brief appearances with the Mariners, for whom he made his MLB debut in 2015, and with the Rangers, for whom he played in 10 games this past season.
While Hicks doesn’t have a sterling offensive track record in the big leagues, he’s been more productive than the average backup catcher. He slugged four homers and a double in just 31 plate appearances with the Rangers this past season and, for the better part of the 2017-18, was a semi-regular in Detroit while hitting a combined .263/.317/.417 with 15 round-trippers and 24 doubles in 502 plate appearances.
Those numbers don’t include a dismal 2019 season, however, wherein Hicks logged a career-high 333 plate appearances but posted a career-worst .210/.240/.379 slash with a sky-high 32.7% strikeout rate. On the whole, he’s a lifetime .236/.279/.401 hitter in 902 plate appearances at the MLB level, and he’ll also carry a .275/.314/.438 career batting line in parts of five Triple-A seasons into his fourth organization.
Defensively, Hicks has split his time in nearly even fashion between catcher (928 innings) and first base (924 innings) in the Majors. He’s thwarted a hefty 32% of stolen-base attempts against him in the big leagues, but Hicks also has generally poor framing numbers behind the dish and negative overall marks in Defensive Runs Saved (-5 at both catcher and first base).
As things currently stand, Hicks is a ways down the depth chart in Chicago. Two-time All-Star Willson Contreras is slated to reprise his role as the team’s starter, and Chicago also brought Yan Gomes into the mix on a two-year, $13MM deal earlier this winter. The size of the commitment to Gomes and the fact that Contreras is slated to become a free agent at season’s end only further fueled longstanding trade speculation regarding Contreras. If a deal were to ultimately come together, Hicks and P.J. Higgins would vie for a backup job behind Gomes, but for now, Hicks is likely ticketed for Triple-A Iowa.