The Cubs surprised much of the baseball world with their play in recent weeks, which pushed them to add third baseman Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline rather than deal away rental players like Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman. With the focus now firmly on a push toward making the playoffs in 2023, the club appears to be shortening the leash of struggling players.
That includes outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who the Cubs spent nearly $100MM to add to the club’s roster prior to the 2022 campaign between Suzuki’s five-year, $85MM contract and the posting fee owed to the Hiroshima Carp as payment for Suzuki’s services. In 111 games with the Cubs last year, Suzuki played solidly in his rookie season, with a .262/.336/.433 slash line that was good for a wRC+ of 116. Suzuki began the 2023 campaign on the injured list due to an oblique issue, but got off to a fantastic start when he was back in action, slashing .293/.385/.487 with a 12.6% walk rate in 174 trips to the plate through the end of May.
Unfortunately, Suzuki’s offense has cratered since then, as he’s mustered just a .214/.281/.310 slash line in 210 plate appearances since the calendar flipped to June. That’s brought his overall campaign below league average by measure of wRC+ (96) in 2023, and while he’s played excellent defense in right field, Cubs manager David Ross indicated to reporters (including The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma) recently that Suzuki would not be an everyday player going forward until he gets things back on track. “He knows he needs to work on some things,” Ross said of Suzuki, “It’s hard to do that in-game. We’ll give him some time, and he’ll be back in there when we feel like he can help us win games.”
It seems that journeyman outfielder Mike Tauchman, who came to the Cubs on a minor league deal during the offseason but has impressed with a .277/.371/.431 slash line (121 wRC+) in 238 trips to the plate since joining the roster back in May, will receive the lion’s share of playing time in right field, with Suzuki making occasional starts when he or Ian Happ have a day off or when Cody Bellinger moves from center field to first base. The Cubs are 2.5 games back of Milwaukee in the NL Central and 1.0 game back of Cincinnati for the final NL Wild Card spot entering play today.
More from around the NL Central…
- Reds right-handers Justin Dunn and Vladimir Gutierrez both have yet to throw a pitch in the majors this season, spending the entire campaign on the 60-day IL due to a shoulder strain and Tommy John surgery, respectively. Though both righties have been starting pitchers throughout their careers to this point, each figures to come out of the bullpen upon returning to the big leagues, manager David Bell told reporters (including Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer). Gutierrez had a solid rookie season with the Reds in 2021 during which he pitched to a roughly league average ERA of 4.74 (99 ERA+) but struggled badly in 36 2/3 innings of work last year prior to going under the knife in July of last year. Dunn, meanwhile, is a former first-round pick who has yet to find success a starter in the big leagues, with a 4.44 ERA and 6.23 FIP in 133 2/3 career innings of work in the majors.
- Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz looks to be a rising star and one of the most exciting youngsters in the game today, with a 108 wRC+, 13 steals and 19 home runs in 410 trips to the plate so far in his career. The 6’7” shortstop was expected by many to challenge for the 30/30 club in his first full season as a big leaguer in 2023, but was unfortunately sidelined by an ankle injury just days into the 2023 campaign. While he won’t be able to play in his first full major league season until 2024, he could still finish the 2023 campaign in the majors nonetheless, as Pittsburgh GM Ben Cherington told MLBNetwork Radio’s Jim Duquette that Cruz is expected to begin a rehab assignment later this month, with a goal of returning to the majors in September. The Pirates have started a youth movement while Cruz has been on the shelf, and he’ll be greeted by fellow youngsters Henry Davis, Endy Rodriguez, and Quinn Priester upon his return to the big league club.