While the Chicago Cubs decided to tender a non-guaranteed contract to shortstop Addison Russell, his suspension leaves a hole in the middle infield.
When the 2019 campaign kicks off, the Chicago Cubs, in theory, have the pieces to offset Addison Russell serving the remainder of his 40-game suspension. Said suspension will cost the Cubs infielder pretty much the first month of the season, leaving a hole on the roster.
Javier Baez will likely move to shortstop, and the team will roll out plenty of lineups with Baez and either Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ or even David Bote filling in at second base. But given the fact that Joe Maddon also likes to play Zo and Happ in the outfield, Chicago could use another solid option at second to bolster their infield depth.
It just so happens that a divisional rival’s recent decision might provide the Cubs with a low-cost opportunity to satisfy that need.
A guy who fell flat down the stretch for the Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers non-tendered Jonathan Schoop on Friday, making the 26-year-old a free agent. Schoop would have been eligible for a raise of almost $2 million from his 2018 base salary of $8.5 million.
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Schoop struggled immensely after being acquired by Milwaukee in a deadline deal, slashing .202/.246/.331 and hitting just four home runs in 124 plate appearances.
The Athletic (sub required) recently reported that Schoop is currently looking for a one-year contract, likely for a salary of $10 million or less.
Given that the available second basemen on the market, including DJ LeMahieu and Jed Lowrie, seem likely to go for a much higher AAV (and multiple years), Schoop could be a gamble the Cubs may consider taking.
The skinny on Schoop
After a tumultuous 2018 in which he changed teams and then struggled to get consistent at-bats, it seems like Schoop’s All-Star campaign in 2017 was a lifetime ago.
That year, Schoop hit .293 with 32 homers and 105 RBI, earning 12 votes for AL MVP in the process. The former Orioles slugger has hit at least 20 home runs in each of his last three seasons, and at least 15 in his five full seasons in the bigs.
Schoop has also slugged at least .400 in every season but one, including a three-year stretch from 2015-17 where he slugged at least .450 or higher. These power numbers certainly look friendly to a Cubs team that saw a huge decline in home runs and total slugging percentage in 2018.
The downside to Schoop is his almost nonexistent walk rate and low OBP totals over the years.
Last season, Schoop walked in just 3.8 percent of his plate appearances. In fact, Schoop has never recorded a walk rate higher than 5.2 percent (2017) and has only recorded two seasons with an OBP of .300 or higher.
Where might he fit?
Schoop would be a marked defensive improvement over Daniel Murphy at second base and provides similar slugging numbers. The question will ultimately be whether the Cubs are willing to bet on getting a version of Schoop closer to that of his All-Star season in 2017.
According to MLB Statcast, Schoop saw a decrease in launch angle and hard-hit contact despite having nearly the same average exit velocity. But with John Mallee disciple and launch angle proponent Anthony Iapoce on as hitting coach, Schoop may just be able to rediscover some of the success he had in Baltimore.
At just 27, Schoop is still extremely young. He is an average to an above-average defender and has showcased his power stroke ever since he arrived at the big league level. He would also be far less of a financial burden on a cheaper, one-year contract.
Are the Cubs are willing to gamble that Schoop can get on base enough to merit a potential signing? Time will tell.