On Friday, the Chicago Cubs crossed backup catcher off their shopping list, inking former Yankees and Tigers backstop Austin Romine to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million.
But the team’s roster is far from complete. Despite a glaring need at second base, the Cubs haven’t been seriously connected to any of the number of potential fits in free agency this winter. With two more options, Jurickson Profar and Enrique Hernandez, signing deals this week, it’s seeming more and more likely Chicago sticks with its pair of internal candidates for the role.
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Former first-round pick Nico Hoerner, a 2020 NL Gold Glove finalist at the position, is probably the frontrunner for the role. He’s gotten a ton of reps there over the last two years and, despite any substantive minor league experience, the Cubs seem to be committed to him learning the ropes as he goes.
As superb as he is defensively, he took a big step in the wrong direction offensively last year. He failed to drive the ball with any real authority (.037 ISO) and turned in a 63 wRC+ across 126 plate appearances. The good news? Virtually every projection has him getting back to being at least closer to a league average bat in 2021.
Cubs could stick with Nico Hoerner or could pivot to David Bote
During his Cubs career, David Bote has delivered a bevy of clutch knocks. But here’s the problem. He’s been remarkably more effective coming off the bench than he has as a starter. Take a look at the breakdown:
- Starter: .226/.324/.385 – 614 plate appearances
- Bench: .329/.423/.610 – 97 plate appearances
As you can see, there’s a chasm between what he’s done offensively when he’s not in the starting lineup compared to when he is. The sample size off the bench is also, admittedly, much smaller. Regardless, it seems pretty likely the Cubs rely on Bote more in 2021 than at any other point in his career.
The team is yet to replace Kyle Schwarber in left field. The best lineup, at least on paper, with the current roster may very well see Kris Bryant take over in left, with Bote becoming the everyday third baseman and Hoerner at second. This would largely remove Bote from the second base battle – but, again, you’d hope Jed Hoyer isn’t ‘done quite yet.
We could yet see a reunion with Jason Kipnis, which would at least give us some depth at second in that instance. But given the self-imposed financial limitations the team is operating under, getting a real difference-maker seems next-to-impossible at this point.