The Chicago Cubs are reportedly interested in free-agent second baseman Kolten Wong, who might end up being the next infielder to sign.
Linkage between the Cubs and Wong has sparked some excitement in the Twittersphere. This is… a little confusing. I’ll explain why.
Let’s start with the market for some notable free-agent infielders. Marcus Semien got $18 million from the Toronto Blue Jays, and Andrelton Simmons got $10.5 million from the Minnesota Twins. Didi Gregorius will make $14 million AAV with the Philadelphia Phillies in the next two seasons.
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Naturally, the shortstop position is highly valued. But second basemen have made out fine. Tommy La Stella will make $19.5 million over the course of a three-year deal with the San Francisco Giants, and Enrique Hernandez is getting $7 million AAV from the Boston Red Sox.
Wong is a guy who makes a ton of contact and plays elite defense. He probably gets anywhere between $8 million to $12 million in AAV.
At this point, some readers might be thinking “So what?” But it would be a mistake for the Cubs to dole out that kind of money for a second baseman, considering the guy currently holding down the position profiles similarly to Wong.
Cubs infielder Nico Hoerner might as well be a carbon copy of Kolten Wong.
Neither guy makes tremendously hard contact. Wong ranked in the 15th percentile in average exit velocity and sixth percentile in hard-hit rate in 2020, per Baseball Savant. He ranked in the bottom one percent in barrel rate.
Let’s compare this to Hoerner. The 23-year-old ranked similarly in terms of barrel rate (fourth percentile) in 2020, per Baseball Savant, but actually ranked above Wong in average exit velocity (28th percentile) and hard-hit rate (39th percentile).
Well, what about the contact element? They are similar here, too. Hoerner ranked in the 87th percentile in whiff rate in 2020, and Wong was in the 93rd percentile.
One might be surprised to learn the mirroring is consistent from a defensive standpoint, as well. It is undeniable Wong is one of the best defensive second basemen in the game, having won back-to-back Gold Glove Awards. But, Hoerner is every bit as excellent with the glove.
Wong had six defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2020, per FanGraphs. Hoerner was just behind him with five DRS. The youngster was even better than Wong in some metrics, ranking above him in Baseball Savant’s outs above average (OAA) metric.
In essence, Wong and Hoerner are comparable players. They are both guys who ideally make a lot of contact and hit for average while playing plus-plus defense at second base. Would it really be smart for the Cubs to spend money on a guy whose upside is probably lower than a guy on the current roster?
Chicago could still use starting depth even after inking Trevor Williams. They might also look into the left-handed relief market, even after bringing back Andrew Chafin. Why not pour funds into those areas, instead?
Granted, Wong has a more proven track record. Perhaps Cubs brass feel Hoerner could use more seasoning or play some center field.
But Hoerner could be every bit as valuable–if not more valuable–than Wong in 2021. The Cubs should direct added payroll to improving the pitching staff, rather than signing Wong.