Cubs are taking advantage of service time by optioning Nico Hoerner

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Keeping a player in the minor leagues for the sake of gaining an extra year of service time is no secret practice in Major League Baseball. The Chicago Cubs have decided to take advantage of this by optioning one of their hottest hitters in spring training, Nico Hoerner.

Many Cub fans will remember when the team decided to do this with Kris Bryant in 2015. Bryant was clearly ready for the big leagues after a strong spring camp, but the front office and ownership opted to keep him in Triple-A for an extra week-and-a-half to earn the extra year of service time, saying his defense needed more work. Ironically that additional year accounts for this season, the final year of Bryant’s arbitration eligibility.

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Did that business decision rub Bryant and his agent Scott Boras the wrong way and have an impact on negotiations up to this point? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but it’s the nature of the business.

It’s a practice that has been well-known across the league, so much to the point former Mariners president Kevin Mather was dumb enough to admit manipulating service time during a pancake luncheon in February. This, along with other idiotic comments forced him to resign.

Cubs: Nico Hoerner looked good this spring

So from the business side I understand, but from a production standpoint it stinks considering how well Hoerner was playing in camp. The 23-year-old was slashing .361/.400/.639 with one home run, six RBI and three stolen bases in 36 at-bats. These numbers were encouraging after Hoerner’s poor 2020 campaign where he posted a line of .222/.312/.259 in 108 at-bats.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports it would take 36 days to gain the extra year of service for Hoerner. In a full-season that month isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, but hopefully the Cubs aren’t going to miss out on not having Hoerner at the big-league level.

The good news is both David Bote and Eric Sogard have been swinging the bat just as well in exhibition games. The duo figures to be part of some platoon at second base and making starts around the infield as needed.

2021 Spring Training Statistics:

  • David Bote (38 AB): .316/.381/.684 3 HR 8 RBI
  • Eric Sogard  (27 AB): .370/.469/.556 1 HR 4 RBI

The numbers from Bote and Sogard make the decision to keep Hoerner down less disappointing, and it also helps considering the amount of time in the minor leagues Hoerner has since being drafted in 2018. He was rushed to the big leagues at the end of the 2019 season to help spark the Cubs in a late-season playoff push. Hoerner skipped triple-A, jumping straight from double-A to the MLB-level.

Michael Cerami from Bleacher Nation brought up a great point comparing Hoerner’s minor-league plate appearances compared to the notable Cubs of past and present.

Minor League PAs before MLB:

•   Nico Hoerner: 375
•   Kyle Schwarber: 621
•   Jorge Soler: 622
•   Kris Bryant: 773
•   Ian Happ: 978
•   Addison Russell: 1,087
•   Javier Báez: 1,350
•   Albert Almora Jr.: 1,788
•   Willson Contreras: 2,132

It’s easy to forget, but there is a significant difference in terms of how much time Hoerner has missed in his development. I think it showed during his struggles last summer, in addition to not having a traditional spring camp.

Next. Monster season ahead for Joc Pederson. dark

In the long-run, this should be beneficial for both the Cubs and Hoerner. The extra month in triple-A will serve as an extension of spring training for him, while the team gets another year of control. Depending on how much infield help is needed when that time comes, Hoerner will likely be the first man up.