In the deal that sent All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel to the crosstown rival White Sox, the Chicago Cubs netted right-hander Cody Heuer and young infielder and former first-rounder Nick Madrigal.
Personally, I felt really good about that return. Heuer looked like a legitimate big league arm last season, when he made 21 appearances for the Sox, working to a 1.52 ERA and 2.77 FIP out of the pen. Although this year has been a much different story for the 25-year-old, it’s clear this kid could definitely make an impact at the big league level.
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But he wasn’t the centerpiece in this return. Madrigal takes that title – and with good reason. The former Oregon State standout, who is out for the year recovering from a right hamstring tear, is a big-time bat-to-ball presence capable of making high amounts of contact and setting the table for the Cubs lineup for years to come.
Nico Hoerner carries a very similar offensive profile and it’s led people to criticize the front office for targeting Madrigal in the Kimbrel deal. But given Chicago’s swing-and-miss tendencies in recent years and a maddeningly consistent inability to manufacture runs, I think this duo could play a key role on the next great Cubs team.
"“It makes it hard on the other team,” Cubs manager David Ross said after the deadline. “I go back to my catching days and how tough it is when you’re a catcher and you can’t get that guy to strike out. The swing and miss. Those are pesky at-bats. Those two guys have proven that their eye-hand, bat-to-ball skills are really impressive.”"
Chicago Cubs: Nick Madrigal, Nico Hoerner could transform this offense
Last season, Madrigal made his big league debut, batting .340/.376/.369 in the pandemic-shortened campaign. He built on that success early in 2021, following with a .305/.349/.425 slash before hitting the shelf with a hamstring tear. The big knock on Madrigal is his lack of power, but it’s pretty clear he’s going to grind out at-bats, which is something the Cubs haven’t done well.
"“When you talk contact, he’s a whole other level. I’m a ‘contact hitter,'” said Hoerner. “But when you actually dive into it, he’s the best, right? There’s no one that puts the bat on the ball as well as him.”"
Don’t get me wrong. There have been stretches where the Cubs see a lot of pitches. But there’s a big difference between taking hittable pitches and making pitchers work and running up pitch counts. That’s where I think the Madrigal-Hoerner combination will prove most valuable.
Ross and the Cubs will have to figure out where to deploy both players defensively. Right now, it looks like Hoerner will slot in at shortstop to open 2022, with Madrigal taking over everyday duties at second. Again, some fans are upset Chicago would move Hoerner off the position since he was a Gold Glove finalist there in 2021, but it’s still a more-than-capable double-play combination regardless.