Cubs add light-hitting backup catcher John Hicks on minor league deal

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

As we learned last year, you can’t really ever have too many backup catchers. The Cubs set a franchise record with the number of players at the position in 2021 – so the move to sign veteran backstop John Hicks to a minor league deal makes all the sense in the world.

Hicks, 32, spent last year in the Rangers organization – and made the most of his 10 games with the big league club, slashing .258/.258/.677. He absolutely cannot be counted upon to slug nearly .700 ever again based on what he’s done to this point in his career, but that also doesn’t matter because the Cubs aren’t bringing him in to do that.

A better baseline would be his three years in Detroit from 2017 to 2019 when he appeared in 236 games for the Tigers, putting up an 81 OPS+ (.241/.287/.401) in the process. Last year in 64 Triple-A games, his offensive numbers were solid – and he’s been a decent bat at that level for quite some time now (.284/.328/.432). But all told, he’s an insurance policy to an insurance policy for Chicago.

Willson Contreras, assuming he’s still on the roster come Opening Day, is at the top of the depth chart, followed by newcomer Yan Gomes, who got a two-year deal with a third-year option early in the offseason, despite turning 35 this summer. From there, though, the waters are much murkier.

For the Chicago Cubs, the catching position faces long-term uncertainty

For years, we assumed that if we ever got to this point and losing Contreras was a legitimate possibility, the torch would be passed to Miguel Amaya. Now, though, that’s out of the question – at least in the short-term – with the former top prospect needing Tommy John surgery.

Throw in the COVID-cancelled 2020 MiLB season and an injury-plagued 2021 and it’ll be three-plus years since Amaya has played any substantive number of games heading into next year. That makes the addition of Hicks even more critical.

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He’ll likely be with the team in big league camp, whenever that takes place, looking to compete with the likes of P.J. Higgins for the ‘first man up’ title at Iowa. Obviously, extending Contreras would make this list of potential replacements a lot easier to stomach – but until that happens, we need to understand that Gomes, Higgins and Hicks could all end up seeing decent action at the big league level if Contreras is moved this season.