Cubs already have their long-term shortstop in Nico Hoerner
By Luke Parrish
The Chicago Cubs are rumored to be interested in a big-ticket free agent shortstop in 2023 but, if you ask me, Nico Hoerner deserves to be the answer moving forward. Since taking over as the everyday shortstop, Hoerner has been sensational, which gives the Cubs flexibility to spend their money elsewhere this winter.
All signs point to Hoerner being the long-term solution at the most valuable position on the infield and the Cubs have to handle this situation properly as they revamp the roster. The future of the franchise should include Seiya Suzuki, Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner – although Happ does present an interesting discussion at the trade deadline.
Cubs already have their answer at shortstop in Nico Hoerner
Hoerner has been a pretty consistent hitter since making his big league debut back in 2019. He has a career .286 batting average and has gone over .300 in each of the past two seasons while steadily improving his defensive work in the middle of the infield.
So far in 2022, Hoerner has been one of the best defensive shortstops in MLB. He ranks sixth in baseball in outs above average (OAA) which is also tied for the league lead among all shortstops. His fielding percentage has taken a slight drop since shifting from second base over the shortstop but his .974 percentage is good for 12th in all of baseball.
Each year has come with new challenges for Hoerner and he has taken care of business regardless of what is asked of him. His performance as a defensive shortstop in his first full season is worth giving him the keys for the future. There is so much to enjoy about his game and it is only going to improve with more reps.
The appeal of other shortstops this winter will be their ability to create more runs at the plate. While Hoerner is not a player that will hit for power, he will get on base and make things happen with his legs.
He is setting career-highs across the board in 2022 – albeit mostly because he is playing every day. Hoerner has already posted his best season in terms of home runs, hits, runs, and RBI – and we haven’t even hit the All-Star Break.
With so much promise in a young shortstop, would it even make sense for the Cubs to focus their offseason spending on another middle infielder? Nick Madrigal and Christoper Morel can platoon at second base with Hoerner sticking at shortstop and the Cubs could be in business.
Given what the expected price tag of Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, or Carlos Correa will be, the Cubs would be smart to dedicate those dollars in other ways.
Are the other shortstops worth the cost? Depends how you look at it
Those other candidates are expected to make a ton of money for good reason. They have been some of the best shortstops in baseball for a few years now and have earned the right to sign a massive deal in free agency.
While they may be upgrades at the plate, they are not worth the investment defensively. Hoerner is currently posting a 1.4 dWAR which ranks fourth among qualified shortstops. For reference, Bogaerts (0.4), Correa (0.6), and Turner (0.6) are not really in the same stratosphere.
The only free agent shortstop that could intrigue me at this point would be Dansby Swanson because he has proven that he can take that big leap and be a star in recent years. He leads all shortstops in fielding percentage and is tied with Hoerner atop the OAA leaderboard.
Swanson has also seen a huge uptick in offensive production, boasting a .297/.355/.482 slash line with 14 home runs, 50 RBI and 14 stolen bases. The offense has come along and the former Vanderbilt standout is playing himself into a nice financial situation this winter. A duo of Swanson and Hoerner would be fun to watch in Chicago.
Still, I think the best outcome in free agency would be for the Cubs to stick with Hoerner and use that extra money to upgrade the pitching and outfield. The Cubs desperately need an ace in the rotation and could be in the market for Aaron Nola, Joe Musgrove, or even a trade for a top arm when the time comes.
They could also focus on the outfield and putting quality bats next to Happ. If Brennen Davis does eventually get the call-up, he is going to need some time to adjust. Assuming Happ returns and is a part of the 2023 roster, the Cubs would be smart to add an Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Haniger or Brandon Nimmo.
If they really want to get aggressive, the Cubs could throw a blank check at Aaron Judge to add a power-hitting Gold Glover. The Cubs can afford to sign a superstar like Judge but they have shown no desire to do anything of the sort lately.
Taking a slight upgrade over Hoerner and spending a ton of money to do so would only handcuff the Cubs as they build the roster. If they are going to spend big, they might as well do it at a position that is a more glaring issue than shortstop.