After missing on their primary target at first base in Jose Abreu, the Chicago Cubs now need to act fast to make sure they acquire somebody that can still make a difference. It just goes to show that no matter how well somebody can be a perfect fit for your team for a multitude of reasons, it never means somebody won't come along and outbid you. Even if it means it may hinder them down the road. Now, we must shift our focus to the remaining first basemen. An intriguing option that remains on the open market that actually makes just as much sense as Abreu, is Jesus Aguilar.
I highly recommend looking at Aguilar with an open mind. In 2022, Aguilar had a down year with a slash of just .235/.281/.379 with 16 HRs and 51 RBIs. That's fine. It's actually beneficial to the Cubs that he had a down year in 2022. Prior to that, from 2017-2021, Aguilar slashed .263/.338/.476 with an average of 25 HRs and 92 RBIs per 162 games played. Split-wise, he is pretty neutral with a career line of .257/.341/.439 vs. southpaws and .253/.316/.453 against RHPs.
Before the 2022 campaign commenced, Aguilar had signed a one-year deal worth 7.5MM with the Miami Marlins. This was after a 2021 season in which Aguilar slashed .261/.329/.459 with 22 HRs and 93 RBI. Now, after a down 2022, you can imagine that not only will he be getting a one-year deal again, but it should be lower than the 7.5MM he signed for last season. You're essentially limiting your risk to a one-year deal for 5-6MM instead of the $40MM that you would have given to Abreu who is four years older than Aguilar. Say what you will about the production of Abreu vs. Aguilar, but Aguilar has had another season in which he blasted 35 long balls with 108 driven in.
Is he a surefire, definitely going to move the needle and put the Cubs in contention immediately candidate? No, not necessarily. If he gets back to even his 2021 form, in a hitters ballpark where the shift will be banned, does he have the ability to put up huge numbers and potentially be a formidable option in the lineup? Absolutely. In fact, I believe that upon a deeper dive into some of Aguilar's sabermetrics, you can easily make sense of the fact that he's actually a good player to take a flyer on here.
Jesus Aguilar is an ideal buy-low candidate for the Chicago Cubs
Let's touch on just how important the banned shift in 2023 is going to be for players like Aguilar moving forward. Over the course of his career, Aguilar has hit to the pull side just north of 40% of the time he puts the ball in play. Another 37% of the time, he will hit the ball in the direction of centerfield. Needless to say, when 77% of the balls put in play are in two general directions, it's easy to shift guys over to the left side of the field in this case and know they have a more than likely chance that the balls coming that way. That will be no more in 2023.
However, that's only half the point. Statcast defines a ball hit with an exit velocity of over 95 mph as a hard-hit ball. Aguilar, lifetime, has a hard-hit rate of just north of 40%. Therefore, you can start to envision the scenarios where any hard-hit grounders that were gobbled up in the shift can turn into base hits through the hole. Aguilar does carry a 36% ground ball rate against lefties and 35% against righties.
Still, no shift will be a dramatic change to a lot of power hitters' batting averages that tend to ground into the shift. Regardless, the Cubs need to strike now after missing one of their key targets this offseason. Aguilar serves as the perfect one-year candidate that has a solid chance of bouncing back to true form. After the Abreu signing, expect the first base market to start ramping up now so teams can ensure they don't miss on anybody else they had circled on their wish list.