Chicago Cubs Rumors: Kevin Kiermaier can fill CF need

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One thing the Chicago Cubs need to remedy this offseason is their center-field woes. Last season, there was no good answer for the team at the position, especially with injuries to Jason Heyward and Michael Hermosillo. Christopher Morel manned the position on occasion, but with a -10.8 UZR/150 in 458 innings, he's not a realistic fit long-term. With no other surefire center fielders that could at least be serviceable until Pete Crow-Armstrong is ready, they'll have to look outside the organization.

Barring a trade, there are three candidates that really stand out on the free agent market - Brandon Nimmo, Cody Bellinger, and Kevin Kiermaier. Nimmo is easily the best of the three right now, but he'll be a hot commodity, and injury concerns make a longer deal for him a bit scary. We've discussed Bellinger before as a great short-term candidate with sky-high upside and good defense to boot (assuming the Dodgers non-tender him), but we've yet to explore Kiermaier as a logical fit.

Kiermaier completely fits the bill of what the Cubs would want from a stop-gap center fielder. At 33 years old and coming off an injury-shortened year, he's not expected to break the bank with his next deal, nor is he expected to sign a longer contract. Most importantly, he's been a brilliant defender throughout his time in the majors with a career 14.4 UZR/150 and 64 OAA. Even in a shortened 2022 where he was hampered by injury, he still managed 3.3 UZR/150. Statcast also had his arm strength and sprint speed in the low 90 percentiles in 2022.

The main knock against Kiermaier, as always, is the bat. He sits at a career 97 wRC+ and usually hovers around league average to just below. After last year, health is a concern too, but it's still hard not to see a fit considering just how important that defense is in center. The Cubs should also be adding significantly to the offense this year anyways, so it won't hurt to prioritize defense here. As a bonus, the signing would reunite him with his brother Dan Kiermaier who's Wrigley Field's head groundskeeper.

As a temporary solution, Kiermaier makes too much sense for the Cubs

I'd really like the Cubs to take a swing on Bellinger, but I think there's a fair argument for Kiermaier over the former MVP. Defense is going to be the most important here and, while Bellinger's outfield defense overall is great, he's decidedly less inspiring at center by FanGraphs' measure. He got his first real run at the position this year, but he only managed a flat 0 DRS and 0.8 UZR/150. Granted, OAA is more bullish on his center-field play, placing him in the 90th percentile with 6.

That potential offensive upside isn't looking as promising though. In the years since he won the MVP, he's actually been a markedly worse batter than Kiermaier. 2022 saw him at an 83 wRC+, but even that might be a bit generous considering Statcast had him among the worst hitters in xBA, xSLG, walk rate, and strikeout percentage. There's not likely to be an easy fix that can magically restore him to MVP form. Without that advantage, it may be better to go with the surefire defensive guru in Kiermaier rather than take a chance on a more costly lottery ticket.

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Kiermaier fits that mold of being a stellar defensive outfielder at a low cost while also leaving the door open for Crow-Armstrong. Given how vital a strong defender in center is, the Cubs would do well to place him as the general of their outfield.