Dominic Smith signing tells you how little faith the Cubs have in Matt Mervis

A minor league deal with the former first-rounder doesn't exactly inspire confidence in Mervis, who is just two years removed from a monster season at Triple-A Iowa.

Chicago White Sox v Washington Nationals
Chicago White Sox v Washington Nationals / Jess Rapfogel/GettyImages

Jed Hoyer and the Cubs hit us with a 1-2 punch of minor league signings on Monday night, adding veteran outfielder David Peralta and first baseman Dominic Smith as depth pieces heading into camp. The latter feels like a resounding vote of no confidence in what Matt Mervis is expected to contribute at the big league level this season.

Smith, who has repeatedly been connected to the Cubs over the last 18 or so months, is a former first-rounder and just 28 years old. He falls squarely into the 'reclamation project' bucket, no doubt, but regardless of what Chicago gets out of him, the fact they brought him in at all tells us the organization isn't confident in Mervis as a quality backup option behind Michael Busch at first.

Mervis made himself a household name among Cubs fans just two years ago when he tore up minor league pitching to the tune of a .984 OPS with 40 homers, 119 RBI and 36 doubles in 137 games. Last season, he got his first look at MLB pitching and was totally overmatched, striking out in just under a third of his plate appearances en route to a 43 OPS+.

Once he was back at Iowa, everything fell right back into place for the former Duke standout. His OPS was back in the .900s and the power was there, as well. He'll get a look, along with Smith, this spring but definitely faces an uphill battle to making the Opening Day roster. One thing working in his favor though is Smith still isn't at 100% after undergoing a procedure to address a hamate bone injury in January - so his being ready for any substantive number of Cactus League games seems questionable.

Cubs have nothing to lose in the Dominic Smith free agent signing

As for Smith, he's never really lived up to the hype that surrounded him as a former first-round pick of the Mets. In 2019 and 2020, it seemed like everything really clicked for him, but he's fallen off pretty dramatically since then. In 2023, it looked like he attempted to make some dramatic swing changes based on the drop in his strikeout rate (and, subsequently, his power output) - but we'll have to see if that was a permanent shift or not.

The guy at first, pretty clearly, is Busch. Expect the Cubs to give him plenty of runway to work out the kinks, especially early in the year because he's a guy who's hit at every stop along the way but never had a path to regular ABs in the bigs with the Dodgers. Smith, Mervis and Patrick Wisdom will all look to figure into the bench/depth role for the team at first.