In Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have a young, talented, perennial MVP candidate first baseman, but, behind him, there isn’t a ton of depth. Of course, first base isn’t the most difficult position to cover defensively – indeed, five players covered first for the Cubs in 2015 – but depth is important nonetheless. In a season with as many expectations as 2016, that all goes double. You will never be able to replace Rizzo’s production, of course, but you can put yourself in a position to weather such an event.
While all of Chris Coghlan, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant could (and did in 2015) cover first base, each has value that is better suited elsewhere on the field and bench. There is also rising first base prospect Dan Vogelbach, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, but he has yet to play above AA.
With that said, the Cubs appear to be stashing some depth, in the event that Anthony Rizzo gets injured in 2015, by way of signing Jesus Guzman to a minor league deal, according to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy.
Although he made his major league debut in 2009, the Giants designated Guzman for assignment shortly after the new year. He eventually signed a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres in November of 2010, by way of then general manger Jed Hoyer (so there’s your face-value connection). With the Padres in 2011, Guzman proved he could hit major league pitching, as well. In over 271 plate appearances that year, he slashed .312/.369/.478 with a 8.1% walk rate and 15.9% strikeout. His defense – primarily at first base and left field – though, was always in question.
In December of 2013, the Padres traded Guzman to the Astros in exchange for Ryan Jackson, but that was the beginning of a transitional period for the journeyman first baseman. After finishing just shy of 200 plate appearances for the Astros in 2014, he announced that he signed a one year contract for 2015, to play with the Hiroshima Toya Carp in Japan. There, he hit .230/.336/.420, and he’s since been crushing it in the Venezuelan Winter League.
As I said, Guzman will most likely head to AAA Iowa where he’ll serve, primarily, as depth at first base and in the outfield.
He’s a career 100 wRC+ hitter, but, as Matt Eddy alluded to, he’s been a good deal better against lefties. In 523 career plate appearances against them, Guzman has slashed .263/.337/.410 with a 9.9% walk rate and a 20.0% strikeout rate (111 wRC+).
What you can expect out of Guzman in 2016 – (relatively) solid offense, weak defense, cheap first base depth – is exactly what you’ll need. As far as offensive back-up-back-ups go, he’ll do just fine.