Although the Cubs interest in adding a couple of free agent relievers and a backup catcher has been fairly explicit, the rest of their intentions have been much more clandestine. Will they trade a young player? Will they target Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? Do they want a starting second baseman? Etc.
There’s one idea that falls in between those two buckets, though: signing a free agent infielder. With the trade of Tommy La Stella, the short tenure of Ronald Torreyes, and the unclear future of Addison Russell, it sure seems like the Cubs should be in the market for a middle infielder – and we’ve been treating rumors that way for a while – but it just hasn’t been too explicit … until now:
#Cubs in strong pursuit of free-agent infielder Daniel Descalso, sources tell The Athletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 14, 2018
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Chicago Cubs are showing interest in free agent infielder Daniel Descalso, who’s actually someone we wrote about exactly one week ago today. Here’s what I had to say about Descalso at the time:
Before the 2018 season, Daniel Descalso was pretty terrible at the plate. In the 2,276 plate appearances since his debut back in 2010, Descalso had slashed .240/.318/.359, which was good for just an 80 wRC+. In other words, for the first eight years of his career, the player I’m hoisting up to the Cubs today like Simba to the pride was 20% worse than the average big league hitter.
Leaderboards 2010-2017 (min. 2,000 PAs):
1. Mike Trout: 169 wRC+
2. Joey Votto: 163 wRC+
3. Miguel Cabrera: 160 wRC+
257. Daniel Descalso: 80 wRC+
The guy could play all over the field defensively, but he couldn’t hit. He was what he was.
But last year, at age 31, the left-handed hitting, right-handed fielding defensively-versatile infielder did something totally unexpected. He slashed .238/.353/.436 (111 wRC+) in 423 plate appearances.
Is that an All-Star? Nah, of course not. But it did place him among the top 75 hitters in baseball, which ain’t too shabby for a guy with his positional versatility. And, for what it’s worth, his 110 DRC+ is right in line with these numbers.
But that was only part of it. A deeper dive into his (modest) offensive breakout revealed some extremely interesting trends, like a massive uptick in his walk rate, hard hit rate, average exit velocity, launch angle, and fly balls. Descalso had more barrels last season (25) than his previous three combined and what had been an average launch angle in the 10-12 degree range ramped up to 19.1 degrees.
In short, Descalso was one of the top 75 hitters in baseball last season, and for good, fundamentally sound, statistically-confirmable reasons. As we said last time, “He’s getting older, but if the Cubs were looking for a really high-quality utility player who could start in a pinch, they can do a lot worse than Descalso.”
And to that end, I will point out that, yes, Descalso is less likely to be a full-time starter as opposed to a seasonal fill-in as Russell waits out his suspension and super-utility player thereafter (unless the breakout continues, I guess). Bob Nightengale reports that the Cardinals are also on Descalso, but they could just as easily be trying to drive up the price on the Cubs.
This would not be a particularly sexy move, but to round out the roster for cheap and with a little upside, Descalso is interesting. If the Cubs do land Descalso, it’ll immediately make some wonder if it’s a precursor to a (gulp) Ben Zobrist trade, which has been discussed before.
We’ll monitor closely and see if anything comes through.