From the earliest stages of the offseason until today, we’ve guessed that the Cubs might want to arrange a short-term bridge to Nico Hoerner at second base through free agency. Hoerner came up to the big leagues in a pinch last season (and performed well!), but ultimately/probably needs a little more time in the Minor Leagues (he hasn’t even hit Triple-A yet!) before he’s a full-time contributor.
With that in mind, I had guessed that some higher-upside players like Didi Gregorius or Scooter Gennett could be in the cards, and indeed, the Cubs were connected to Gennett last month. But more recently, their attention had been turned toward Jason Kipnis and today, they’re reportedly close to getting something done.
Here’s the latest via Jesse Rogers:
Theo: “We’ll probably have a couple small moves, adding guys on minor league deals. "
Expect Glenbrook North's very own Jason Kipnis to be one of them. Cubs zeroing in. The second most famous alum from there.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 11, 2020
(I wonder if he’ll really be able to land only a Minor League deal, or if Jesse Rogers was just using that quote loosely to lead into that news).
And here’s what I had to say about Kipnis when he first popped up as a Cubs target last week:
Kipnis, 32, became a free agent second baseman this winter, after slashing .245/.304/.410 with the Indians last year. His defense continues to rate well according to the advanced defensive metrics, but he hasn’t had an above-average offensive season since battling the Cubs in the World Series back in 2016 (114 wRC+).
What he does have, however, is a solid glove at second base and well above average contact abilities (91.4% contact rate in the zone last year, 81.3% overall … compared to league averages of 84.9% and 76.2% respectively). He also likely comes with a pretty low price tag, which is still somewhat of a requirement for any player the Cubs pursue this winter.
Moreover, Kipnis is a realistic alternative to the other free agent second baseman rumor we’ve heard recently: Scooter Gennett. Both guys offer a little bit of short-term upside, some improved contact abilities, and a cheap acquisition cost in what should/would likely be seen as a bridge to Nico Hoerner at second base in the long-term.
It’s also worth noting that Kipnis, who bats left-handed, was/has been much better on the strong side of the platoon last season (91 wRC+ versus righties, 64 wRC+ versus lefties ) and for his career (113 wRC+ versus righties, 82 wRC+ versus lefties).
We’ll monitor and update you if/when anything becomes official.
UPDATE: Jordan Bastian confirms the initial report (and seems to take it a step further, implying it’s just a physical away from happening), while adding that it is, indeed, going to be a Minor League deal with a non-roster-invitation to camp:
Cubs are working on a Minor League/NRI contract with FA second baseman Jason Kipnis. Still has to take physical with team.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 11, 2020
UPDATE 2: It’s happening, and, as expected, it’s very economical if Kipnis makes the team:
Jason Kipnis to Cubs. Minors deal for the Glenbrook North product. 1M plus incentives.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 11, 2020