I think I have mentioned this before, but I’ve had a tab open on free agent utilityman Jurickson Profar for over a month now. Although he’s not a top-tier free agent, there’s a lot about him that makes sense for the Chicago Cubs. Thus, just enough for me to have the tab open, knowing I wanted to set aside some time to write about him. But not QUITE enough to give me the daily kick in the pants to actually dig in.
So, with thanks to Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma, I’m writing Profar up today. The Athletic duo, in a long discussion about what lies ahead for the Cubs, mentioned Profar as the type of free agent who could make sense for the Cubs:
The Cubs are starting to gain some believers in their ability to find bullpen talent in unexpected areas. Applying that same idea to the offense will be important. If the Cubs target specific attributes in position players — they’re looking for both versatility and the ability to make contact — there are affordable options.
Jurickson Profar can play all over the field and makes quality contact — he’s been above 80 percent in that area for his entire career. To put that in perspective, over the last two seasons, of the players still on the Cubs roster, only Anthony Rizzo and Nico Hoerner have crossed that mark.
But Profar is already garnering interest on the open market and the Cubs may not want to spend what it may take to get him.
Just had to throw in that last caveat, eh? Yes. Had to.
Profar, 27, is best known to hardcore fans as one of the tip-toppiest of prospects in a long time. He was Wander Franco about 10 years before Wander Franco. The consensus number one prospect in all of baseball in 2013. A no-doubt future star.
But then the one thing that could’ve derailed him did: injuries. Profar missed two seasons due to a shoulder injury and then a subsequent surgery, and since he’d already been on the 40-man roster, his minor league options were used up before he was truly ready for the big leagues (especially post-injuries) as an everyday player. That led to a lot of inconsistent playing time in his early days (and probably mucked up his development), yet he still managed to at least be a worthwhile regular in 2018, when he was 25:
You can do the math there, and you’ll note that Profar will be only 28 years old in 2021, so he certainly checks the box of being pretty darn young for a free agent, and his development trajectory has me wondering if there’s still some upside there.
Even without the upside, you can easily see why Profar would be a fit for the Cubs’ desire to add more contact to the lineup. The split-neutral switch-hitter has long been among the league leaders in strikeout rate, while still taking his walks. At his best, he adds a little power, and last year’s slash line is about what you’d hope you could get: a slightly above average high-contact bat that cannot be easily neutralized by splits. That’s pretty much what the Cubs need to help diversify the lineup, yes?
Now throw in the fact that two most frequent recent positions – second base and left field – are precisely where the Cubs currently don’t have starters, and boom, Profar is a perfect fit. His defense rates as much better in left field than at second base, but he’s been passable at second. His versatility would allow the Cubs to work him in wherever fits best for the rest of the roster. The bat’s not quite what you’d want in left, and the glove’s not quite what you’d want at second, but the ability to cover both spots (and more, if need be), paired with the type of bat he offers – it’s an attractive package.
Oh. But money. If a 28-year-old free agent can be described as a perfect fit for the Cubs, then a lot of teams might feel the same way. FanGraphs projected a two-year contract in the $10 to $15 million range. MLB Trade Rumors was at one year and $7 million. So that’s roughly the expectation, as far as AAV goes.
Could the Cubs swing it?
Don’t you hate that I even have to ask?
After the Yu Darvish trade, and given that the Cubs have done nothing to replace the significant salary rolling off the books, you’d like to believe there is room to add a modest contract like Profar’s where there’s such an obvious fit. But honestly, I can’t say with confidence the money is there yet. Until and unless the baseball budget is set – we don’t yet know that it’s set, given the questions about attendance that persist – it’s possible Jed Hoyer and the Cubs baseball operations department cannot commit any new dollars to 2021. Given the trade return on Darvish, you might conclude that just moving out his contract was a huge priority.
Throw in the fact that the Cubs ate $3 million in the deal and took back Zach Davies ($8ish million in arb), they might’ve saved less than $10 million in salary for 2021, specifically. Ugly, un-fun stuff. But a reality we have to consider even on a modest free agent like Profar.
That said, I really, really hope the Cubs are able to explore a fit.