You don’t see a 27-year-old player with Clint Frazier’s physical talents released and subsequently signed for a very modest sum too often. So when the Chicago Cubs signed Frazier before the lockout for just $1.5 million, we all knew that there was more to the story than a guy who had simply struggled through one tough year of underperformance and injuries last year.
It’s the story I’d been waiting to hear – from Clint Frazier, himself – before digging into this topic. I think we have all wanted to know what exactly happened last year that led to such a dramatic fall off in performance for the then-Yankees outfielder. What ultimately led to him pulling himself from a game last summer, and the later shutting himself down for the year. There have been stories on the topic, very generally, but I wanted to hear it straight from Frazier, because it’s such a sensitive thing. When it comes to a player’s health – especially brain health – I think we, as outsiders, owe them the dignity of being in charge of those stories.
That is all to say, I’m very happy to see and read Frazier’s extensive interview with NBC Sports Chicago. It is wholly illuminating about what happened to the former top prospect, who seemed like he was breaking out in 2019-20. And then everything went away in 2021.
Frazier, who’d suffered a concussion back in 2018 because of a wall collision, suffered another late in the year in 2020, but played through its effects to end the year and through the postseason. And although he thought he’d recovered from that second concussion during that offseason, a bump into the wall in Spring Training 2021 brought the symptoms back. He was not fully recovered. But for fear of what would happen to his career if he didn’t try to play through it, Frazier kept it to himself until that summer when he could no longer play through it, and pulled himself from a game.
At that point, there were all kinds of outside stories about what the “real” issue was – contact lens problems, other vision issues, vertigo, and on and on. But the truth was, it was the effects of multiple serious concussions, which not only had a negative impact on his ability to play, but also his personal life. Brain injuries, like other injuries, do not affect every person the same way. For that reason, and because they are much harder to diagnose and treat than many other types of injuries – and because of the potential impact on mental health – I don’t think anyone should sit in judgment of how Frazier proceeded last summer, trying to play through it.
After his release from the Yankees, Frazier received additional treatment for his post-concussion issues, and while he’s not certain anyone can be 100% after something like that, he feels he is as close to it as he can be. Read much more here at NBCSC, and watch his interview here.
Frazier, it turns out, had better offers than the one-year, $1.5 million offer he got from the Cubs, and GM Carter Hawkins, whom he knew well from their shared time in Cleveland. But this is where Frazier felt most comfortable and felt he had the best opportunity.
To that end, we just have to wait and see. When he is physically right, I don’t think there’s any question the Cubs would want to give Frazier regular big league starts, both because of the likely near-term production, and also because they could retain him through arbitration for two more seasons if he breaks out. The questions will be less about whether he can hit – again, if he’s healthy, he can hit in the middle of the order – and more about the consistency of his health, and his ability to play defense in a corner outfield spot. The availability of the DH helps, but the positional group is going to be crowded to open the year (Frazier is not the only guy about whom the Cubs would like more data), and Frazier does have a minor league option year remaining.
In what little we’ve seen so far this Spring, Frazier looks good. His plate appearances are disciplined, and he’s certainly made some loud contact. But it’s a tiny sample. I don’t think we can know yet, and we probably won’t even know that much by April 7. I sure hope he’s healthy and back to his normal self, though, because there are only a few players in the organization whose surprising upside could impact the next few years of the Cubs quite like Frazier could.