You Know, the New Rules Give the Cubs ANOTHER Reason to Pursue One of the Top Free Agent Shortstops

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You Know, the New Rules Give the Cubs ANOTHER Reason to Pursue One of the Top Free Agent Shortstops

Chicago Cubs

With a lot of free agency talk this week – Cubs on Turner and Rodon? Top free agent tiers? Cubs will pursue Senga? David Ross wouldn’t mind another top shortstop? – I was naturally thinking more about the reasons I strongly endorse various pursuits for the Cubs at this moment in time, with an impact starting pitcher and one of the top shortstops among them.

Since I was in that kinda mode, while we also talk about the new rules coming to MLB next year, something significant occurred to me about these free agent pursuits: it’s not just that the extreme shift is banned next year, it’s that your “shortstop” has to stay on the left side of the infield for the game, and your “second baseman” has to stay on the right side of the infield for the game. You can’t switch them around during the game unless someone actually leaves the game.

That specific shift rule requirement was mentioned when these were approved, but I think I was sleeping on the impact that would have on free agency, and the Cubs’ specific situation.

In a world where you are not only shift-restricted, but you ALSO can’t play around with your infield positions up the middle depending on the batter, it is *all the more valuable* to have a truly elite infield defender at both shortstop and second base. In the extreme shift world, it was very easy to hide a mediocre defender at second base because you could shift your shortstop over into the most-likely-to-see-a-grounder spot against a lefty. That is obviously now gone, as two players have to stay on the infield dirt on each side of second base.

But even in that world, if you had only one elite defender up the middle, you could still cover over some deficiencies by (1) playing that guy up the middle when necessary, *OR* (2) moving – for example – your stud shortstop over to the traditional second base spot when you’ve got a pull-heavy, hard-hitting, groundball machine lefty at the plate. You can imagine the constant movement out there, right?

OK, but that can’t happen. Because, again, the rule contemplated it, and explicitly prohibits that kind of in-game maneuvering. Your shortstop is your shortstop, and your second baseman is your second baseman, period.

So, then, all teams are going to be incentivized now to have a little more defensive ability at those spots.

For the Cubs, their options might be Nico Hoerner at shortstop (probably pretty darn good, though in a shift-restricted world, he may not be elite) and a merely capable defender at second base; or a top shortstop defender in free agency, and then a truly elite second baseman in Nico Hoerner. In a system where great defense at second base takes a step up in value, that second option becomes a load more attractive. (And it’s not like Hoerner couldn’t/wouldn’t still fill in at shortstop for some games.)

This doesn’t mean the Cubs *HAVE* to land the best shortstop glove they can, though it does give a reasonable boost to the non-Xander Bogaerts shortstops, since he may eventually have to move to third base.

But not every team has a Nico Hoerner available to give them that huge defensive boost at second base, under the new system, if they added a very good defensive shortstop. So, then, my point is this: it already made sense for the Cubs to want to add one of these top free agent shortstops (they need the impact bat, and that’s where it happens to be concentrated this year in free agency; and they have the ability to move guys around to accommodate), but with these shift restrictions in place, the Cubs might be in a position to see a slightly disproportionate value boost from adding, say, Carlos Correa at shortstop and moving Nico Hoerner to second base.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.