We have talked a lot already about the Chicago Cubs’ need in center field this offseason, but we have generally not discussed the best true center fielder available in free agency: Brandon Nimmo.
Nimmo, 29, has been the New York Mets’ starting center fielder (when healthy) for many years now, and he’s coming off a monster platform season that will see him paid handsomely in free agency, after declining a Qualifying Offer.
So if Nimmo is the top center fielder – a lefty bat, at that! – and if the Cubs have a big hole in center field, why don’t we talk about him more? Well, it’s not because he’s not compelling or couldn’t help improve the Cubs. He is and he could. But when we talk about where the Cubs are going to make their major, long-term moves this offseason, it just seems more likely to come in the middle infield and in the rotation, where the Cubs can get just as much impact, but where they don’t necessarily have impact prospects percolating up over the next 12 months. That’s not to say you would choose not to sign Brandon Nimmo exclusively because of the existence of Brennen Davis, Alexander Canario, and Pete Crow-Armstrong, but if you have to pick and choose a bit, you might prefer an impact shortstop and a front-of-the-rotation arm (among other moves).
That is all to say, Nimmo would be great! But I don’t necessarily see him as a top Cubs target.
In a piece at The Athletic from the New York Mets contingent, which is primarily about the Mets keeping Nimmo, there is a section that stood out to me. Because, yes, it includes the Cubs:
Other teams that might be interested
There are other teams from large markets that could be looking for a center fielder this winter. It should be noted that this is just speculation, but the Cubs and Red Sox could have interest on some level; the Cubs could look to upgrade in the short term if they want an improvement over Christopher Morel while the Red Sox could look to play Enrique Hernandez elsewhere. While the Dodgers have others who could play the position, they’ll have to make a tough decision on Cody Bellinger, who will be due a hefty salary through arbitration despite his poor production the last couple of years.
The Rangers jump out as a team that could get in the mix for Nimmo. They have room to upgrade their outfield even if Adolis Garcia and Leody Taveras are capable center fielders.
It might be a long shot, but the Marlins profile as a team that needs help from position players in a major way. They made a habit last year of signing players off of career years (though the strategy clearly did not work for them).
It wouldn’t be all that surprising if a team made some defensive changes to make Nimmo fit one way or the other — maybe the Blue Jays? — especially if the team covets his on-base skills.
As you can see, the Cubs are not the only team mentioned, and this is speculation. So I’m not going crazy with this. But I will say that it was enough for me to take a little closer look at Brandon Nimmo, and think about how much it would cost to sign him, and whether it would work for the Cubs.
First, a look at Nimmo’s career stats at FanGraphs:
Want a .400 OBP guy at the top of your lineup, who can play very good defense in center field? Yeah, basically every team in baseball wants that. When healthy, that’s basically what Nimmo has always been.
The price tag, when looking at historical comps, may be surprisingly large to some who haven’t been following Nimmo’s career, or the market for center fielder’s with his skillset. The range The Athletic writers propose does not strike me as outlandish, at least in terms of what Nimmo would SEEK in free agency: anywhere from five years and $115 million to seven years and $140 million. It’s a lot.
Can he actually get that range? Well, consider that he is only just turning 30 in March, and has become a plus glove in center field. Consider that, in four of the last five seasons, he hasn’t just been a good bat, he’s been an exceptional one. Consider the dramatic strides he’s made the last few years in improving his contact rate without losing power, and seeing only a modest decline in the walk rate. Consider that, while his xwOBA outpaces his wOBA, it seems to do it every single year, suggesting there’s something not being captured in the expected data about his particular style of hitting. The guy is a stud.
Ah, but there’s always a but. At least two of them, one big and one smaller.
The smaller one is the Qualifying Offer, which means Nimmo will be attached to draft pick compensation. Signing him would cost the Cubs their second rounder and $500,000 in IFA pool money. A sizable deterrent if Nimmo was your guy? Nah, not really. But a non-zero factor.
The much bigger but is the health track record. Notice anything in those stats up there? Before this season, Nimmo had topped 92 games JUST ONCE in his career. His injury sheet is all over the place – quad, wrist, knee, hamstring, finger, hip, neck. Maybe they were all flukey one-offs that have no relationship to his future projections, but generally speaking, guys who are hurt a whole lot in their 20s don’t suddenly play 150+ games per year, every year, in their 30s.
If anything is going to prevent Nimmo from getting that massive five to seven-year deal, is going to be health-related.
For the Cubs, I don’t think there’s any question that you’d want Nimmo on the team. And if he were coming on a four-year deal, and if his addition had ZERO IMPACT WHATSOEVER on the Cubs’ ability or desire to add an impact shortstop AND an impact starting pitcher, then I’d be all about it.
I guess that’s enough for me to keep paying attention to Nimmo’s market, but my guy just keeps telling me that (1) he’s going to get the kind of huge contract the Cubs may not want in the outfield right now, and (2) the Cubs are going to focus their biggest spending efforts on one of the four shortstops and a starting pitcher or two.