I’m not saying these two bits dropping in the same afternoon via Marquee is a meaningful thing, but I do think the way they work together in concert is enjoyable nonetheless.
First, Taylor McGregor was interviewing Cubs GM Carter Hawkins about first base prospect Matt Mervis, and his chances of playing at the big league level in 2023. And, yes, Mervis will come to Spring Training with a chance to make the team:
That is the correct position with respect to a guy who did the kinds of things Mervis did this season in his rise from High-A to Triple-A, seemingly getting better at every stop (including a season-capper in the Arizona Fall League). The track record is so short that you can’t say anything is certain … but the upside is so massive that you can’t say anything is certain in the other direction. Nothing is certain! So leave open the opportunity for Mervis to win a job and rake, either immediately or very soon after the season starts.
Separately but relatedly, Bruce Levine wrote at Marquee about the Cubs’ continued interest in free agent first baseman Jose Abreu. He’s reported it before, and his language remains strong:
Sources indicate that the Cubs will express strong interest in Abreu once he becomes a free agent ….
Abreu would solve numerous short term issues for the North Siders. First and foremost, the Cubs have no apparent first baseman from the farm system guaranteed to step in and lock down the position. Matt Mervis’ meteoric rise from the lower minor leagues was impressive but he may need a bit more time in Triple-A before the Cubs would be comfortable in turning over the position to him full time. The 24-year-old left handed hitter just won the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars MVP and could still make the Cubs major league roster at some point in 2023. When he does, he could switch between DH and first base with a veteran like Abreu.
In addition to his ability to play every day into his mid-30s, Abreu’s leadership makes him an ideal fit with the Cubs in the short term. The Cubs are in need of offensive firepower in 2023 and Abreu would certainly help in that area.
Again, adding Abreu would be explicitly about POSSIBLY having to coordinate with Mervis in the future. Not just because of the platoon options, and not even just because of the DH. But it’s also because Abreu is an older veteran who may not start every day anyway – either because periodic rest is needed to keep him fresh, or because of the inevitable bumps and bruises that come along the way.
With Abreu in the fold, the Cubs can still – as Hawkins said – give Mervis an opportunity to win early-season playing time. But they don’t have to COUNT on it. And thanks to Mervis’s presence, the Cubs could afford to take a mild risk on an older player like Abreu.
How seriously should we take this reporting on Abreu and the Cubs? Well, this line from Levine sure sticks out to me: “(A) long-term commitment is not expected — or likely desired — by the still-productive-but-unassuming Cuban native. A 2-year agreement may be satisfactory for both sides.”
That is so specific! It feels like it’s coming straight from one side or the other or both, and it also tracks with general expectations for the kind of deal Abreu, 35, could realistically command.
He’s still hitting at a high level, but the recent dip in power is going to make folks wonder if the edge is coming for him. Abreu’s stats, via FanGraphs:
So, then, I really don’t see Abreu finding any three-year offers out there. Ideally, the Cubs could sign him on a one-year deal, but maybe two years at a lower AAV isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Also not the worst thing in the world? What if the Cubs could get Abreu AND Kodai Senga signed relatively early in the offseason, allowing them to pitch a top shortstop free agent like Carlos Correa with improvements they’ve already made to the roster? Money will be the thing, but it won’t hurt to show a top free agent that you’re committed to competing in 2023, and you’re already backing up those words with actions.