The reality of the free agent market at this point is that there really isn’t a bat out there to PINE for. There’s no one left, at any position, who is going to fundamentally transform this offense from one that looks pretty average (with a tiny bit of upside) on paper to one that is clearly above average. Pleasant surprises, good health, and 70th percentile outcomes are going to have to come from the guys already on the roster.
HOWEVER. Much like the Eric Hosmer signing, which gives the Cubs some ability to be patient with Matt Mervis while also converting a 85-ish wRC+ position to a 100-ish wRC+ position, there are still guys out there who could bump up the Cubs’ expected production a little bit and also provide depth. I still very much want to see the Cubs add a bat from here, even if not an impact one. (And, hey, if the opportunity to TRADE for an impact bat comes up, let’s explore that, eh?)
Moreover, the thing about the Hosmer signing that we’ve been banging incessantly is that, because the Padres are paying his contract, he costs the Cubs the league minimum. He’s like a waiver claim. You hope he can be a steady, useful presence, but you’re not beholden to him on the roster. And in the meantime, you may have covered one spot – or a platoon of a spot – on a league-minimum deal. There is still money to spend!
And a familiar name could still be on the table.
If Hoyer doesn’t spend the rest of his remaining budget on veterans for the bullpen, he can still look to add another more powerful bat. He could still choose to pursue the right-handed Trey Mancini, who could get time at first with Hosmer as a platoon situation and also DH. Hoyer could look to upgrade third base and have Wisdom get more time at first as well. Trades to upgrade either corner infield spot are possible, especially if it comes with little financial commitment for 2023.
So, there are still paths, even after spending some of the remaining ($15-ish million? Less?) dollars on a bullpen arm or two.
Specifically, I found the inclusion of Mancini – the only player mentioned by name – to be very interesting. As we’ve discussed, Mancini is also something of a “floor” guy like Hosmer, who is probably going to give you just-slightly-above league-average offense at a spot where you wish you were getting a lot more than that. Not who you’d target at the start of free agency, but a guy you’d gladly accept at this stage.
But Mancini, who is three years younger than Hosmer, has a lot going on under the hood that could suggest a realistic shot at really good production. This is a guy who had to recover from colon cancer in 2020, and still put up a 105 wRC+ the last two years. His expected wOBA was better than his actual wOBA both years by a decent clip. And before his August trade to the Astros this past season, he was really bouncing back with the Orioles: .268/.347/.404/116 wRC+. (And after the trade, his results were bad, but his underlying metrics were outstanding – the guy pretty clearly got super unlucky in a small sample.)
If we are truly thinking about Hosmer as a just-in-case, no-cost, you-never-know, hey-whatever waiver claim, then the Cubs should act like that. Meaning, you don’t assume that adding a guy like that actually covers your need. He might! He might be useful in a complementary role in any case! But if a guy like Mancini is still out there and affordable, why wouldn’t you also want him in the mix, especially in the DH era, and especially when he could be a more natural platoon partner for Mervis, if you go that route?
Oh, and Mancini, unlike Hosmer, also offers the ability to play in a corner outfield spot if you need it. He doesn’t *just* have to be a first baseman to pair with Hosmer (and completely block Mervis in the process).
Yes, adding Mancini starts to create a bit of a glut of non-obvious-starters on the big league roster, but if you’re not going to have superstars, maybe you could at least have a lot of capable options? And let things sort themselves out organically in Spring Training?
I’m just glad there is still a Mancini mention getting dropped, even after the Hosmer signing. I tend to think it’s unlikely the Cubs double up, but I can see plenty of reasons that Mancini still makes sense for this year’s Cubs team.