Awards don’t MAAAATTER, necessarily, but it’s certainly fun to not only observe award-level performance from Chicago Cubs players as a season plays out, but then also to have a rooting interest after the season. Yu Darvish was robbed of the 2020 NL Cy Young, but outside of that, we haven’t really had much to push for – realistically – in the major award categories since the heights of previous competitive window.
Last year might’ve actually been the closest on the Rookie of the Year side in a very long time, thanks to the early-season successes of Seiya Suzuki and Christopher Morel. But neither really lasted long enough to stay in that conversation in a meaningful way in the second half, and neither was particularly close to having the kind of year necessary to succeed Kris Bryant as the Cubs’ next Rookie of the Year.
But might first baseman Matt Mervis have a shot in 2023?
My headline is a little cheeky, because I don’t think Mervis is going to be a vogue pick to actually win the award, but I did appreciate him getting a mention from MLB Pipeline in the pre-season discussion:
If you asked me sight unseen for the favorites in the NL, I would’ve said Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll, Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez, and Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker. I would’ve been right about that, but the vote would’ve surprised me: a full two-thirds of the front office execs who voted picked Carroll, who blew away the field. Alvarez got just 9% of the vote, and Walker was merely in the “also received votes” group. Maybe it’s just an emotional hedge because I hate to see the Cardinals succeed, but Walker might get my vote right now.
Anyway, this is a Cubs post about Matt Mervis, and he, too, showed up in the “also received votes” group (together with Reds infielder Elly De La Cruz, Brewers outfielder Sal Frelick, Dodgers righty Bobby Miller, Braves lefty Jared Shuster, Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar, and Dodgers 3B/OF Miguel Vargas – potentially loaded group this year). I think it’s pretty cool that he’s getting at least some mention in a group of tip top prospects, even if he is not necessarily considered one himself.
What would it take for Mervis to take a run at Rookie of the Year honors? Well, massive offensive production is the obvious starting point, and given his explosive development last season, I wouldn’t rule it out. He would also probably need to stick at first base, rather than spend his time DH’ing, and he would probably need to be more regular than just a platoon guy. Again, all plausible.
The other thing Mervis would need, though, is an early enough call-up that he could put together a 130, 140-game resume of production to really compete with a group of other youngsters who will be up all year. We know that the Cubs are leaving open the POSSIBILITY of Mervis breaking camp with the big league team, but we also know they are constructing the roster such that they don’t HAVE TO rely on Mervis breaking camp with the big league team.
In other words, service time is going to be a factor in all this. Not necessarily a key factor for the Cubs, mind you – the Cubs want to compete, Mervis is already heading into his age-25 season, he’s not the type of sure-fire superstar where you worry as much about team control, etc. But it’s always a discussion at least at the periphery when talking about a prospect promotion, and Mervis would have to be up early enough in the season to accumulate enough stats to get into that Rookie of the Year conversation.
And here’s where we arrive at the new Collective Bargaining Agreement … which is not going to be a factor for the Chicago Cubs even if they actually believe Mervis is a Rookie of the Year-caliber candidate.
Remember the two changes the CBA made to try to reduce service time shenanigans? The whole extra draft pick thing and the full-year service time thing? Well, in Mervis’s case, they are likely to be a non-factor, which is really annoying for both him and for the Cubs.
To be sure, we still have not yet seen the full text of the new CBA, so it’s POSSIBLE that there is tinkering to the language. But based on what was reported in March as the agreement, here’s how those two rules work (via The Athletic):
“Players with 60 days of service or less, who have rookie eligibility and are included in two or more of the preseason top-100 prospect lists put out by Baseball America, MLB.com or ESPN, are eligible. If, in the time before they hit salary arbitration, those players go on to win Rookie of the Year, finish top three in MVP voting or top three in Cy Young voting, their team gets an amateur draft pick following the end of the first round. A player can only create one new amateur draft pick for his team over time. But if an international draft arrives, a team can get as many as three total picks: two international and one amateur, with a max of one such pick per year).
A player who has rookie eligibility, opens the season with 60 days or fewer in service time and who is included on two of the top prospect lists gets credited with a full year of service, even if they were promoted too late on the calendar to otherwise have received it, if they finish in the top two in Rookie of the Year voting in their league.”
In other words, assuming the full text of the CBA doesn’t read differently, these rules do not even come into consideration if the prospect at issue was not on two of the referenced top 100 prospect lists. Mervis, for all his massive breakout in 2022, is highly unlikely to be on any of the three top 100 prospect lists. Which means, even if he came up, like, the third week of the season, and then even if he won Rookie of the Year honors, none of this CBA stuff matters. For him and for the Cubs, it’s just like it was before the new CBA. No extra service time for Mervis. No extra draft pick for the Cubs.
Anyway. I just hope Mervis is up with the big league team when it’s best for his development and for the team’s offensive production in 2023. Maybe that’s day one. Maybe that’s day 30. I know that we’ll see him this year, though, and I know that Mervis has the potential to be an impactful bat. And at least one front office voter believes he could be the Rookie of the Year.