The more I think about the Nick Madrigal situation with the Cubs, the more I don’t like thinking about it. There’s no great way to deal with it. I’m going to say a bunch of words about that today, but I’ll tell you right now I wind up back in the same place where I’m starting. No perfect outcome.
Most of the discussion about Madrigal right now is about how the Chicago Cubs might trade him to a team in dire need of a second baseman, and for good reason, given the middle infield changes this offseason for the team. He really could be better than a mere back-up-type option, and without regular starts against big league pitching, it’s not clear that he’ll really get a chance to bounce back to the guy he could be.
In other words, while I hate the idea of giving up Madrigal for a relatively small return (he is still quality depth and has minor league options remaining!), I recognize that it might be best for all involved to make a trade happen.
Again, though, any return in a trade for Madrigal, whose 2022 season was marred by underperformance and injury (after a 2021 season that ended early because of a very bad hamstring injury and surgery), is necessarily going to be very modest. I think we and the Cubs would have to be prepared for very little, and that was BEFORE considering how there were doubts about Madrigal as a full-time big league regular even before 2022. I kinda forgot about that part.
Speaking of how Madrigal is perceived, even when healthy …
Baseball America just wrote about former notable prospects who’ve graduated, but who have so far failed to really establish themselves in the big leagues. You’ll recognize almost every name in the group, and it’s a reminder of how not every big-time prospect makes it, and/or how long it can take for even the best prospects to establish themselves in the big leagues (if they do it at all): Jo Adell, Jarred Kelenic, Victor Robles, Carter Kieboom, Nick Senzel, Christian Pache, Alex Kirilloff, Keston Hiura, Luis Patiño, Francisco Mejia, Daniel Lynch, Justus Sheffield, Scott Kingery, Taylor Trammell, Evan White, Ryan Weathers, anddddd Nick Madrigal.
Madrigal, who was the 40th ranked prospect at BA before getting big league run with the White Sox in 2021, is still only 25, and did produce a bit last year with the Cubs when he was finally healthy (but it was really only a hot month). I could see how, if you were another org, maybe you see him among those names and think about a change of scenery and a little more time to establish himself. Heck, I’m doing it with a few of those other names myself.
But BA included a scout’s take on each of these players, and I gotta say, the review of Madrigal is both sour and understandable:
“To me, there is no MLB carrying tool because his ability to make contact is not impactful. He’s not a plus runner, he’s not a plus defender, he doesn’t have a plus arm and he doesn’t have power.
“It’s a hard profile. He’s a contact bat that doesn’t strike out but doesn’t walk. He’s not a feared hitter in a lineup. I just don’t see him as a guy who can impact the game in any way, and it’s hard for him to be a utility guy because he can’t play the left side of the infield. He can’t hit leadoff because he doesn’t get on base enough and he can’t hit second because he doesn’t run and he can’t drive a ball out of the park. So where do you put him? I just don’t see a major league role for him.”
What made Madrigal interesting DESPITE those limitations is that his contact ability was SO extreme that he was a true 99th percentile outlier. If you’re putting everrrrything into play, then you actually barely need to top .300 with your BABIP to run a .300 batting average … and, in turn, you barely need to take any walks to then post an above-average on-base percentage. It’s a weird way to do things, yes, but a Madrigal who hits .300/.340/.360 is a somewhat useful guy!
But if the contact rate (or contact quality) suffers whatsoever – as both did last year – he very quickly becomes un-rosterable, let alone un-startable.
Meanwhile, Madrigal is setting about refuting part of that scouting report as we speak.
Jed Hoyer said that Madrigal would be getting time at third base to try to increase the versatility a bit – necessary if he’s going to get at bats on this Cubs team if everyone is healthy – and sure enough, it’s happening. Rich got the proof:
Now we just need to know whether the arm looked remotely playable at third. Based on what we’ve seen of Madrigal, that’s pretty hard for me to envision. I won’t call it impossible until I see it playing out in a game situation (will he see actual games there in the Cactus League?), but I tend to doubt it’s realistic.
But, hey, for now, keep all options open, I guess.
I really don’t know where this all lands. I think a trade is probably still more likely than not, but if it doesn’t happen, then I’m going to be content to root for Madrigal to get his health back, to get his extreme line-drive-contact back, and add juuuuuust enough minimal power to keep defenses honest. The best version of Madrigal is still a guy I think could be really fun to have in a lineup – a guy who changes the look so fundamentally that you love the variety he adds. I don’t like the idea of just giving up on a 25-year-old outlier like that. But are enough starts realistically going to be available right now? Is sending him to Iowa to open the year really going to help him?
The more I turn over the situation in my head, the more I realize there isn’t a perfect outcome. The Cubs were right to bring in Dansby Swanson and move Nico Hoerner to second base. I know that part, for sure. But it was always going to create this mess with Madrigal.