At What Point Are the Cubs Too Competitive NOT to Call Up Matt Mervis?
I don’t want to be too reactionary to any small stretch of games, but there was something about the last few days – the wins in LA, the performance of the Cubs’ first basemen, and Matt Mervis’s continued huge numbers at Iowa – that kinda flipped a switch in me.
I have started wondering: at what point are the big league Cubs looking too competitive for them to dither away any possible incremental wins in the name of giving guys runway and giving other guys developmental time?
Specifically, I’m getting REALLY itchy to see the Cubs make a change at first base and bring up Matt Mervis.
The numbers at the moment are stark.
Eric Hosmer (MLB): .250/.318/.300/73 wRC+, 9.1% BB, 20.5% K, .050 ISO, 64.5% GB
Trey Mancini (MLB): .216/.241/.275/37 wRC+, 1.8% BB, 27.3% K, .059 ISO, 56.8% GB
Matt Mervis (Triple-A): .293/.456/.585/159 wRC+, 22.8% BB, 15.8% K, .293 ISO, 38.2% GB
You would expect each of Hosmer and Mancini to rebound over the course of a full season, especially Mancini, but what happens in the interim? How many games might the Cubs cost themselves while waiting to get both of those guys right? Are you *SURE* neither of them is dealing with a physical issue right now? That’s not even me being wink-wink whatever, I’m being sincere. Isn’t it possible something’s not quite right, and they could use a little break? A little break where Matt Mervis can come up and get at least a couple weeks of big league exposure? See what happens? See if maybe it turns out he’s a guy you simply can’t afford NOT to have in the lineup? Am I making myself clear with all these questions?
It’s not just that Mervis’s small sample early-season results are great, it’s that he has simply continued doing all the things you’d look for going back to last year’s results at Iowa. He is hitting lefties. He’s not striking out. He’s hitting for power. He’s taking walks. There is no obvious just-good-luck-flukey-fluke stuff in his numbers. He’s doing everything exactly as you’d want to see before giving him a big league shot.
Mervis had a nominal chance to win a job on the Opening Day roster, but given the positional crowding (and 40-man crowding), given the Cubs’ understandable (initial!) deference to veterans like Hosmer and Mancini, and given Mervis had a meh Spring Training, I understood why he was sent down to open the season.
I also understand that three weeks is not a lot of runway to give guys like Hosmer and Mancini, which is why I’m hedging a little bit on how you would go about making a switch to Mervis. I certainly wouldn’t completely dump Mancini at this point, not only because he is on a two-year deal, but because he has been a steady offensive performer and is a few years younger than Hosmer. I’d be more open to just cutting bait with Hosmer at this point, especially since he’s on a league minimum deal with the Cubs (and you’re going to need a 40-man roster spot for Mervis anyway). But if either of those two guys has a nagging something or other, boy would the timing be convenient.
If they DON’T have a nagging something or other, then I revert back to my question at the top. How much longer are you willing to wait to see if it’s time to make a switch? To see if Mervis can – as all the big league translation projections suggest – outperform your current first base options?
Note that service time considerations are no longer an issue here, if they ever were. We’re past the 15-day mark when Mervis could accrue a full big league service year. (If he had been on the 40-man roster, it would’ve been 20 days, and that lapses on Wednesday.) But even if you were thinking about service time stuff, I’d respond by saying Mervis is already 25 years old, so you had him through his age 30 season anyway. This year could wind up coming down to just a win or two for the Cubs, and that’s what should matter in the moment.
That leads me to the conclusion here, and it’s why I’m banging the drum for Mervis ASAP.
If this year’s Cubs team were an absolute world-beater, maybe you could be a little more flexible with your timing on certain veterans. Or, if this year’s Cubs team were clearly terrible, you could be be more flexible with your timing on prospect promotions. And vice versa on both. An awesome Cubs team or a terrible Cubs team, and this conversation looks different.
But this year’s Cubs team isn’t clearly awesome or clearly terrible. It’s somewhere in that very large and very variance-prone middle of the bell curve. This is a Cubs team for whom every incremental win COULD PROVE CRITICAL. We can’t know if one April win or loss will be the difference come October, but for a team like these Cubs, it’s much more likely to be a difference-maker than for a clearly awesome or clearly terrible team.
The Cubs can’t screw around this year. Every win might really matter.
So if there is a chance that Matt Mervis’s bat could prove the difference in a win or a loss – however soon – then he needs to be up with the big league team.
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As a lengthy aside, the Cubs could also address a lot of this stuff by bringing up Christopher Morel – whose contact quality and numbers at Iowa are absurd (.378/.500/.822/225 wRC+) – and coordinating other guys at first base. For example, you move Patrick Wisdom over there and let Morel play third base.
I’m less inclined to push that right now for a few reasons.
First, I don’t really want to see Wisdom moved right now. He’s looking as good defensively at third as he did in 2021 and he’s raking. Don’t mess that up.
Second, I’m still not sure about Morel as an everyday third baseman, as opposed to a super utility guy. And his defensive work at Iowa is probably important right now, even if we focus on the bat. Even if Wisdom moved across the diamond, I’m not sure David Ross wouldn’t just start Nick Madrigal at third more often.
And third, although the offensive numbers are incredible, Morel still barely has any time at Triple-A (a lot less than Mervis, for example), and I would love to see the strikeout rate get a lot lower than 28.6% at Triple-A.
In short, if a need opens up on the big league team, heck yeah, bring up Morel. Until then, I’m OK with letting him keep developing at Iowa for a bit longer. I think his time will come at some point this year.