State of the Cubs: A curious situation at the DH spot
The 2022 season is over and the Cubs are facing one of the most important offseasons in recent memory. Before the stove starts heating up, we examine where the Cubs depth chart stands at each position and where the holes might be for Jed Hoyer’s front office to fill.
Next up: Designated hitter
1. Franmil Reyes
2. Patrick Wisdom
3. Jared Young
4. Rafael Ortega
5. Matt Mervis
2022 represented the first full, 162-game season with the DH in the National League and David Ross and the Cubs utilized the position similar to the shortened 2020 campaign — as a rotation.
Early in the season, Willson Contreras saw much of the time there to keep his bat in the lineup on days he wasn’t catching. Frank Schwindel also made 24 starts at DH while Alfonso Rivas — a better defender — manned first base.
But the calculus changed in early August when the Cubs picked up Reyes on waivers from the Guardians.
From the time Reyes put on a Cubs uniform, he made 46 starts at DH over the final 53 games.
The results were mixed. He performed really well over the first few weeks — .289 AVG, .830 OPS, 12 extra-base hits, 13 RBI over 27 games. But he ended the season on a down note, batting .155 with a .485 OPS and only 3 extra-base hits over the final 21 games.
In total, Reyes’ final line with the Cubs — .234/.301/.389 (.689 OPS) — was not that much different from his first few months in Cleveland that ultimately led the Guardians to cut ties with the slugger.
Still, the potential is clearly there for Reyes. He hit 30 homers and drove in 85 runs with an .846 OPS for Cleveland in 2021 and smacked 37 homers with the Padres and Guardians in 2019. He entered 2022 with a career .828 OPS and averaged 36 homers per 162 games, so he has proven to be a game-changing slugger before.
The Cubs are betting Reyes gets back to that pre-2022 success and brings some stability to the DH spot.
He made $4.55 million in his first year of arbitration in 2022 and is under team control for two more seasons. He will receive a modest raise in 2023 in his second year of arbitration and the Cubs certainly seem willing to pay that price on the chance he returns to form.
“I think it’s a good fit,” Ross said of Reyes during the final week of the season. “He’s hit a little bit of a lull here on the back side. I think he’s got some real focused things that we’ve identified that he wants to work on in the offseason that he knows [what] he wants to do and things he’s learned about this year going into the offseason that he’ll implement for next year.
“I think he will be a part of our fit next year and really help us out. He goes about it the right way, he does things really consistently. [Let’s] get him back to some of the mechanics that he’s had success over the course of his major league career have been a little bit different than this year.”
The Cubs coaching staff is well-versed on what the 27-year-old provides when he’s at his best. Reyes credits Cubs assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington with helping to jumpstart his career in the minor leagues and bench coach Andy Green was the Padres manager when Reyes broke into the league in 2018.
The Cubs want more power in their lineup in 2023 and if Reyes can return to form, he provides that potential for instant offense.
Reyes has rarely played the field (only 176 innings in the outfield since the start of 2020) so his main value to the team is through his bat.
As for the depth chart behind Reyes in case of injury or if his struggles continue, Contreras and Schwindel are both gone (though it’s possible Contreras could return if he accepts the qualifying offer) and Ortega might be a roster casualty this offseason.
Young played a few games at the position during his brief stint in the majors and adds another left-handed bat while other youngsters like Mervis, Brennen Davis or Alexander Canario could spend some time DH’ing if they earn call-ups in 2023.
Of course, this position could come down to how the rest of the winter shakes out for the Cubs. If they sign a big-time infielder, it could move Nico Hoerner to another position and maybe Wisdom, Nick Madrigal or Zach McKinstry occasionally see some time at DH to get their bats in the lineup.
There is also a variety of potential veteran DH bats available in free agency (Matt Carpenter, Michael Brantley, J.D. Martinez, etc.) if the Cubs opt to go that route.
For now, the Cubs seem content to enter 2023 with Reyes penciled in atop the DH depth chart and if he returns to form, that’s a big bopper in the middle of the lineup. But this is also a position where the Cubs could add a much-needed left-handed bat or use a rotation of players — either to get regular starters off their feet for a day or as a softer landing for prospects.