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State of the Cubs

State of the Cubs: Christopher Morel, Shohei Ohtani and a curious DH market

7 months agoTony Andracki

The 2023 season is over and after narrowly missing out on the playoffs, the Cubs are staring down a pivotal winter. Before the stove starts heating up, we analyze the Cubs depth chart at each position and how Jed Hoyer’s front office might address the team’s needs.

Next up: Designated hitter

DEPTH CHART

1. Christopher Morel
2. Patrick Wisdom
3. Mike Tauchman
4. Matt Mervis
5. Alexander Canario
6. Jared Young

ANALYSIS

Expect the depth chart at this position to look quite a bit different by the time Opening Day 2024 rolls around.

For starters, there is no guarantee Wisdom or Tauchman will be back (as both are projected to make $2 million or more in arbitration next year) and Mervis, Canario and Young very well could start the year in Triple-A.

As for Morel, he could be manning a defensive position on the diamond as the Cubs try to nail down his best spot in the long-term.

Morel began the 2023 season in Triple-A and when he was called up in May, it was initially as depth at second base when Nico Hoerner was on the IL and then in center field when Cody Bellinger was injured.

But with the emergence of Tauchman in center and the rest of the position group solidified when healthy, the Cubs felt like DH was the best way to get Morel’s bat in the lineup consistently.

Having never DH’d in his life, Morel struggled initially before working with Cubs coaches Juan Cabreja and Mike Napoli to form a new routine.

Even with more experience, he was a different hitter as a DH than when he was playing a position:

As DH: .225/.288/.477 (.765 OPS), 13 HR, 39 RBI in 241 plate appearances
Any other position: .280/.349/.554 (.903 OPS), 13 HR, 31 RBI in 186 PA

Now that there’s an offseason to piece together the roster, the Cubs would ideally find a position for Morel to play regularly that is not DH (third base seems the most logical choice).

If that doesn’t work out, Morel figures to slot in as the team’s primary DH yet again. Depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out, Mervis and Tauchman could serve as left-handed options at the position.

With a crowded outfield, maybe Canario forces his way into the lineup via the DH role. He had a .941 OPS in limited MLB duty last year (6 games) and hit 8 homers with 35 RBI and an .866 OPS in 36 games at Triple-A after returning from shoulder and ankle injuries.

WHAT’S NEXT?

In lieu of signing a David Ortiz-type, the Cubs can utilize the DH spot as a rotation with the players above or to get their regular players half-days off. Ian Happ could DH while Morel or Canario plays left field and the same can happen in right field with Seiya Suzuki or at other spots around the diamond.

Of course there’s always the chance the Cubs fill the hole in the absolute best way possible — with Shohei Ohtani.

The 29-year-old mega star is a free agent this winter and isn’t expected to pitch in 2024 due to an arm injury. But he will still hit and would represent a dream target for a Cubs team looking to add more power — particularly from the left side.

The market for Ohtani figures to be insane, even with the injury questions. Every team in the league could benefit from him on the roster, though not every team will be able to afford what could be a record-setting contract.

If not Ohtani, the Cubs could also bring back Bellinger or Jeimer Candelario, which would have trickle-down effects on the rest of the roster that would also impact DH. There are other veterans available on the free agent market like Michael Brantley, Matt Carpenter, J.D. Martinez, Brandon Belt and Carlos Santana.

Brantley is a high-contact left-handed bat but will be 37 in May and has missed 245 games due to injury the last 2 seasons. Martinez had a resurgent season with the Dodgers and will likely have a decent market of interested teams plus he’s right-handed and the Cubs already have a lineup packed with righties.

Belt will be 36 in April and has missed more than 200 games the last 3 seasons. Carpenter will be 38 in November and struggled in 76 games with the Padres (.176 AVG, .641 OPS). Santana is coming off a solid year (23 HR, 86 RBI, .747 OPS) but is about to turn 38.

In short: Beyond Ohtani, there are not many options on the DH market that would be clear improvements over the Cubs’ in-house bats.

Keep an eye on Cubs prospect Owen Caissie. The 21-year-old outfielder is a lefty and is coming off a big season in Double-A (22 HR, 84 RBI, 144 wRC+). Assuming he starts the year in Triple-A, maybe he could emerge as an option to DH later in the season.

BOTTOM LINE

As the roster is currently constructed, the DH spot is as up in the air as any position on the Cubs. Morel is the clubhouse leader to see the most playing time at DH but the rest of the team’s moves this winter will provide clarity.

State of the Cubs series

Catcher
First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Shortstop
Left Field
Center Field
Right Field
Designated Hitter
Starting Rotation
Bullpen

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