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State of the Cubs

State of the Cubs: Solidifying the hot corner

8 months agoAndy Martinez

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: Third base

DEPTH CHART

  1. Nick Madrigal
  2. Patrick Wisdom
  3. Christopher Morel
  4. Miles Mastrobuoni

ANALYSIS

The Cubs knew they had a need at the hot corner and moved at the trade deadline to improve it, acquiring Jeimer Candelario. As they enter the offseason, they find themselves in nearly the same position as 3 months ago.

Candelario will hit free agency, but they could work towards a reunion with him, especially after he hit 22 home runs and had a 3.3 fWAR in 2023. The Cubs’ best offensive lineup in the second half featured Candelario manning third, Cody Bellinger at first, Mike Tauchman in center field and Christopher Morel at the DH spot, so bringing Candelario back could help that position.

Their internal options leave plenty of question marks.

Nick Madrigal was elite defensively at third — his 10 Outs Above Average ranked 6th in baseball, ahead of players like José Ramírez, Nolan Arenado and Matt Chapman. But Madrigal played in just 92 games and had two IL stints, ending the season with a hamstring strain and has yet to play over 100 games in a year in three of his full major-league seasons.

Patrick Wisdom has played 243 games at the hot corner over the last three seasons for the Cubs and has hit 76 home runs in that time. But he’s struggled beyond being a home-run threat — he’s hit just .214 with a .772 OPS and 447 strikeouts in that time.

Morel could be the Cubs’ clear internal option at the position. He’s played the position more than any other in the minor leagues and has no set position heading into 2024. The Cubs could opt to have him use the offseason to prepare defensively and utilize Morel as a regular third baseman, especially given his offensive prowess.

“We’re going to keep having conversations about exactly what to have him focus on this winter,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at his end-of-season press conference. “But yeah, I think it’s hard. He’s never really been able to play every single day at one spot.

“I think it’s both on him but also on us to help him improve as a defender and get to one place because the power is real. He’s dangerous. We didn’t have a lot of guys in the lineup that could change the score that quickly, I think so much of our offense was built around getting on base and singles.”

Free agency doesn’t necessarily provide a clear-cut answer, either. Matt Chapman might be the biggest name — he won the AL Gold Glove at third base in 2021 — but he’s hit just .220 the last three seasons with a .743 OPS and 110 wRC+. He had a great April this year (1.150 OPS, 214 wRC+) but struggled after that, hitting .205 with a .659 OPS and 84 wRC+ the rest of the way.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Madrigal and Morel represent two options to be long-term fits at the hot corner for the Cubs, provided they can each work on and improve what’s prohibited them from doing so up until now — health for Madrigal and defense for Morel. If the Cubs choose to make a move in the offseason — be it in free agency with someone like Candelario or through trade — that could lock up the position.

In the minors, the Cubs have a few interesting names, particularly one that could provide a long-term answer. Their 2023 first round pick, Matt Shaw, reached Double-A this season and started three games at third. Shaw was drafted out of Maryland, where he was primarily a middle infielder. He could be a Top 100 prospect in baseball next year and could the Cubs continue to groom him as a third baseman, especially with Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner locked in for shortstop and second base for the future?

Shaw hit .393 with a 1.082 OPS, 197 wRC+, 4 home runs, 18 RBI and 7 stolen bases in 89 plate appearances at High-A South Bend. In 70 plate appearances with Double-A Tennessee, Shaw had an .852 OPS, 3 home runs, 9 RBI and 6 stolen bases.

Chase Strumpf, the Cubs’ second-round pick in 2019, reached Triple-A this year, had a .798 OPS with 14 home runs in 267 plate appearances with the I-Cubs and made 32 starts at third. BJ Murray Jr. played the entire year with Tennessee (16 HR, .844 OPS) and was named to the Futures Game during All-Star Week, along with Pete Crow-Armstrong.

BOTTOM LINE

Third base represents one of the Cubs biggest offseason question marks. If they choose to fill that option internally, they’ll have to have a solid answer for guys like Madrigal and Morel. If they choose to go outside the organization, then it leaves them with another question on how to deploy Morel and Madrigal.

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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