State of the Cubs: How first base is shaping up ahead of crucial offseason for team
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: First Base
- Alfonso Rivas
- Patrick Wisdom
- P.J. Higgins
- Matt Mervis
At the start of 2022, first base looked to be locked down by one of the feel-good stories of the second half of 2021: Frank Schwindel. By the end of 2022, Schwindel was no longer in the organization and the position seems to be in question just as much as it was when the team traded Anthony Rizzo at the 2021 trade deadline.
Schwindel suffered a back injury, missed time in Spring Training due to it and never was able to get it going. He was eventually optioned to the minors and by the second half of the season, he was designated for assignment. The Cubs turned to the rookie Rivas in his stead and he played the majority of the games for the Cubs at the position, making 92 appearances throughout the year. Higgins and Wisdom made appearances at first platooning with Rivas.
“I think there’s a big hole for me at first base and the production we’re getting out of that,” David Ross said in Pittsburgh near the end of the season.
And Ross was right about the production out of the position. First basemen for the Cubs slashed .223/.288/.339. The .627 OPS out of the position was 27th in baseball and their 0.1 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, was 23rd in baseball.
It’s simple, the Cubs need better production out of the position and know they need it, but where does that come from?
Theoretically, it could come from the options they had last season — Rivas was shuffled between the majors and Triple-A, was platooned and could never really get into a groove offensively. Rivas’ left-handed bat is something the Cubs don’t have in abundance, but he would have to add more power and boost his offense overall.
“I came to understand things I could improve on this offseason,” Rivas said. “Hit the ball harder. Learn my body better, focus on the offensive side and keep improving as a hitter. [The team and I are] talking about how to make a good plan to work on that this offseason.”
Wisdom’s ability to play first and his prowess against lefties (.250/.336/.557, 10 home runs) creates a solid platoon opportunity with a lefty hitter that can hit righties and it gives the Cubs some positional flexibility, too.
The future of the position for the Cubs might not be too far away at Triple-A in Mervis. Mervis had one of the best minor league seasons in recent history, earning the honor of Buck O’Neil Cubs Minor League Player of the Year. Mervis hit .309 with 36 home runs and a .984 OPS across three minor league levels. His performances in the minor leagues has shown the ability to fill some of the holes the Cubs currently have at the major league level.
“Yeah, I mean I think he’s definitely put himself on the radar,” Ross said in Pittsburgh near the end of the season. “There’s no doubt he’ll have a great opportunity in front of him moving forward unless something transpires in the offseason that would negate that.”
For the time being, though, there’s no rush to declare Mervis the Cubs’ Opening Day starter. Mervis isn’t on the 40-man roster and given the Cubs’ crunch ahead of the Rule-5 draft this winter, there’s no need to add him to it this offseason. He should, though, have an opportunity to compete for the position in Spring Training and from there, anything is possible.
“I want to be a Major League Baseball player,” Mervis said in Chicago during the final homestand when he was at Wrigley Field for a prospect developmental camp. “That’s been my goal since I was 4 years old. I’m going to keep doing what I can do to get there and let the front office make their decisions.”
The Cubs could elect to improve the position through free agency or via trade. There are several bigger names that will become free agents this winter — José Abreu and Josh Bell are just some of the players that could be available this winter. Abreu posted a 4.2 WAR last season to go with an .824 OPS and has relatively equal splits against lefties and righties.
Bell, a switch-hitter, posted a 3.0 WAR, .784 OPS and hit 17 home runs with the Nationals and Padres in 2022. He did struggle after being dealt to the Padres, slashing just .192/.316/.271 in San Diego compared to .301/.384/.493 in Washington.
First base is a position the Cubs must improve — that’s a given. Whether that comes from improvements from the current roster, from the minor leagues or through free agency or the trade market, they need more production from a position that is genuinely a hot spot for offense. If the Cubs hope to compete in 2023, offensive gains from the first base side are needed.