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State of the Cubs

State of the Cubs: Questions abound at first base

9 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: First base

DEPTH CHART

1. Patrick Wisdom
2. Jared Young
3. Matt Mervis

ANALYSIS

The answer to the Cubs’ positional need at first base might be filled with their most pressing offseason query: does Cody Bellinger return in 2024? The former MVP rediscovered his elite level in 2023 in Chicago and did so by playing elite at both center field and first.

“Obviously, like I said before, I think the world of Cody, we’re certainly going to be in communication,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at his end of season press conference. “There’s nothing better than having a guy experience for a year and openly say he loves it and I think that’s something that gives us a shot. We don’t have to recruit him very hard.

“I think he knows what this place is all about. And I know he loved it.”

If he does return, Bellinger can man first base with top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong patrolling the center field pasture.

But if Bellinger signs elsewhere — or if the Cubs want Crow-Armstrong to begin 2024 in Triple-A — the Cubs have a serious question mark at the position. Four of the five players that made 15 or more appearances at first base in 2023 are not under contract with the team in 2024, so first base could be a new face next season for the Cubs.

Patrick Wisdom had some success late in the season in a platoon role against southpaws, but he’ll go through arbitration this offseason and could be a non-tender candidate given his role.

Matt Mervis, one of the Cubs’ top prospects, debuted in 2023 but struggled in his first run in the big leagues, slashing .167/.242/.289/46 wRC+ with 3 home runs and 11 RBI. He was optioned in June and was never recalled.

Jared Young was selected in June, spent nearly a month in the big leagues and then was recalled late in the season. He hit .186 with 2 home runs in 43 at-bats.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The future of the position might be murkier than it’s been for the Cubs since they traded away Anthony Rizzo in 2021. A reunion with Bellinger could provide the long-term answer at the position, but outside of that, there’s no clear answer in the organization. Mervis could still develop into that role — he hit 22 home runs at Triple-A this season and had a .932 OPS — but he’ll be entering his age-26 season next year.  

The Cubs’ 2022 15th round pick, Haydn McGeary, is an interesting prospect to follow. The 24-year-old hit .481 with 35 home runs at Division II Colorado Mesa and has continued to put up strong offensive numbers in the pro ranks. He hit 16 home runs and 15 doubles with an .817 OPS at Double-A Tennessee.

The free agent market — outside of Bellinger — doesn’t provide too many long-term answers, either. Rhys Hoskins might be the most intriguing name, but he tore his ACL in Spring Training and has missed the Phillies’ 2023 campaign. In 2021-2022, Hoskins hit 57 home runs with 150 RBI and a .246/.333/.489/.124 wRC+ slash line.

BOTTOM LINE

The Cubs’ need an answer at first base if they hope to contend in 2024. The answer — one way or the other — could come in what happens with Bellinger this offseason. If Bellinger returns, the answer is likely answered, but if the Cubs see his fit best in center — or he doesn’t return — then they’ll have plenty of questions that might force them to turn within the organization.

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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