State of the Cubs

State of the Cubs: Second base

2 years agoTony Andracki

Uncertainty will be the name of the game around Major League Baseball this winter as the league navigates its first offseason following the pandemic-shortened campaign.

It’s impossible to predict exactly how things will play out in a winter unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the sport, but let’s take a look at where the Cubs stand with each position group heading into the offseason.

Next up: Second base

Depth Chart

  1. Nico Hoerner
  2. David Bote
  3. Ildemaro Vargas
  4. Trent Giambrone

Analysis

Second base ranks as one of the biggest question marks on the Cubs roster entering the offseason.

Will the Cubs hand the reins over to promising youngster Hoerner full time? Or will they add another veteran this winter in the Jason Kipnis mold? 

Of course, it’s also entirely possible the Cubs bring back Kipnis himself.

The Chicago native is a free agent, but he signed a minor-league deal prior to 2020 in part because he wanted to be around a winning ballclub, but also because he wanted to play in front of family and friends in the area. That obviously didn’t play out this year due to the pandemic. 

It wouldn’t be shocking to see the two sides try again in 2021. Kipnis — who turns 34 in April — brought a lot to the Cubs this summer both on the field and off. 

As a left-handed bat, he posted a .341 on-base percentage and .744 OPS while playing solid defense at second base. He also was a respected leader in the clubhouse, helping to build the culture of a team that won the National League Central amid a crazy year.

Hoerner will turn 24 in May and took some steps forward in his development in 2020 despite the shortened season. He hit only .222 with a .259 slugging percentage, but he greatly improved his walk rate (9.5%) in the small sample and flashed impressive range and glovework in the field. He was also the fastest runner on the team and has great baseball instincts that helped him serve as a weapon on the basepaths.

In fact, Hoerner ranked in the 93rd percentile in Major League Baseball in sprint speed and in the 97th percentile in outs above average defensively.

He also posted the highest contact rate on the Cubs (82.9%), though he’s been working on doing more damage when he makes contact. If the DH returns to the National League in 2021, the Cubs can opt to continue to roll out Hoerner in the No. 9 spot in the batting order and lean on his defense, speed and contact profile as he works to develop more power at the plate. 

As for Bote, he is locked into a very team-friendly contract for the next few years, set to make $1.01 million in 2021. His best position defensively is third base, but he’s still solid at second base and serves as depth at the position.

Vargas, meanwhile, is a bit of a wild-card in this whole situation. He is a 29-year-old switch-hitter who is known as a good defender at second base, but only played 22 innings and recorded 9 plate appearances for the 2020 Cubs as a hamstring injury hampered his time on the field.

Vargas is under team control through 2025, but he is out of minor-league options and doesn’t have much of a track record (142 career MLB games). 

Giambrone was the Cubs’ 25th-round draft pick in 2016 and hit 23 homers for Triple-A Iowa in 2019 while playing all over the field. But he’ll be 27 in December and the Cubs never added him to their 60-man player pool during the 2020 season.

What’s next?

The Cubs’ first move at second base this winter will likely be declining Daniel Descalso’s $3.5 million option. He is owed a $1 million buyout and Descalso hasn’t been a major part of the Cubs’ second base picture since early in the 2019 season. He missed all of 2020 with an ankle injury.

Beyond that, the next move will be adding more depth, probably in the form of a veteran who hits left-handed to complement Hoerner.

Kipnis makes a lot of sense for the 2021 Cubs as both a veteran second base presence alongside Hoerner, but also as a potential DH option (if the DH sticks around).

Both Kipnis and Hoerner represent the type of contact-oriented bats Theo Epstein’s front office is looking for to diversify this Cubs lineup and the tandem could make an even larger offensive impact over the course of a full 162-game season.

Bottom Line

Hoerner will be a big part of the Cubs’ future, but he may not get the keys to the full-time second base role in 2021.

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