State of the Cubs: The future of second base is very much up in the air
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: Second Base
- Nick Madrigal
- Zach McKinstry
- Christopher Morel
- David Bote
- Esteban Quiroz
As the Cubs embark on the offseason, second base becomes one of the bigger question marks on the roster — but also a spot with many possible answers already on the roster.
At the beginning of 2022, Madrigal was penciled into the position, but as the calendar gets set to flip to 2023, his status relies greatly on his health. When he’s been on the field and healthy, Madrigal has been as advertised — he started the season slowly and landed on the injured list, but hit .300 in August and played solid defense (2 outs above average, 4 defensive runs saved). But he has yet to prove he can stay healthy for a full 162-game slate, playing in 54 games in 2021 and just 59 in 2022. While it would be a bonus for the Cubs for Madrigal to stay healthy for the full season, it’s unlikely they’ll count on his ability to stay on the field over the course of 162.
That’s where the depth of the Cubs — and what they do in free agency — comes into play.
Morel and McKinstry have already proven capable of playing the position and could see significant time there again next season if Madrigal struggles to stay healthy. Morel made 28 starts at second base, playing 242 innings there while hitting .235/.308/.433 in his first season in the majors. The Cubs like his ability to play in the middle of the infield.
“Yeah, you can tell when he gets there, it’s just like, ‘Wow, that’s where he belongs — right there in the middle of the infield,’” David Ross said in mid-September after Morel played some shortstop while Nico Hoerner was out injured. “The movement patterns, the reads, the jumps, the arm stroke, the footwork. Everything is a little bit more set up, it feels like, for this middle infield.”
McKinstry, acquired at the deadline in the Chris Martin trade with the Dodgers, really started to find his groove near the end of the season, slashing .250/.325/.486 with 7 extra-base hits across his final 20 games of the season. McKinstry was hitting .335 with a .904 OPS in Triple-A Oklahoma City before being traded to the Cubs.
Bote has played 149 games at second base in his career, including 18 this year, but he was optioned in August after the trade deadline and when he came back in September, played just 2 games at the position.
Quiroz made his major league debut in September, after the team traded for him in Spring Training from Tampa Bay. He missed most of the minor league season with an injury and hit .275 with a .370 on-base percentage in 47 plate appearances across 14 MLB games. Quiroz played exclusively at second base in his short big-league stint.
Madrigal staying healthy is something that’s not out of the realm of possibility — Hoerner had some of the same question marks heading into the 2022 season. If Madrigal and the Cubs can work on an offseason regimen that keeps him on the field, it adds a boon to the Cubs roster and a bat that can hit near the top of the lineup and add some spark.
The position becomes even deeper if the Cubs splurge in the free agent market, adding one of the premier players at the position (Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson and Xander Bogaerts).
That gives them the ability to move Hoerner to second base, where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. While he may end up being a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop, many of Hoerner’s terrific plays this season came on the right side of the infield and shallow outfield, where a second baseman now will be with the banning of the shift. Hoerner’s athletic ability, coupled with another elite level defender at shortstop, improves the Cubs’ overall defense up the middle.
If that is the case, expect Hoerner to be all on board with it.
“It’s hard to imagine a young player more focused on the team than Nico,” Hoyer said at his end-of-season press conference. “He actually gets mad when you talk about him, which is pretty amazing. You know, he wants to talk about the Cubs. He wants to talk about winning. He wants to talk about the culture.
“So, it was pretty easy with him, as long as you’re talking about winning, and what can make us great, Nico is totally on board. He’s an incredible teammate and glad he’s a Cub.”
The Cubs’ second baseman in 2023 will largely depend on what happens this offseason. If the Cubs sign one of the big free agent shortstops, then Hoerner likely moves to second base, giving the Cubs one of the best middle infield defenses in baseball. If they don’t acquire one of the free agent shortstops, then the position will likely come down to some combination of Madrigal, McKinstry and Morel, depending on matchups and — most importantly — health.