State of the Cubs: Third Base
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: Third Baseman
- Kris Bryant
- David Bote
- Nico Hoerner
- Ildemaro Vargas
- Christopher Morel
Since his debut, Kris Bryant has been one of the premier third basemen in baseball. Per FanGraphs, Bryant has the second-highest WAR among third basemen since 2015, behind only Josh Donaldson. But, for all his success since he debuted, he only has one year of club control left and that makes the Cubs situation at third base all the more precarious.
Do the Cubs hang on to their former MVP, or do they move him, like the Red Sox did with Mookie Betts, cash in on prospects or could they also work out an extension with him before he becomes a free agent following the 2021 season?
Regardless of what happens, Bryant was appreciative of what he’s gone through as a member of the Cubs and the culture that has been built since he debuted.
“I don’t know my future, so I’m just being grateful for what I have right now in this moment,” Bryant said after the Cubs were eliminated by the Marlins. “Being able to talk to you guys in this awesome (interview) room that wasn’t here when I first got here in this awesome clubhouse. The history here, sitting in the clubhouse with maybe some Hall of Famers and just unbelievable talent in there.
“I try to not let myself go to the future in thinking about that because what I have right now, a lot of people would want to be in my shoes.”
Bryant has been working to improve, too. After an oblique injury in September, he went through a new workout routine and felt better after it. He also worked heavily with Andy Green to improve his defensive jumps and overall game defensively.
If he stays with the club, the Cubs will hope he can stay healthy and show the MVP-caliber bat. He seemed to be showing some signs at the tail end of the season — he was 4-for-13 in his final 4 starts with 2 home runs and 6 RBI.
If the Cubs decide to move on, David Bote has shown to be more than capable to man the hot corner. In 145 plate appearances in 2020, Bote had 7 home runs and led the team in RBI with 29. He was in the 91st percentile in exit velocity and 95th percentile in hard-hit percentage.
Nico Hoerner will primarily serve as a middle infielder, whether that means starting at second or backing up at second or short. In a pinch, he can fill in at third base, like he did on six occasions in 2020.
Vargas has played 98.2 career innings at third base and filled in for a pair of innings at the hot corner on Sept. 12 against the Brewers. His status for 2021 is uncertain because he is out of minor league options. If he stays with the Cubs, he also could fill in at third if needed.
Whatever happens with Bryant, the Cubs have a potential fill-in with Bote. He’s signed through 2024 with club options for 2025 and 2026.
Additionally, they have hot corner prospect Christopher Morel waiting in the wings. Morel has showcased well in the minors but has been hampered by injuries in his professional career. He was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 but cut his arm shortly after that and did not debut in pro ball until 2017. He debuted in full-season ball in 2019 and posted a respectable .787 OPS in 73 games with 6 home runs and 9 stolen bases. He’s likely at least a season, if not two, away from the majors, though.
If the Cubs decide to move on from Bryant, the hot corner will be in safe hands with Bote. But if they decide to stay with Bryant and he can rebound to his pre-2020 numbers, he’ll provide offensive prowess at third base that can help spark the Cubs offense in 2021. Plus, he’s been open about his desire to continue with this core and try and win another title.
“It means a lot to all of us,” Bryant said. “Those guys in there, too, will probably say that we’ve taken each other for granted. You never really realized how long you have playing with each other.
“It’s been incredible just to be here with those guys. Obviously, you see what they can do on the field. But just as people — as husbands and fathers and brothers — it’s unbelievable. This group of people here in this organization and everybody in the city, it’s just amazing.”