State of the Cubs: Top free agents, Nico Hoerner and determining the path at shortstop
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: Shortstop
- Nico Hoerner
- Zach McKinstry
- Christopher Morel
It’s tough to say that someone who hit .281, posted a 4.5 WAR and played stellar defense isn’t a lock to start the next season at shortstop. But given the Cubs’ offseason plans, it creates a good headache for Hoyer and his front office. Hoerner was second in the NL in Outs Above Average, but wasn’t a finalist for the NL Gold Glove award at shortstop.
Nico Hoerner proved he’s a major-league caliber shortstop and could play at an elite level.
“We have total confidence in Nico’s ability to play shortstop,” Hoyer said at his end-of-season press conference.
But there’s also four big-name, elite-level shortstops in Trea Turner (4.9 WAR), Carlos Correa (5.4 WAR), Xander Bogaerts (5.7 WAR) and Dansby Swanson (5.7 WAR) who are set to hit the free agent market. Hoyer has stated the Cubs plan to be aggressive this fall. If the team can come to terms with one of them, then they would likely move Hoerner to second base and create an elite pairing defensively up the middle.
Hoerner was a Gold Glove finalist at second base in 2020 and, with the banning of the shift next season, his defensive prowess at second could be a boost to the Cubs’ middle infield defense.
If they don’t add a shortstop, Hoerner provides an elite option at the position. Regardless, though, McKinstry and Morel will provide admirable cover at the position in case of injury and McKinstry gives them the dynamic of a left-handed bat. Morel has showcased his strengths defensively up the middle, too.
A little more Morel?— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 15, 2022
Just for you. pic.twitter.com/Ez2QhRQU0m
The future of the position for the Cubs will come down to what happens this offseason. If the team adds one of the free agent shortstops, then that becomes the Cubs’ long-term fit at the position. All four of the big-name free agents are under the age of 31 by Opening Day 2023, with Correa (28) the youngest of the group. Any one of those four would provide an elite level of production at the position for years to come.
If the team doesn’t come to terms with one of the shortstops, then Hoerner becomes the long-term fit at the position, which is still a solid option. He is under team control for three more seasons, is still just 25 years old and will continue to mature and improve at the position.
“I don’t see any reason why he won’t continue to get better as he gains experience and continues to work hard with [Cubs bench/infield coach] Andy Green,” Hoyer said.
This position comes down to this offseason — will the Cubs add a high-profile shortstop to the team, or won’t they? That will dictate the future of the shortstop position, and in turn, the future of the Cubs’ middle infield with the ramifications it would have with Hoerner and second base. The Cubs’ long-term middle infield picture could very well be decided over the next few months.