The Cubs have roughly 37 second baseman in camp right now, and that’s not even including the 2016 World Series MVP patrolling camp in uniform this week as a special assistant. Don’t go getting any thoughts in your head, though, Ben Zobrist and his black cleats are just there in Mesa as a favor to David Ross. However, the almost 39-year-old hasn’t officially retired and might like his chances at recapturing a position in flux.
No, just stop it. Zobrist might have walked through that door, but he’s not sticking around. Then who is?
Ross continues to play musical chairs with a group that includes incumbents David Bote and Daniel Descalso; top-rated prospect Nico Hoerner; and non-roster invitees Jason Kipnis (who is a Northbrook native, something you probably didn’t know) and Hernán Pérez. That’s without considering Robel Garcia, Carlos Asuaje, or Trent Giambrone, the latter of whom leads the whole group with a .412 average (10-for-17) this spring.
“I’m trying to come into camp and really give these guys a fresh set of eyes,” Ross told reporters on Tuesday. “Nobody comes in with advantages or disadvantages unless you’ve got some proven hardware out there and some real numbers on the back of your baseball card.”
There’s a friendly competition for the role(s), as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian described, and that dynamic figures to continue even after a primary starter is named. Unless, that is, Hoerner wins the job and creates more of a monopoly than might otherwise be the case. That won’t create a frostier environment, mind you, just a slightly less balanced one.
If it was a simple matter of youth and upside, I wouldn’t even be writing this piece. That’s mainly because half the beat writers in Mesa wouldn’t have already written it, either. But as much as the Cubs like what Hoerner brings in terms of both his attitude and athleticism, his general lack of experience is something the Cubs might want to address in the minors. Specifically, they want to see him display the ability to work deep counts and battle with two strikes.
Now, don’t go thinking this is another Kris Bryant situation, since it’s not like the Cubs are saying they need Hoerner to work on his defense.
“And we’ll continue to work on their defense,” Ross said. “I’m a big proponent of defense. I like taking away hits and runs. That’s a big one for me. So, we’ll just continue to watch that.”
Huh, guess we’ll just have to wait until Descalso takes a fastball to the wrist in the opening series or something. In all seriousness, it’s getting really difficult to justify keeping the former Cardinal on the roster. After putting up one of the worst seasons in baseball last year, Descalso is just 1-for-14 with six strikeouts, two walks, and no ankle injury to blame for the anemic spring production.
Ed. note: Despite the snarky nature of that last bit, Descalso’s ankle really was a problem last season. His numbers before and after getting hurt display a painfully obvious disparity and I still can’t believe he wasn’t placed on the IL much earlier.
“I’ll let them prove to me who deserves that spot,” Ross said. “And I’m not talking about stats, I’m talking about how they go about their business, who they are in the clubhouse. There’s a lot of factors that go into that.”
A strong clubhouse presence only goes so far, though, especially when Kipnis offers similar intangibles. Between Bote, Ian Happ, and maybe even PJ Higgins, the Cubs have more than enough versatility to go around. What they apparently don’t have enough of is money, which could be Descalso’s saving grace. He’s counting $2.5 million toward the payroll total whether he’s around or not — unless he’s traded, which, good luck — and rostering Kipnis would mean paying him an MLB salary as well.
I’m not saying that $1 million might be a deciding factor for a major-market team that has a World Series-or-bust mentality, but I’m not not saying that. Nico Hoerner would be a little under $600,000 for the season and can back up Javy Baez at short, so those are going to be considerations.
Based on the various factors at play, we’re probably not going to get any real clarity on this until very late in spring. Which means you’ll get to see a lot more Descalso at second. And Hoerner as well. And Kipnis. And Zobrist?
Jeez, give it up already.