Color me shocked. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs have reached an agreement with free agent outfielder Joc Pederson. It’s a bit of an odd fit on the surface because the Cubs had a lefty-hitting left fielder who sacrificed contact for power while posting pronounced platoon splits, so we may have to see how the money works out (updates below) before giving this a final assessment.
Free-agent outfielder Joc Pederson in agreement with Cubs, pending physical, sources tell @TheAthletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 29, 2021
Pederson and Schwarber have nearly identical offensive profiles over similar sample sizes, adding to the curiosity. The former Dodger has a career slash of .230/.336/.470 with a .344 wOBA and 118 wRC+ over 2,517 plate appearances while Schwarber is at .230/.336/.480 with a .343 wOBA and 113 wRC+ over 2,108 PAs. Pederson’s career swinging-strike rate of 11.3% is slightly better than Schwarber’s 11.9%, though their numbers crept close this past season.
Pederson appeared to be dialing the strikeouts down for a while there, dipping as low as 19.2% in 2018, but they’ve crept back up in each of the last two seasons. More troublesome is a walk rate that has fallen steadily from 15.7% in his sophomore campaign to 8% last season.
The one area in which the two separate a bit in terms of their performance is in their platoon splits, where Pederson struggles more against southpaws. His .576 OPS and 59 wRC+ are well below the respective marks of .849 and 128 he’s posted against righties. For reference, Schwarber has gone .650/75 against LHP and .859/123 against RHP.
It makes sense, then, that the Cubs will look to operate left field a stricter timeshare than in the past, with Phil Ervin serving as the right-handed half of the mix. The former Reds outfielder has a .811 OPS and 113 wRC+ against lefties and can help to buoy Pederson’s overall numbers by spelling him situationally.
The other angle here is that Pederson is better defensively than Schwarber, compiling 8 defensive runs saved with a 9.1 UZR/150 against the former Cub’s marks of -12 and 5.3 over roughly three times as many innings. Pederson’s 22 outfield assists in 4,859.1 innings can’t match Schwarber’s 29 assists over 3,588 innings, though overall defense and the ability to play center in a pinch help to balance that out.
So while there are some areas we can point to in which Pederson looks like a slightly better fit, the real key will come when we see the contract figures. And maybe what other moves the Cubs end up making, if they indeed make any more. Taken on its own, this isn’t the type of play that changes their fortunes.
Update: The deal is for $7 million with up to $500,000 in incentives, so essentially what Schwarber was expected to earn via the arbitration process. That’s a little surprising on it’s own and it becomes even more perplexing in light of Jeff Passan’s report that Pederson will get the chance to play everyday. That doesn’t seem like the best thing for either Pederson or the Cubs, but getting better against lefties would make him a solid trade candidate.
To me, though, the strategic play would be to stick with that harder platoon mentioned above and give Pederson the best opportunity to show out. Then again, that’s something you’d expect more from a team that is trying to compete as opposed to one making chess moves for an outcome that isn’t necessarily expected to play out this year.
Update #2: Now things are really starting to come into focus. Joel Sherman reports that the deal has a 2022 option of some sort with a buyout that may be pretty significant relative to the total guarantee. That would reduce the Cubs’ actual payroll obligations by deferring some of the money to next year, which is what we’ve been calling for them to do all winter.
Ed. note: One other big plus here is that Pederson seems like a genuinely good dude. That’s not a comparison to Schwarber, please don’t take it as such, just a statement about who the Cubs’ newest addition is. If you’re looking to read something heart-warming, check out this Players’ Tribune story written by Pederson and his older brother, Champ.
You may also remember the touching moment between the elder Pederson and Albert Pujols at the 2015 Home Run Derby in Cincinnati.