“Rise up this morning, smiled with the rising sun. Three little birds pitch by my doorstep singing sweet songs of melodies pure and true. This is my message to you.” – Bob Marley, Three Little Birds
The Cubs took two of three from the Cardinals over the weekend, including yesterday’s thrilling 6-5 win in extra innings. That would normally be the story of the morning but wins and losses don’t really matter anymore unless you are calculating Chicago’s odds of winning this year’s draft lottery.
My focus this morning is on Nico Hoerner instead. Once president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and invisible GM Carter Hawkins finish navigating this year’s trade deadline, there is a relatively good chance that Hoerner will be the face of the franchise going forward. I’ve been one of the 25-year-old’s harshest critics, but Hoerner is making me eat my words. He’s hitting better than expected and mashing a little too. Even more surprising is the fact that Hoerner is quietly becoming one of the best defensive shortstops in the game.
Nico Hoerner has the highest shortstop Outs Above Average (OAA) in MLB.
I repeat, Nico Hoerner is the most valuable defensive shortstop in MLB.
It was not even a year ago that doubts — especially re arm strength — lingered.
Hard-working best defensive SS Nico Hoerner.
— Brendan Miller (@brendan_cubs) June 26, 2022
My lack of faith in Hoerner was not without cause. With four home runs and 22 RBI, the former first-round draft pick has already set career highs with slightly more than half of the season remaining. This season is also the first in which he has played at least 50 games. His success at the plate and in the field makes you wonder just how good he can be.
‘‘The concept of a ceiling is kind of silly in this game,’’ Hoerner said. ‘‘And I don’t know what that is. And I’m excited to see what that is. And that’s just a day-by-day thing.
‘I’ve never set out to be drafted in a certain round or go to a certain school or make it to the big leagues by a certain year. It’s always been day by day for me. And I’ve been fortunate how things have turned out, obviously, but that’s going to be my approach moving forward. I think it’s more enjoyable.’’
I still think Hoerner provides more value as a multi-positional starter, much like Ben Zobrist during his tenure with the club. This year’s shortstop class is said to be exceptional, and someone like Trea Turner might be an exciting acquisition. If the Cubs are really married to Nick Madrigal at second base, a Turner signing could create a nice middle infield and outfield rotation for the two shortstops.
That said, the Cubs need at least two starting pitchers this winter. If Hoerner can maintain his ~.300/.330/.415 slash line, the Cubs should be able to wait on prospects Cristian Hernandez, James Triantos, Ed Howard, and Reginald Preciado. Turner would be a decent signing, but Hoyer shouldn’t count on Caleb Kilian, Keegan Thompson, DJ Herz, and Jordan Wicks to lead his future rotation.
In the meantime, Hoerner could be The Guy in a little over a month. He’ll probably never be an alpha dog on the field or in the clubhouse, but he’s certainly improving and has yet to hit his peak. If he can get to double-digit home runs, Hoerner could give Hoyer and Hawkins plenty of options heading into 2023.
Cubs News & Notes
- After Willson Contreras hit the game-winning single in yesterday’s win over the Cardinals, discussions immediately turned to the trade deadline. The All-Star catcher said he’s relaxed despite all the trade rumors.
- Ian Happ is suddenly Chicago’s hottest trade chip and could net the Cubs a better return than Contreras.
- If Happ is traded, the Braves, Padres, and Yankees are all potential fits.
- Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol has seen enough of Kyle Hendricks and would like to see the 33-year-old starter retire if the Cubs don’t trade him.
- Hendricks was masterful against St. Louis in a 3-0 win Friday night.
- David Bote was activated over the weekend and the Cubs finally DFA’d Jonathan Villar.
- Bote is happy to finally be playing again and said he had chills when he took the field on Friday.
- Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago thinks Cubs fans have been more than a little unfair to outfielder Jason Heyward.
Odds & Sods
I can see Zack Greinke doing cameos in Quentin Tarantino’s movies once he leaves baseball.
Zack Greinke is a legend 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/1mCRSRGqWK
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) June 27, 2022
Climbing the Ladder
“Why not think about the times to come, and not about the things that you’ve done?” – Fleetwood Mac, Don’t Stop
Though Seiya Suzuki has been injured and has played 17 fewer games, I never would have believed that this far into the season he and Hoerner would have similar home runs, runs scored, and RBI totals.
- Games Played: 73
- Total Plate Appearances: 2,786
- Total Strikeouts: 632
- Strikeout Rate: 22.68%
- Team Batting Average: .245
- Runs Scored: 310
- Runs Allowed: 387
How About That!
Kudos to the White Sox (and Orioles) for fulfilling the dream of Beau Dowling this weekend. The seven-year-old is battling neuroblastoma and thyroid cancer and wanted to run the bases. Players from Chicago and Baltimore lined the first and third baselines to low and high-five the young man on his inspiring trek. The video is a real happy-tears moment.
The Astros held the Yankees hitless for 16 straight innings over the weekend. Right-hander José Urquidy followed up Saturday’s brilliant starting effort by Cristian Javier with 6.1 no-hit innings on Sunday afternoon before Giancarlo Stanton ended the streak with a home run.
Benches cleared and multiple player ejections ensued when after Jesse Winker took a 91.1 mph fastball from Andrew Wantz off his right hip in yesterday’s Mariners-Angels tilt. The pitch was allegedly retaliatory for a pitch thrown at Mike Trout by Erik Swanson on Saturday night.
A fan sent Winker a pizza after the Seattle outfielder was ejected.
The Phillies are seeking bullpen additions at this year’s trade deadline.
Sunday’s Three Stars
- Dylan Cease – At one point I thought I was watching the second coming of Kerry Wood. Cease finished the day with 13 strikeouts, almost all of the nasty variety, in seven innings of work.
- Rowdy Tellez – The burly Brewers slugger left the yard twice yesterday with four RBI in Milwaukee’s 10-3 route of the Blue Jays.
- Nelson Cruz – The 41-year-old isn’t blasting home runs the way he did earlier in his career, but he did plate three runners yesterday thanks to two singles. I expect the Nationals to trade Cruz this summer and I’d love to see him on the White Sox or back with the Twins, but it feels like he’ll end up on the Yankees.
The mustache has returned to MLB in glorious fashion, and there are no better examples than Cease, Spencer Strider, Andrew Chafin, and Daniel Mengden. I’d love to see at least one of them take the field riding a penny-farthing.
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- If you weren’t at Summerfest for Wiz Khalifa, Wu-Tang Clan, and Lil Wayne on Saturday night, you missed one of the best concerts of the century.
- The seminal prog-rock band Pink Floyd is seeking $500 million for its extensive music catalog.
- The Go-Go’s were apparently “cross-eyed drunk” when they filmed their video for the song “Vacation.”
- Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson and his camp are expecting a full-year suspension, which opens a position battle that probably will not include Baker Mayfield.
- Today is National Bingo Day in case you are unaware.
- With a recession on the horizon, streaming services are banking on the willingness of consumers to accept commercial advertisements in exchange for lower subscription fees. Older readers might remember when cable TV went that route.
They Said It
- “This is my house, and it’s been my home for 14 years. Not many players can say that. The first time I got here was in 2009, and nobody was here. I’ve seen everybody come to this club over the years. It’s going to mean a lot to me and a lot to my family. They gave me the opportunity to become a professional baseball player. “ – Contreras
- “I’ve seen [all the trades] from afar, I’ve seen what’s happened. I don’t just play for my team. I also play for the other  teams here that are looking. They might have scouts, people observing [me]. I only control what I can. I’ve seen it before with the other players. If another team might be interested in me, it would be an honor for me and something I would be excited about.” – Rafael Ortega
Monday Walk-Up Song
Now that I know, and yes, it’s incredibly obvious, my life has been forever changed.