Matt Mervis had as good a season as the Cubs have seen from any prospect since Kris Bryant, but that doesn’t mean the team is ready to hand him the first base gig just yet. In a nod to Thanksgiving, it appears as though the front office sees Mash as gravy and will conduct business this offseason almost as though he’s not there. That isn’t because they don’t believe in him, it’s because they don’t need to depend on a rookie.
TL;DR version available at the conclusion of the piece
“Certainly, he’s a big part of our future,” Jed Hoyer said at the GM Meetings earlier this month. “We know he’s going to get a lot of plate appearances with us, get a lot of playing time. We’re also still going to be in the market for bats…
“We just can’t lose sight of having real depth. That’s really important. We’re thrilled with what he’s doing, we know he’s a big part of where we’re going. But at the same time, we have to be cognizant of having real depth. Injuries and other things happen.”
Despite proving he was ready for a new challenge multiple times over, Mervis wasn’t promoted during the season because he wasn’t eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and the Cubs needed every available spot on their 40-man roster. Even after designating several players for assignment and non-tendering others, that roster stands at 37 with a number of big free agent additions needed.
Assuming the Cubs go out and add a starter, catcher, center fielder, first baseman/DH, and bullpen help, they’ll need to make even more moves to clear space. One or both of the players they just picked up via waivers or trade could be waived and there are some pitchers whose grasp on a spot may be tenuous, but Mervis probably won’t be added until after the Cubs can place injured players on the 60-day IL at the start of spring training.
If they’ve got their major acquisitions taken care of by then, anyway. Speaking of which, let’s circle back to the idea of adding a veteran first base/DH type and what that means. It’s far less about fear that Mervis is the reincarnation of Bryan LaHair and more that the lineup needs a little certainty. While I believe the former Duke standout can continue to mash at the MLB level, the Cubs may hedge their bets and bring him along in a platoon role or have him serve more as the DH than first base.
Or maybe Mervis shows out in camp and earns an everyday spot from the jump.
Mixed scouting reviews from his time in Arizona seem to be giving people the wrong impression, as even favorable comps have him as Rowdy Tellez rather than Dan Vogelbach. At the risk of calling those evaluations lazy, putting Mervis in that company kind of makes him out to be a lumbering slugger who would only be plugged in at first if the Cubs have an even slower hitter in the lineup.
“He’s more athletic than people think,” Cubs VP of player development Jared Banner said. “He knows his way around the bag at first base. He’s a nice, big target, and he actually grades out really well defensively. No concerns there.”
Mervis really didn’t concentrate on first base in college because he was also a pitcher, plus he had a shoulder issue one summer that forced him to DH exclusively. He may not challenge for a Gold Glove right away, if ever, but I’ve seen him make some plays that required deft touch and nimble footwork. Tellez or Vogelbach he is not.
Whether it’s José Abreu, Trey Mancini, Josh Bell, or even Cody Bellinger, the Cubs are going to set themselves up with a safety net or training wheels for Mervis. If he ends up excelling immediately or after using a little runway to get up to speed, none of those free agents figure to be around for a long time and won’t block him in the future.
As for that future, I’m interested in what his change in representation might mean. Mervis recently switched to Creative Artists Agency, which also reps Shohei Ohtani and Trea Turner, and I wonder whether he falls into the category of players the Cubs would like to extend. That almost certainly won’t happen before he proves himself at the big league level, but it’s not out of the question for something to get done over the next year.
For all the talk of the offer Anthony Rizzo walked away from, it’s easy to forget that he inked a seven-year extension with the Cubs in May of 2013. That was just a little over a month into his first full season and at the time signed, the future star carried a career .255 average with a 112 wRC+ and 25 homers in 676 plate appearances.
Mervis will be 25 in April and received a mere $20,000 signing bonus as an undrafted free agent in 2020, so there might be a little extra motivation for him to secure his future if the club is amenable to it. You’d think Hoyer would be open to the idea as a way to provide a little cost security for a payroll that he says will continue to ratchet up over the next few years.
Among the mistakes the Cubs made during their previous competitive cycle were failing to extend young stars early and — this is the big one — failing to surround those stars with proper role players to balance the roster. There simply wasn’t enough depth after 2017, hence the feast-or-famine nature of the offense we’ve all lamented far too often.
What the Cubs do with Mervis, Pete Crow-Armstrong, and other top prospects will tell us just how much the front office learned from the past and how things will be different moving forward.
- The Cubs believe in Mervis
- The Cubs also want depth because that’s a smart way to run a team
- Comps to big, lumbering sluggers don’t seem fair or accurate
- An extension would make sense if Mervis continues to hit well
- Mervis will join The Rant Live at 10:30am CT on Wednesday 11/23