The Rundown: Let’s Start the Leadoff Hitter Debate, Hendricks Will Miss Opening Day, Happ Ranked 9th-Best LF
It’s been years since the Cubs have had an everyday leadoff hitter, and 2023 should be no different. In fact, David Ross recently reeled off a number of players he’s already considering. At Cubs Convention, the skipper mentioned he’s not even close to determining a set lineup, but that he’ll often wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea or two. I’m sure most of those thoughts concern the top of the order.
Nick Madrigal (.336 career OBP) would seem to be the logical leadoff choice, but he doesn’t have a set position and he doesn’t take very many walks. Other candidates include Nico Hoerner (.333), Cody Bellinger (.332), Seiya Suzuki (.336), Dansby Swanson (.321), and Ian Happ (.339). I think Eric Hosmer (.336) is the answer, but I’ll be viciously attacked in the comments section for saying so. Hosmer’s strikeout rate (17.5%) is second-best of the regulars behind Hoerner (13%), who I think makes an ideal two-hole hitter. Then again, Suzuki could thrive batting second if he can lower his strikeout rate a little bit.
Madrigal strikes out the least of the group, but he can’t be the team’s everyday third baseman. Imagine Chicago’s lineup if Hoyer had been able to sign Xander Bogaerts to team with Swanson on the left side of the infield.
The Cubs finished 10th in the National League in OBP (.311) last year, so the 2023 lineup looks much better. The new shift rules will help, too. Carlos Santana of the Pirates is the poster boy for baseball’s new defensive metrics. Santana, a switch-hitter, had the same hard-hit rate (44.9%) last season as Mookie Betts but batted .192 with a .692 OPS and a 100 OPS+ in 364 plate appearances hitting left-handed. Betts finished with a .269 batting average, .873 OPS, and an OPS+ of 136.
Happ, Hosmer, and Bellinger are in the 38-41% hard-hit rate, so each should see a significant uptick this year. I’m not an expert when it comes to statistical analysis, but pitchers who throw good-to-great offspeed stuff should be a little more valuable this year, too. According to Baseball Savant, Hosmer’s been better-than-decent against breaking balls. He was worth +9 runs against curveballs in 2022.
I’m not really a fan of set lineups except when it comes to the leadoff hitter, so I’d like to see Ross stick with one guy for the better part of the season. Hosmer looks like an exceptional choice to me, but it’s hard to argue against Madrigal, Happ, or Hoerner.
Cubs News & Notes
- The pursuit of Boegarts provides sufficient evidence that the Cubs are willing to exceed the $233 million CBT threshold.
- The Cubs claimed RHP Julian Merryweather from the Blue Jays, and he’s a very intriguing acquisition. Manuel Rodríguez was DFA’d in a corresponding move.
- It’s doubtful that rehabbing starter Kyle Hendricks will be available by Opening Day.
- Madrigal will be getting reps at third base this spring. Meanwhile, Zach McKinstry is among the more popular trade candidates on the team.
- Madrigal is not a long-term solution at the hot corner, though there are some intriguing ways to take advantage of potential matchups.
- The Cubs have begun “extension dialogue” with Happ and Hoerner.
- MLB Network ranked Happ as the league’s ninth-best left fielder, which seems a bit low. I’d rank Happer No. 5 or 6 and I’d move Kyle Schwarber one slot behind him.
- Happ is everywhere these days.
- Jordan Wicks was named as one of the top 10 left-handed pitching prospects by MLB Pipeline. The latest iteration of Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects drops a week from tomorrow.
Odds & Sods
I’d like a word, please.
Admitting you have “no clue” seems like an odd way to promote yourself as knowledgeable. If the Talkin’ Baseball team needs assistance, the Cubs have a vastly improved defense and team OBP. Hoyer has also balanced the lineup, improved roster depth, and added strength to the rotation. Just replacing Madrigal with Swanson’s offense is a massive positive shift. Hoerner is also a better defensive second baseman.
No clue if these Cubs additions improve the team pic.twitter.com/OL0Q7yLADd
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) January 17, 2023
The Red Sox and Adam Duvall have agreed to terms on a one-year contract.
The Cardinals are kicking the tires on the available Marlins starters, most notably RHP Pablo López.
St. Louis has the depth to pursue just about any player they’d like in trade. I’d say the Cubs will be that team next year.
The Brewers have reportedly signed third baseman Brian Anderson, who shares the same name as the team’s television play-by-play announcer.
MLB execs believe Shohei Ohtani will become baseball’s first $500 million player. This is something we’ve discussed before at CI and I think he’ll come close, but I do not believe he will break that barrier.
The Marlins are among a couple of teams pursuing free agent closer Aroldis Chapman. He could make a potentially great flip candidate, though I really hate saying that about any player or team in January.
Is it fair to say MLB is celebrating its golden age of shortstops?
The Mets intend to make several moves via the trade market before the start of the season and they’ll have to be a little more creative than the Cardinals if GM Billy Eppler is unwilling to move top prospects. Maybe he’s just afraid of getting pantsed by Hoyer.
Worth a listen, especially the conversations with Tucker Barnhart. I also enjoyed the back-and-forth between Barnhart and Jameson Taillon. Happ’s live taping was my favorite panel of the weekend.
Wednesday Morning Six-Pack
- The Bears have officially replaced Ted Phillips with Kevin Warren as the NFL’s oldest organization continues to be a leader in progressive staffing.
- Ryan Poles said he hasn’t yet thought about trading the No. 1 draft pick, but if the Ravens make QB Lamar Jackson available, it would seismically shift the dynamics of the 2023 draft.
- Can you put a price on love? Match Group is testing a $500/month subscription to Tinder, according to Bloomberg. Who knew we’d see the day when pimps exist as digital apps?
- A Colorado library being closed due to meth contamination doesn’t seem so unusual. Maybe that’s because it happened previously.
- Believe it or not, the northernmost part of Brazil is closer to Canada than it is to the Southernmost part of Brazil.
- New year procrastination is something that’s very difficult to kick to the curb.
They Said It
- “I think we’ve got a couple of different ways we can look at [the leadoff spot]. Happer’s done it before. I think Seiya’s going to fit more in the middle, Belly’s going to fit more in the middle. Dansby is intriguing with the way he hits the fastball. Nico is also intriguing. Depending on where (Nick) Madrigal fits in and how he continues to bounce back after some injuries, there are some guys in the mix for that.” – Ross
- “We have guys who have won the World Series in different places, guys who have been All-Stars, Gold Glovers… I think the offense is going to surprise a few people.” – Happ
Wednesday Walk-Up Song
I love seeing the amount of sunlight increasing each day because it makes baseball seem so much closer.