David Bote

Cubs add intriguing depth by signing a familiar face

Cubs add intriguing depth by signing a familiar face

The Cubs added another utility player to the mix Tuesday afternoon.

According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Cubs reached an agreement with free agent Hernan Perez on a minor-league deal and the 28-year-old will have a chance to make the big-league roster out of spring training:

Cubs fans have seen a lot of Perez over the last few years as he has filled in as a utilityman for the Milwaukee Brewers since 2015. He has actually played more games against the Cubs (74) than any other team in baseball over his career (the Pirates are the next closest at 68).

A lot of that is because of the Cubs' plethora of left-handed starting pitchers over the last few years. Perez has seen a lot of playing time against the likes of Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana and Mike Montgomery.

Perez, a right-handed hitter, has posted a career .259/.290/.368 line (.659 OPS) against the Cubs, but he did some damage in 2019 with 3 homers, 5 RBI and an .815 OPS in 13 games.

He has traditionally been a platoon guy throughout his career, with not-so-great numbers (.243 AVG, .632 OPS) against righties but a solid line against southpaws (.270 AVG, .736 OPS). 

Perez has some speed — he stole 34 bases in 2016 and has 69 in his career — and rates as a solid defender all over the field. He's made at least 10 starts at every position but first base, pitcher and catcher.

There's no guarantee for an immediate fit for Perez on the Cubs' roster, but Theo Epstein and Co. are also not at a point where they feel anything is set in stone. A lot could change over the final two months of the offseason and Perez may wind up as a valuable role player. It's a low-risk move that won't break the bank and he gives the roster another dimension with his speed and glovework. 

Perez will show up to camp in Arizona in February with a chance to compete against the likes of David Bote, Tony Kemp, Daniel Descalso and Robel Garcia for a utility role as the Cubs try to fit the puzzle pieces together on the new 26-man roster.

Maybe he could also chip in in the bullpen?

Cubs head into offseason targeting center field, second base upgrades


Cubs head into offseason targeting center field, second base upgrades

The Cubs had many stellar individual offensive seasons in 2019. There is no questioning that.

Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras enjoyed resurgent campaigns; Javier Baez was one of the NL’s best hitters before suffering a thumb injury; Jason Heyward had his best offensive season on the North Side, while Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, arguably, had career years at the plate.

And yet, among those performances were two constants: the suboptimal production from Cubs center fielders and second basemen.

The Cubs used five different center fielders in 2019, with Albert Almora Jr. (80) and Jason Heyward (74) receiving the bulk of the starts. This pales in comparison to the team’s second base rotation, however, where six players started at least 10 games.

“Center field and second base were the two positions where we had the least production this year, we had the most trouble finding consistent performance,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at Monday’s end-of-season press conference.  

Cubs second basemen posted a combined .220/.301/.383 (.684 OPS) slash line, all team lows (sans pitchers and designated hitters). League-wide, they ranked 28th in average and 21st in OPS, though Ben Zobrist's four-month leave of absence certainly played a role here.

Cubs center fielders weren’t much better, ranking second-worst among the team’s positional groups with a .232/.305/.388 (.693 OPS) slash line. League-wide, they checked in at 20th in both average and OPS.

Almora finished the season with career lows in average and on-base percentage. This led the Cubs to: a) play Heyward in center field more, b) acquire Nick Castellanos and c) make Almora a defensive replacement.

Heyward’s final numbers were negatively affected by his August stint leading off — where he is less comfortable hitting than other spots. But with no better options, he essentially took one for the team, though former manager Joe Maddon probably could’ve pulled the plug on the experiment sooner.

Coincidentally, Heyward moved to the leadoff spot around the same time he became the Cubs' full-time center fielder. So, while he had a solid season overall, his toughest stretch came as a center fielder, which "helped" drag down the team's overall numbers for the position.

Some form of change is coming to the Cubs roster this offseason. And while Epstein admitted center field/leadoff is a position they’d look to upgrade, it’s not like it’ll be an easy task.

“We do have in-house options, but being transparent, of course it’s an area where you look to upgrade and see if you can get the total package, with the prototypical center fielder who can also leadoff,” Epstein said. “If you look at the landscape of center fielders in the game, it’s not exactly a position with great surplus or an overabundance of options out there."

So, what do the Cubs do if there’s no clear option for them to acquire?

“You just have to be realistic,” Epstein said. “If you spend all your time waiting for that next guy who solves all your problems to be there, you might pass on some good options, where you can put things together with a platoon or use a player that you currently have and compliment him with a more attainable player from outside the organization.”

The Cubs have an intriguing second base option in Nico Hoerner, who can also play center field, if needed. The 22-year-old joined the Cubs in September, filling in at shortstop for the injured Baez and Addison Russell. Barring a trade, Baez will be the Cubs starting shortstop next season, but Hoerner's contact-oriented approach makes him a good fit for the Cubs lineup, possibly as a leadoff hitter.

Epstein was complimentary of how Hoerner responded to his September promotion, though he added that the Cubs haven’t determined where the 22-year-old will start the 2020 season.

“We don’t ever draw it up that a player’s gonna skip Triple-A,” he said. “It’s not determined yet where Nico’s gonna start next season, but given his mental makeup, given his skillset, who he is as a person, we felt that was something, under the extraordinary circumstances, that he could handle.”

If Hoerner starts the 2020 season in the minor leagues, other Cubs second basemen under contract include Russell, Daniel Descalso, Tony Kemp, Robel Garcia, David Bote and Ian Happ.

The Cubs demoted Russell to Triple-A twice this season, though he hit just .237/.308/.391 in 82 big-league games. He also missed the first month of the season while serving a domestic violence suspension.

Descalso was hampered by an ankle injury for much of the season, which affected his performance at the plate. Kemp brought the Cubs a contact-oriented approach, but he hit just .183 after they acquired him at the trade deadline.

Garcia showed promise, though he struggled to hit breaking pitches. Bote and Happ did contribute on consistent basis offensively, but they saw more time at third base and in the outfield, respectively.

Point being, there’s no option that jumps off the page right now. Whether it’s center field, second base or elsewhere, Epstein and Co. won’t hesitate to make an upgrade, should they see fit.

“We struggled as an organization this year to make sure that with the major league team, the whole was as good or better than the sum of the parts,” he said. “I think we had a lot of good individual performances, we had a lot of talent and ability.

“I think if we do our job the right way, we’re going to have a lot of talent next year. We’re going to score a lot of runs, we’re going to prevent a lot of runs.”

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Addison Russell leaves Cubs game early after hit in head with pitch; will undergo concussion evaluation

Addison Russell leaves Cubs game early after hit in head with pitch; will undergo concussion evaluation

MILWAUKEE — When it rains, it pours for the Cubs, apparently.

A team that's already dealing with the loss of Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and closer Craig Kimbrel had to play most of Sunday's 8-5 loss to the Brewers without Addison Russell.

Russell took a 94 mph fastball to the face in the top of the third inning;

He remained on the ground for several minutes and was checked over by the medical staffs from both teams, but ultimately remained in the game after running a couple sprints down the right-field line. 

Russell immediately stole second on the first pitch after the delay and then came around to score a few pitches later on David Bote's single. But after the offensive inning, it was Bote heading out to shortstop with Ian Happ taking over at third base and Russell out of the game.

After the game, the Cubs announced that Russell has a nasal bruise and that he's being evaluated for a possible concussion.

After it was announced Baez would miss the next few weeks with a broken thumb, Joe Maddon expected Russell to play almost every inning at shortstop down the stretch, with Bote as the backup.

Beyond that, the Cubs' shortstop depth chart is unknown, but Maddon mentioned Ben Zobrist as a possibility. Zobrist has played 235 big-league games at shortstop, but has only appeared there six times in four years for the Cubs, totaling 13 innings.

At 38 and after missing four months on personal leave, it would be surprising if the Cubs stuck with Zobrist for any length of time at shortstop. After him, Happ figures to be in the mix, though Tony Kemp and Daniel Descalso were taking grounders at the position prior to Saturday's game.

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