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As the Cubs look to be a more competitive ball club in 2023, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer identified adding power to the lineup as a priority early on. Over the weekend, Hoyer and Co. addressed that area of the roster by reportedly agreeing with Trey Mancini on a two-year deal.
This is obviously a good move in the short term for the Cubs. Despite recording just a 77 wRC+ in 186 plate appearances after being dealt to the Astros last season, Mancini had a 116 wRC+ in 401 plate appearances with the Orioles prior to the trade. Despite the post-deadline slump, he still hit 18 homers and had an isolated power of .152 (both respectable numbers).
So, for everyone questioning where the power is going to come from, Mancini should provide at least part of the answer. He’s also a player lauded for his positive clubhouse presence who can help this team — along with the other seven free-agent additions — make some noise in the National League Central.
But now the question becomes: How will bringing in Mancini affect the Cubs’ first-base plans this season?
As good as he might end up being on the North Side, this certainly complicates the position. For one, the Cubs officially announced they signed Eric Hosmer to a one-year deal on Friday, which reportedly will be for $720,000. And prior to their agreement with Mancini, Hoyer had said at the Cubs Convention that he expects Hosmer to begin the season as the starting first baseman.
“I certainly expect it,” Hoyer said. “I think that, obviously, the best thing to do at every position is have options. But certainly, that’s our expectation.”
That could change now that Mancini is in the fold, though there’s a pretty obvious scenario in which the two form a platoon (at least to begin the season). When Hosmer signed, it felt as though that was the end of the Cubs’ pursuit for first basemen. But with the addition of Mancini, they’ve added two high-character players who will at least add to the culture being built. And considering Hosmer is looking to have his own bounce-back season, having multiple veteran options seems like a solid plan.
“Maybe it’s a good thing,” Hosmer said about getting a change of scenery. “I didn’t play much baseball in the second half of last year. I was hurt in Boston [after being traded there from San Diego at the deadline] and carried that into the offseason. So, that’s a good reset for me, and now to parlay that with signing here in Chicago, that’s enough motivation as you can have.”
Still, Hosmer’s role isn’t what Mancini’s signing will complicate most.
Even after the Cubs signed Hosmer, Matt Mervis remained in line to play a role in 2023. Breaking camp on the big league roster wasn’t a guarantee, but there was still a very good possibility of that happening.
Now, that becomes less likely of a scenario. With two veteran first basemen set to split time at the spot this season, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for the Cubs to try and squeeze Mervis onto the Opening Day roster. At this point, Mervis seems destined to open the season at Triple-A Iowa, where he can continue to develop at his own pace without the pressure of producing at the major league level.
“I’m going to approach it how I did during the season and just try to wake up every day and have a good day of baseball,” Mervis said during the Cubs Convention. “I’m not going to put any extra pressure on myself trying to make the team by having a great game in spring training, because those guys are smarter than that. They’re not going to see me hit a home run or whatever and say, ‘Yeah, he’s ready.’ Obviously, they’re going to do a little bit more work than that and evaluate things however they need to.”
Not earning the Opening Day roster spot may have been the case regardless. Mervis is on Team Israel’s preliminary roster for the World Baseball Classic, and he said, “As far as I know, I’m playing.” So, assuming he does indeed play for Team Israel in the tournament, he will have to step away from Cubs camp in Mesa, Ariz.
Mervis believes the WBC will be “the same, if not better” than spring training as far as his development goes. He has a point. Considering the other teams will feature current big league stars, he’ll be going up against the best competition he’s ever faced in his life. The environment will be great experience for what he’ll see in the majors. So, it’s an excellent opportunity for the 24-year-old and No. 21 Cubs prospect (per MLB Pipeline).
“I think it was really a no-brainer for me,” Mervis said. “The only thing I had to consider was if the Cubs were willing to allow me to leave Arizona and go have that experience, and they supported me and allowed me to make the decision.”
But in the end, he’d still be leaving Mesa, which means he’d be away from the instruction of the Cubs’ coaches. So, that’ll give Mervis less of a chance to put together a spring that gets him to the big leagues. Mancini at least makes that scenario less unappealing.
As much as fans want to see Mervis reach the big leagues, this may ultimately be best for everyone involved. The Cubs don’t have to rush Mervis, who in turn will be able to keep developing at Triple-A until he has nothing left to prove. It also gives the team a lot more depth at a position that only a few months ago felt like one of the bigger holes on the roster.
Roster expectations have shifted now that Mancini is a Cub. But overall, this is a move that should benefit the Cubs moving forward.
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