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MESA, Ariz — On Monday morning, when asked if the Cubs’ shortstop needs had been met, Chicago’s president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer sat in front of the assembled media inside the team’s spring training complex and said, “I think we’re really happy with our middle infield right now.”
This was days after the reported signing of Andrelton Simmons, who joined Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal as the healthy options on the roster who can play up the middle. That didn’t necessarily mean the team was done adding, but Hoyer also didn’t give any indication that another middle infield signing was imminent.
“I think we have three middle infielders we have a ton of faith in, and I think, almost like on the pitching side, we’ll continue to add depth and give Rossy options of how to move guys around,” Hoyer said Monday.
Perhaps, at that time, Hoyer didn’t have any incoming deals to add depth in that area, but that changed completely with Thursday’s reported signing of Jonathan Villar. The deal was first reported by FanSided’s Robert Murray, and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand later reported that it was a one-year deal for $6 million.
Cubs manager David Ross didn’t comment on the report, but what Villar can do fits what Ross appreciates most about positional depth. Over nine seasons, Villar has proven to be a versatile defensive player. He’s appeared in 432 games at shortstop in his career, and he’s also played over 150 at second base (367) and third base (151). He’s also even appeared in the outfield in a handful of games.
Chicago is going through another shortened preseason, but the team learned from 2020. If you want to avoid the injury bug, players are going to need consistent days to get off their feet early in the season.
“Rest is important (over) 162, especially in this season with a shortened spring training,” Ross said. “Making sure we take care of the young guys, the history of some of our guys. Keeping them on the field is really important to me. We’re going to be the best version of us if we keep everybody healthy and be able to keep that flexibility.”
That’s essentially what Ross has with his defense. With Villar in the fold, the Cubs can go at least two-deep at every position on the infield, and now with the DH coming to the National League, Ross has even more opportunities to mix and match at every spot.
“Adding talent is always important,” Ross said Wednesday. “I think that’s a luxury, right? To be able to match up and find the perfect matchup, that’s a luxury that most teams don’t have.”
However, remember those “significant” conversations Hoyer also talked about, the ones that likely included the signing of Seiya Suzuki?
“We’re having a lot of conversations. I’ve done this too long to assume that anything gets across the finish line,” Hoyer said. “You try to keep a lot of balls in the air, and some of those may be — as you guys would deem — ‘significant.'”
While landing Suzuki was indeed “significant,” the potential for another likely closes when Villar’s deal becomes official.
Though the likelihood that the Cubs would sign Carlos Correa already shrunk when they brought in Simmons and Astros ownership reportedly got more involved in negotiations with Correa, bringing in Villar seemingly ends that possibility.
That’s not to say Hoyer and Co. would say “No” if Correa wanted to play at Wrigley Field. A player of that caliber, making it clear he wants to be in a Cubs uniform for the foreseeable future? You figure out a way to make that work.
Really, it’s more the idea that Correa-to-Chicago rumors have quieted in recent days, and then you add in the fact that the Cubs have added two more players capable of playing shortstop — even though Villar probably fits best at third or second on this team — in addition to Nico Hoerner. The odds of Chicago aggressively pursuing Correa after the moves the front office has made through the first week post-lockout don’t feel high.
That’s not to mention Trevor Story, who would probably come on a deal with fewer years and a cheaper price tag. There has been even less talk around Story and the Cubs since the end of the lockout, and if they aren’t keeping up the chase for Correa now that they’ve brought in Simmons and Villar, it’s unlikely that anything is different when it comes to Story.
So here we are, a week into spring training, and Chicago now has three players who could all see time at short. They certainly aren’t the players Cubs fans were clamoring for, but nonetheless, it seems like the front office decided to get their ducks in a row and added another versatile defender before it missed its chance.
With Chicago’s top shortstop prospects still at the lower levels of the minor leagues, the Cubs are showing they’re willing to wait for them to be ready to contribute to the big league club.
The door might not be officially shut on Chicago signing a shortstop who’s still on the market, but the chances that the door opens back up at all seem slim.
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