In something of a coincidence, the Cubs and Mets have basically swapped backup outfielders this week. Shortly after Albert Almora Jr. officially joined his new team, it was reported that the Cubs have agreed to a one-year deal with Jake Marisnick. The contract holds a guaranteed value of $1.5 million, one-third of which comes in the form of a buyout on a $4 million mutual option for 2022.
Marisnick Cubs deal is one year plus a mutual option with a buyout. Guarantee believed to be about $1.5M.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 11, 2021
Marisnick will turn 30 in March, so he is almost exactly three years older than Almora. Believe it or not, the newest Cub also has even lower offensive production than the man he’s replacing at what is ostensibly the same cost. Though Marisnick has been a little steadier while Almora has fallen off dramatically at the plate, a .229 career, 81 wRC+ (19% worse than the average hitter), and a 5.4% walk rate don’t offer any real advantages.
So what gives?
For one, Marisnick’s deferred deal means the Cubs are probably saving a little payroll this season over what they’d have owed Almora — who got $1.25 million plus incentives — as an arbitration-eligible player. They’re also getting significantly better defense, despite what people still mistakenly believe about Almora. Since 2016, Marisnick’s 4.7 UZR/150 ranks 24th and his 36 defensive runs saved rank 11th among all outfielders with at least 2,500 innings. Almora ranks 38th and 34th in those respective categories.
For what it’s worth, Marisnick ranks in the top 10 among all outfielders since 2013 (min. 4,500 innings) in both UZR/150 (8.7, 10th) and DRS (71, 9th). That’s pretty solid and it’d be much better without an ugly 2017 campaign in Houston and another in a very brief run with the Mets.
Maybe the biggest part of this move is about removing emotion from the equation, since Almora was the first draft pick of Theo Epstein’s Cubs tenure. Then there was the tag-up in Game 7 of the World Series that apparently convinced David Ross that Almora should pinch run for Kyle Schwarber every single time the slugger reached base in the late innings. The Cubs also gave Almora far too many chances to be an everyday player, which won’t be the case with Marisnick unless something happens.
A right-handed batter, Marisnick is slightly better against lefties but is still too far below average to be considered a platoon hitter. Assuming the Cubs stick with Phil Ervin as the short-side guy to spell Jason Heyward and Joc Pederson, Marisnick’s role will be to take over for Ervin or Ian Happ late in games when they need a defensive specialist.
That said, I’d just as soon have seen them roll with Ian Miller or someone else who’s already in the organization because this move feels way too lateral. It’d be considered a forward pass in football, just not one intended to gain much yardage. Hey, maybe they’re learning from the Bears.
This puts the Cubs over the 40-man roster limit, so they’ll have to make a corresponding move to clear space. My initial thought when they claimed Sergio Alcántara was that they’d try to sneak him back through waivers, so maybe that happens now. As for another potential ramification, this could provide a little more impetus for starting Nico Hoerner out in Triple-A.
The Cubs have several players capable of manning second base and they now how a full outfield, which was thought to have been sort of a release valve for Hoerner. He hasn’t gotten much time in center, but the organization has wanted to develop him there since at least the start of last season. Hoerner could use a little more development, so my hope is that this allows the Cubs to do what’s best for him in the long term.