Up until he signed with Houston for three years and $59.5 million, José Abreu was being viewed as one of the Cubs’ top offensive targets. With him off the board and the going rate for starting pitchers lurching higher with each passing minute, Jed Hoyer might need to get busy creating an offense that can blow teams out. It’s going to be particularly important to improve their firepower if they end up targeting Dansby Swanson from among the four top shortstops.
Enter Brandon Drury, the reigning NL Silver Slugger in the utility category following a season in which he hit 28 home runs with a 123 wRC+ between the Reds and Padres. Drury is a journeyman, having spent time with seven different organizations in 10 years, but he really came into his own this past season after a career filled with trades, designations for assignment, and untimely injuries.
To that end, he’s already got a boatload of ancillary Cubs connections stretching back to his days as a minor leaguer. Drury played his first game in the Diamondbacks system for the South Bend Silver Hawks, who have since become the South Bend Cubs. He was eventually traded to the Yankees in a deal that featured Steven Souza Jr., then was flipped to the Blue Jays a few months later along with Billy McKinney.
Dude’s a regular Pepe Silvia of Cubs-related trivia.
The 30-year-old Drury might be in line for a much more direct connection as the Cubs seek to add pop and need help at three different infield positions. While he primarily played third base, logging 513 innings there in 2022, Drury made 24 starts at first and 23 at second for a total of 412 innings between the two. He’s been passable at all and great at none in his career, which is about what you can expect from a utility player.
Even if the Cubs do land a top shortstop, they’re going to want to build in a little redundancy across the infield to account for injuries and scheduled rest days. Nico Hoerner hasn’t proven he can stay healthy, Matt Mervis hasn’t gotten a plate appearance at the big league level, and the combination of Christopher Morel and Patrick Wisdom had issues with both defense and consistency at the plate.
Drury is essentially Wisdom with a much higher floor, a right-handed batter who’s almost exactly a year younger with a little less pop and a lot less swing-and-miss. The former Red fits best in the role Abreu would have occupied, serving as DH while platooning with Mervis at first if the Cubs want to ease the rookie in against tough lefty pitching. Drury destroyed lefties to the tune of a .299 average and 160 wRC+ in ’21, but he still had a 109 wRC+ and struck out less frequently against righties.
Kylie McDaniel ranked Drury as the No. 20 free agent in this class — ahead of other potential Cubs targets Josh Bell (31), Trey Mancini (unranked), Yuli Gurriel (UR), and Wil Myers (UR) — and offered a salary projection of $33 million over three years. McDaniel noted, however, that “something like $8-11 million per year for two or three years would make sense.” Landing Drury at two years and $16 million could be a steal.
I’m sure a few folks who actually made it this far, and most of those who didn’t, will say this doesn’t move the needle and the Cubs need to do more. Well, yeah, no shit. This is the type of complementary acquisition good teams make when they have either already made a much bigger move or know they’re about to. Not a bad idea to back up three different positions for what could be less than half of what Abreu got.
Jeez, now it sounds like I’m justifying the thriftiest possible definition of “intelligent spending,” which isn’t my goal at all. Rather, I’m saying the Cubs need to throw a ton of money at Carlos Correa or Xander Bogaerts and then backfill in other places to ensure roster balance. Speaking of which, they do already have a pair of utility players in Miles Mastrobuoni and Zach McKinstry who make Drury feel somewhat excessive.
The massive difference is that M&M have combined for 78 professional homers in 14 seasons while Drury has hit 79 across parts of eight MLB campaigns. Power is very much in demand on the North Side and the Cubs need to gather every ounce of it they can this winter.