The Cubs have been busy over the last week and change, adding Dansby Swanson, Drew Smyly, and Tucker Barnhart, along with their waiver claim of Anthony Kay and some minor league deals. However, they still need to improve the offense and the most logical way to do that is with a corner infield/DH type. First base makes the most sense because it would give the Cubs a safety net for rookie Matt Mervis, who it appears will be given every opportunity to break camp as the starter.
Trey Mancini has stood out as an excellent candidate for that role because he bats right-handed and can play first or corner outfield in addition to DH-ing. He has taken a couple steps back in the power department over the last two seasons and he really slumped following a trade to Houston, but his low average masked the fact that he displayed more pop after leaving Baltimore. Given a new role and a choice of team, Mancini could resume his previous 20+ homer pace.
It’s possible, though, that his preference is to return to the area where he rose to stardom as a belove Oriole who beat colon cancer. According to Ben Favela — who I can’t vouch for because I’m not familiar with him — Mancini is conducting “active discussions” with the Nationals on a one-year deal. If true, Mancini certainly isn’t prioritizing contenders and wouldn’t be crossing the Cubs off based on immediate outlook.
Trey Mancini and #Nationals are in active discussions over a 1-year deal. Mancini should give the Nats versatility as he can slot in at either 1B or LF when not DHing. Mancini is beloved across the DMV.. could be another trade piece for Nats come July..
— Ben Favela (@diamondreport_) December 29, 2022
Whether it’s because of those discussions or simply due to their search for value, the Cubs continue to be linked to Eric Hosmer as well. Jon Heyman reported that he was “on the radar” of both the Cubs and Orioles, the latter of which is interesting given Mancini’s availability. The big difference here is that Hosmer will cost only the league minimum after being DFA’d by the Red Sox, who were already only paying the minimum because the Padres ate the rest in order to trade him.
The Cubs have frequently been connected to a similar deal that would have seen them taking on a larger portion of Hosmer’s remaining money in order to effectively buy a top prospect. Even though that never worked out, the interest is apparently still there at a greatly reduced cost. He’s also under contractual control for the next three seasons at that minimum rate, so he could either be a tremendous bargain or an expendable lottery ticket.
Never a top-flight power hitter, Hosmer topped out at 25 dingers in 2016 and ’17 with the Royals and has exceeded 20 only once since. At the same time, his career strikeout rate is below 18% and he’s still been an above-average offensive producer despite the diminishing counting stats. The Cubs may also believe Hosmer’s reverse splits in 2022 are a sign of things to come rather than an aberration.
After typically hitting righties much better, he posted a 123 wRC+ against southpaws over 117 plate appearances. That came primarily from improving his batted-ball results by lowering his grounders and increasing his line drive and fly ball rates against like-handed pitchers. Maintaining that same approach would allow him to serve as a non-traditional platoon partner for Mervis.
There’s also the notion that Hosmer would likely benefit from playing in the NL Central for a full season. While we’re not talking about a huge jump, Baseball Savant shows that he would have hit 11 homers playing at Wrigley Field every day. That’s only two more than his actual total and he obviously can’t play every game at the same park, but Hosmer’s expected numbers in Cincinnati and Milwaukee are even more encouraging.
St. Louis and Pittsburgh aren’t nearly as friendly, but that’s part of knowing when and how to deploy a player in order to extract every last bit of value. Hosmer would be an incredibly low-risk signing who would cost no more than a roster spot and a minimum salary while bringing veteran presence and World Series experience, so whatever juice is left would be worth the very light squeeze. While I don’t think signing him would be the best move the Cubs could make, it’s certainly not the worst.
Far more interesting is the idea of trading for another Red Sox player in Rafael Devers, something I examined briefly in an earlier piece. Sahadev Sharma included that possibility among his five predictions for the Cubs in 2023 and there’s a sense that Devers is one of maybe two players for whom the Cubs could truly open up the budget to land. The other is Shohei Ohtani, though that’s an even bigger piece of pie in the sky than Devers.
In any case, both Mancini and Hosmer have been linked to the Cubs for at least the last three months and both make sense on various levels. But since neither is a difference-maker for the roster, it doesn’t appear Jed Hoyer is in any hurry to lock either of them down. It’s also entirely possible that the Cubs have an offer out there for Mancini already and he’s just weighing it against others. We should find out soon enough.