Hosmer Not Looking Over Shoulder at Mervis, Vows to ‘Help Him Any Way I Can’
Matt Mervis has continued last year’s torrid hitting into the 2023 season and it sure looks like the writing is on the (pay)wall for a promotion to the big club. After going 2-for-5 with a home run in Iowa’s 18-16 win over Louisville Thursday afternoon, Mervis is hitting .284 with a .990 OPS and six homers through 93 plate appearances. His .297 ISO is identical to what he posted with the I-Cubs last season and it’s a point higher than he generated at Double-A Tennessee.
What’s more, Mervis is striking out at just an 18.3% clip while walking in an absurd 17.2% of his plate appearances. Even if the numbers deflate a little bit at the next level, we’re talking about a very patient hitter with 60-grade power. I know everyone keeps talking about the organization remaining patient and letting things play out, but it’s only getting harder to wait on adding Mervis into a lineup that doesn’t feature much left-handed pop.
The most likely casualty of a Mervis promotion is Eric Hosmer, who also bats lefty and serves as either a first baseman or DH. Hosmer is also earning the league minimum from the Cubs because the Padres are footing the rest of the bill for his salary after DFA’ing him last season. The 33-year-old homered in Thursday’s win over his old team to raise his average to .231 and his wRC+ to 80, but those are well below average and fall in line with his -0.1 fWAR on the season.
To hear him talk about the situation, it sounds very much like Hosmer has either intuited or been told that the end of his time as an everyday player in Chicago is nigh.
“This is my 13th year in the league. I’m not going to sit here and be bitter about a young kid coming up,” Hosmer told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. “That’s not right. This game provided me with a lot of things in life. I owe it to the game to give back.
“I was in spring with Matty. I was always trying to help, give him my two cents on what’s coming for him in the league, how you can simplify some stuff. It’s not something where I’m watching over my shoulder, or living and dying by his at-bats. When it comes that time, that’s when you can move on and do something else. I know he’s going to be a big part of this organization. I’ve got to help him any way I can.”
Perhaps I reading too much into it, but this doesn’t sound like the sort of thing a player would just volunteer. Nor does it seem like the kind of question a seasoned journalist like Rosenthal would throw out there to a well-respected veteran player. It doesn’t come across as a “You can’t fire me, I quit” sort of deal either, so maybe it’s a preemptive way for Hosmer to build his rep as a great teammate.
Now, it’s entirely possible the Cubs would see fit to keep him around as a mentor to Mervis and other young players in the event that an overdue promotion comes soon. Edwin Ríos, also a lefty batter, and Luis Torrens are getting irregular playing time and don’t offer much more than redundant depth at this point. Hosmer’s leadership might be viewed as more valuable than the occasional pinch-hit from those others.
Then again, the former Royal and Padre might prefer to catch on somewhere else that would allow him more consistent playing time this season and beyond. While he’s gotten that so far with the Cubs, he had to have known the score when he signed shortly before Cubs Convention in January. Jed Hoyer certainly had a talk with him about the likelihood that Mervis was coming up, something the baseball boss addressed the topic recently.
“At some point, Matt’s going to impact the Cubs,” Hoyer admitted. “There’s no question. When that is, I don’t know. But we’re aware that certainly he can have an impact here.”
I had posited a little while back that letting Mervis get through April might make sense, and I still think that’s the case. Plate discipline numbers tend to stabilize around 100 plate appearances, a tally Mervis should reach this weekend, and we know the Cubs like to have players debut on the road to avoid the immediate pressure of Wrigley Field. There’s also the notion that Mervis is a DC-area native and the Cubs are playing the Nationals after their set in Miami.
But since making your MLB debut in your place of birth would present at least as pressure-packed a situation as Chicago, it makes sense for the Cubs to bring Mervis to Miami at some point this weekend. Not only is he familiar with the ballpark, but it also provides a soft landing for Hosmer as a South Florida native. When you put everything together, it starts to make way too much sense.
That said, I really thought all the signs pointed to the Cubs landing Xander Bogaerts before the Padres came in with that massive offer.
We’ll get a little more evidence one way or the other when Friday night’s lineup drops, which means I’ll be on pins and needles for every minute beyond four hours prior to gametime. For those who don’t typically clock lineup announcements, the four-hour mark is typically when the folks in Vegas give the green light after looking over what managers have submitted. A significant delay often indicates a roster move.
The I-Cubs don’t start until 7:08pm CT, nearly an hour and a half after the Cubs, so we may learn a little from that even if Mervis isn’t in Miami.
As for what the Cubs will/should do with the roster once they do finally decide to bring Mervis up, I think they’ll hold onto Hosmer for a little while. Either player would have to be DFA’d since Mervis isn’t on the 40-man roster, and the Cubs usually like to wait until absolutely necessary to make those moves. A lot of it is up to Hosmer, whose call-up on May 6, 2011 displaced Billy Butler at first base in KC.
Butler was only 25 at the time and still played in 159 games that season, then went on to play 474 games with the Royals through the 2014 season. All of which is to say that he remained an everyday player where the aging Hosmer isn’t going to get nearly that type of run. The Cubs will want to do right by him, though, so I could see anything from leaving him in Miami to decompress and move on or keeping him around with the assurance that they’ll do what they can to get him to his preferred destination.
I guess we can all laugh about this if Mervis is still in Des Moines on Sunday, but I can’t shake the feeling that something will happen soon.
Ed. note: I know a lot of you probably want to talk about Christopher Morel, who is slashing .345/.444/.810 with 10 homers and a 209 wRC+ that says he’s basically the best hitter in the minors. Why wouldn’t the Cubs just call him up? First, he doesn’t have an everyday spot with the big club unless someone gets hurt. The outfield is full and third base is occupied, so he won’t get regular plate appearances.
The other issue is that he’s still striking out at nearly a 30% clip, which is what the Cubs really need him to continue working on. Morel came out scorching hot last year and then cooled quickly when opponents got a book on him. In order to avoid more of the same, he really needs to close some of the holes in his swing. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting up ungodly good numbers, other times we need to apply more context.
Ed. note 2: In a very interesting development, the Cubs chose to DFA Torrens rather than optioning Ríos or Nelson Velázquez to clear room for Cody Bellinger‘s return from the paternity list. That means there’s currently an open spot on the 40-man roster for Mervis to slide into. Another possibility I’ve seen thrown out there is Riley Thompson, though it makes more sense to me for the Cubs to move on from Julian Merryweather to clear that spot.