Last night, the Cubs opted for the infielder Nico Hoerner, report ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers (Twitter link). That sets the stage for guests who are not on the list. Eric Sogard to make the season opener roster, they add Passan and Rogers. Sogard’s contract must be formally selected for the 40-man roster before Opening Day.
Passan and Rogers suggest the Cubs’ decision not to break camp with Hoerner is driven by a desire to gain another year of team control over the 23-year-old. Hoerner has 1,021 days of MLB service, so the Cubs would have to keep him in the minors for 36 days to prevent him from reaching two full years of service in 2021. Hoerner is currently controllable through 2025, so the demotion could keep him in Chicago until after the 2026 season.
If opting for Hoerner is really motivated by time-of-service concerns, it’s a bit of an odd decision. The Cubs are coming off a year in which they won the NL Central and are part of a four-team group with a plausible chance of reclaiming the division in 2021. Accepting a suboptimal second baseman situation for more than a month this season in order Maintaining Hoerner’s contractual rights by 2026 doesn’t seem like a worthwhile trade-off.
It can be argued that the Cubs are better off, strictly from an on-field perspective, by turning to a Sogard-David Bote platoon at the cornerstone over Hoerner. While Hoerner flew to the majors after being selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, he has yet to be productive there. In 208 MLB plate appearances, Stanford’s product has hit just .247 / .309 / .333. He didn’t hit a single home run in 126 plate appearances last year, slugging .259 without hitting.
Of course, Sogard is coming off a bad season of his own, having hit .209 / .281 / .278 with just one home run in 128 plate appearances with the Brewers. Sogard was pretty good in 2019, but he had never before come close to the .457 slugging percentage or 13 home runs he hit that year, so it didn’t seem like he could sustain that level of production. Both Hoerner and Sogard have hit well in spring training.