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Cubs spring position battle: Second base

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It’s the only Cubs position up for grabs this spring. Let’s look at the candidates.

Jason Kipnis warms up at Cubs camp
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

While the Cubs might still not have an absolutely set batting order in 2020, most of the defensive positions are pretty well set.

Except second base. There are at least five candidates for the position, so let’s take a look at each of them and their chances of making the Opening Day roster.

Jason Kipnis

Kipnis, the former Indians second baseman who’s in camp on a minor-league deal, is best remembered by Cubs fans for his ninth-inning drive in World Series Game 7 off Aroldis Chapman that went foul — thankfully.

Since 2016, Kipnis has had a couple of seasons ruined by injury, including 2019, when he missed the last couple of weeks with a broken wrist.

Prior to that he had posted four seasons of at least 3.8 bWAR and made two All-Star teams. It’s pretty clear the Cubs are probably not getting that guy. Kipnis will turn 33 shortly after Opening Day and at this stage of his career is probably a platoon player. He is a career .269/.347/.442 hitter (.788 OPS) against RHP and had similar numbers vs. righties in 2019 (.244/.311/.446).

For Kipnis’ part, he seems ready for the challenge:

“Talking with Rizzo, talking with Theo, talking with Nap, I think I can bring a lot of things,” Kipnis said. “There’s that veteran side to me that’s been around that’s seen things and knows how to handle things. I’m not shying away from any competition. I’m not shying away from whoever’s across that line against us. I’m ready to strap it on and go against them.

“I think there’s a lot of guys in here who feel the same way. Sometimes you just need a little fire set under you. I’m hoping I can be that guy. There’s not too many tweaks that need to be made to this team. It’s still a really damn good team.”

Kipnis might make a good platoon partner for...

David Bote

Bote had a much better 2019 than you think he did. Sure, he struck out a lot (93 times in 356 PA) but he also posted a .362 OBP and .422 SLG. In his two-year career he has hit RHP (.765 OPS) and LHP (.756 OPS) just about equally well. Bote can also play third base on the occasions manager David Ross wants to use Kris Bryant in the outfield. (I can hear you howling now, but indeed, KB will probably play a few games in the outfield this year.)

Nico Hoerner

Hoerner, who had a sensational debut in September 2019 before fading a bit toward the end of the season, is the wild card here. If not for Kipnis’ presence in camp, I would think Hoerner would have a pretty good shot at the Opening Day roster. Despite holding his own against MLB pitching in a pennant race, Hoerner has otherwise played in just 89 minor-league games, none above the Double-A level. I believe he can play in the big leagues right now, but management might want him to get some experience in Triple-A.

Hernan Perez

Perez’ real value to the Cubs is that he can play multiple positions, particularly shortstop. He has, in fact, played all over the diamond, everywhere except catcher. (Yes, including a few pitching appearances, seven in all.)

It’s funny what a few key hits can make you think about a player. Perez had some of those against the Cubs in 2018, but his career numbers vs. the Cubs are pedestrian: .259/.290/.368 in 242 PA.

His value is as a good defender and he’s got a reputation as a good clubhouse guy. With roster being expanded to 26 this season, Perez has an excellent chance to be that player and back up several Cubs at various positions.

Daniel Descalso

I mean, I know the Cubs owe Descalso at least $3.5 million ($2.5 million for this year plus a $1 million buyout for 2021) and that counts against the luxury tax and every dollar is precious this year.

But I simply do not see what Descalso can do that Kipnis can’t, and Kipnis is simply the better player. Kipnis is owed $1 million (plus incentives) and it’s very likely he will provide production worth more than that plus whatever is owed Descalso.

The Cubs should simply release Descalso now. He’s got zero trade value and even if the Cubs could deal him for a prospect lottery ticket, they’d probably still have to pay the $3.5 million. Letting him go now would give him a chance to catch on with another team — there are some teams that could use a veteran mentor for younger players and he’d likely be a good fit there. (The Orioles, Tigers, Royals and Marlins come to mind.)

Other players in camp who can play second base include Robel Garcia and Zack Short on the 40-man roster, and non-roster invitees Carlos Asuaje, Trent Giambrone and Corban Joseph. All of those men are likely to wind up in the minor leagues this year.

Poll

The Cubs’ second baseman this year should be...

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    David Bote
    (108 votes)
  • 26%
    Jason Kipnis
    (280 votes)
  • 37%
    A Bote/Kipnis platoon
    (400 votes)
  • 24%
    Nico Hoerner
    (256 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone else (leave in comments)
    (13 votes)
1057 votes total Vote Now