The swirling roster turnover of the 2021 Cubs can be shown in this number: 16. That’s the number of players I gave midseason grades who are no longer on the team, either by trade, release, demotion or injury.
That’s a lot. There were 69 different men who appeared in at least one game for the Cubs in 2021, setting a new record. Many of them won’t be back in 2022. This article and its companion about the pitchers will rate only players who were on the 28-man active roster at the end of the 2021 season or on the injured list, plus a few of the extra guys added in the last week (with a handful of exceptions for guys who were placed on the 60-day list quite some time ago and likely won’t be back next year).
There’s so much I wanted to say here that I decided to split this into two articles. Pitchers, tomorrow. Here goes with the hitters.
Willson Contreras: B
I dunno, the numbers are decent enough, though he did miss some time with injuries. That appears to becoming traditional for Willson — he has had 500+ PA just once his career (2018). bWAR says he had a good year — 4.1, best of any Cubs player. He hit for power (.438 SLG, 21 HR). There just seems to be something... missing. I can’t quite put my finger on it. He made a suggestion around midseason that he wanted to be a team leader. Okay, step up and do that, Willson.
One thing is for sure. The Cubs either need to sign him to an extension or trade him before Opening Day. They cannot go through another year with a veteran player like this in limbo.
Willson hit the longest Cubs home run of 2021, a 464-foot blast off Luis Castillo of the Reds July 29 [VIDEO].
Frank Schwindel: A
This story might not continue past the end of 2021, but it’s sure been fun to watch. Schwindel turns 30 next June and he has never been quite this good anywhere, at any level. It’s more likely he's the next “Hurricane” Hazle than a budding star. Despite a bit of a fade late, he was still named NL Rookie of the Month for September.
But you have to give the guy credit. He got an opportunity to play and made the absolute most out of it, and had great facial expressions:
He hit .342/.389/.613 as a Cub, with 19 doubles, a triple and 13 home runs in 56 games. He tied Kris Bryant (and Matt Duffy) for the longest Cub hitting streak of the season. Funny thing, with all the home runs, the play I think I’ll remember most is him sliding head-first into first base for a walkoff win against the Pirates [VIDEO].
Lastly, here’s an off-the-field story I was told about Frank the Tank. He did an autograph signing at a local card shop last month. They had a large turnout, and the staff said he was the best guest they’d ever had at a signing, and they’ve had over 100 similar events. He even stayed to have lunch with the staff after the signing.
Can’t help but love the guy.
David Bote: D
I know a lot of you truly dislike Bote and would grade him F, or Z if letter grades went lower than “F”.
Please remember that Bote had two serious injuries this year that kept him out of 58 games — first, a separated shoulder in May, then a bizarre ankle injury that happened when he stepped awkwardly on a ball during batting practice on the South Side:
He stepped on a baseball pic.twitter.com/ZwEV3huLQL— Ⓜ️arcusD ▶️ (@_MarcusD3_) August 28, 2021
You couldn’t do that if you tried. Then he was injured again last Thursday in Pittsburgh and his season ended.
More on Bote in this article I wrote about him here last week.
Sergio Alcántara: D+
I mean... I want to like this guy. He does draw walks (.303 OBP with a .205 BA is pretty good). He’s also got a bit of power but not that much (.327 SLG), some range but not that much, a decent arm but... not that much. He also strikes out a lot (74 times in 255 PA).
He’s a decent utility infielder on a bad team. If the Cubs have designs of being a good team in 2022 — and they should — they should get someone better.
Patrick Wisdom: C+
Everyone wants to like Wisdom, whose prodigious home runs set a Cubs rookie record, breaking the mark set by Kris Bryant in 2015.
The thing is... Wisdom is 30. And while we’d all like for him to be Max Muncy or Justin Turner or Ryan Ludwick or someone else who suddenly “finds it” at 30 and puts together three or four good seasons, it’s simply not going to happen unless he cuts down on the strikeouts. 153 Ks in 375 PA isn’t going to cut it going forward.
Wisdom does play plus defense at third base and can handle right or left field, after a fashion. As of now he’s probably the Cubs’ third baseman in 2022. Help him figure out how to strike out less and you probably have a 4 bWAR player (2.3 in 2021), which would be perfectly fine for a starting player.
Wisdom finishes 2021 with 28 home runs in 338 at-bats. Here are all the other players in MLB history who have hit at least 28 home runs in that many AB or fewer, including two others this year:
Matt Duffy: B-
I know a lot of you like him, and he hit well after September 1 (.347/.396/.541, four home runs in 98 at-bats), finishing with a career-high 13-game hitting streak.
And yet... he’s not really that good defensively, isn’t really very fast (despite eight SB in nine attempts) and just doesn’t really inspire confidence in his play. Plus, he never seems to be healthy. He's played more than 100 games twice in a six-year career.
I suppose if he’s cheap to keep around, keep him. Otherwise there are lots of guys like this who will be available this winter.
Nico Hoerner: Incomplete
I’m just hoping that Nico’s injuries don’t ruin his MLB time even before it starts. He’s very likely going to be the Cubs’ starting shortstop in 2022. Mostly, I’m just hoping for health for him.
I took this video of Nico in July when he was coming back from his first injury.
This FanPost by BCBer Angel Hurt written last week about Nico is well-done and worth your time if you haven’t read it yet.
Ian Happ: B
That might have been a D- or even F before he suddenly remembered how to hit in mid-August. From August 13 to the end of the season Happ hit .323/.400/.665 (51-for-158) with 14 home runs. Those are numbers very similar to what he had posted in 2020 before he hit himself in the face with a foul ball in Pittsburgh in September (.311/.421/.648 in 146 PA). Perhaps he had an undiagnosed concussion and it took that long for him to get back to 100 percent.
That second-half surge allowed him to set a career high in home runs (25).
He’s very likely going to be the Cubs’ starting left fielder in 2022.
Rafael Ortega: C+
Another guy you really want to like... until you look at his numbers and play. He’s really not a good center fielder (negative defensive bWAR) and he’s made a couple of key drops over the last 10 games of the season. Despite a few stolen bases (12), the CS (six) show he’s not much of a base stealer.
And he cannot hit lefthanders — at all: .128/.293/.128 (6-for-47) with 11 walks. Now, that makes his numbers vs. RHP look pretty good: .321/.374/.526 (80-for-249) with 11 home runs. If you could find a RH-hitting platoon partner who could hit LHP that way, maybe you have a decent platoon. You’d have to take Ortega out for defense in the late innings, though. As noted above, he’s really not that good a defensive center fielder.
This walkoff homer sure was fun [VIDEO].
So was this one, a grand slam in spring training [VIDEO].
Jason Heyward: D-
Everything I have to say about J-Hey, I covered in my article about him last week.
Austin Romine: D-
In an otherwise forgettable season, Romine’s brother Andrew pitched an inning with Austin catching in a blowout August 12 vs. the Brewers [VIDEO].
Trayce Thompson: C+
Another guy you’d like to see make it, and another guy who, when you look, you say, “Oh, he’s 30, never mind.” On the other hand, he’s got enough power and plays defense well enough that “fifth outfielder in 2022” is a possibility. Maybe he’s the platoon partner for Ortega.
His slash line is bizarre due to the homers and walks: .250/.400/.714 (7-for-28, four HR, seven walks).
Greg Deichmann: D-
I am sure he’s a nice guy and has worked hard in his baseball career. But I have seen absolutely nothing in his performance with the Cubs that makes me think he’s a MLB player.
Alfonso Rivas: B
On the other hand, Rivas has been better than advertised. I had thought he was only a first baseman, but he can play passably well in the outfield, maybe enough to be a fifth outfielder. He hit .318/.388/.409 (14-for-44) with a home run, decent numbers in a very small sample size. He’s 25 and definitely warrants another look.
Robinson Chirinos: B
Hit well enough for a backup catcher (.227/.324/.454, five HR in 97 AB) and, after a rough start, actually threw out a few baserunners, his first CS since 2019. Even though he’ll be 38 in 2022, I wouldn’t mind seeing him return to back up Willson Contreras. He won’t be expensive.
Michael Hermosillo: Incomplete
Hermosillo is yet another player who might be in the mix for 2022 who had his season ended by an injury. He, too, had a weird slash line, .194/.237/.500, due to hitting two doubles and three home runs in just 37 at-bats.
You’d love to see him make it as he grew up a Cubs fan in Ottawa, Illinois.
Trent Giambrone: Incomplete
Good for Giambrone to get a cuppa coffee in the big leagues and to get a hit on the first MLB pitch he saw. It’s not impossible that he could be a useful backup infielder going forward
Erick Castillo: Incomplete
His handful of games at the end of the season is likely a thank-you for being a good organizational guy.
Johneshwy Fargas: Incomplete
Has some talent, but the Cubs have better guys who could fill his role, which is fifth outfielder. I suppose he’ll get an invite to spring training.
Tyler Ladendorf: Incomplete
He’ll always be the guy who got the Cubs to tie the MLB record for most players used in a season.
Tyler Payne: Incomplete
He’ll always be the guy who got the Cubs to break the MLB record for most players used in a season.
The Cubs used nine different catchers in 2021, a franchise record. They are, along with the number of games started behind the plate: Willson Contreras (112), Robinson Chirinos (21), Austin Romine (14), Tony Wolters (5), P.J. Higgins (5, Cubs won all five), Jose Lobaton (3), Erick Castillo (2), Taylor Gushue (no starts, caught one game) and Tyler Payne (no starts, caught one game).
The eight backups hit .183/.245/.271 in 192 PA with five home runs and 65 strikeouts.
Apart from Robinson Chirinos, who hit all five HR among the backup catchers, the other seven backup catchers hit .143/.224/.202 (19-for-133) with 52 strikeouts.
As I mentioned above, I wouldn’t mind having Chirinos back in 2022 as Contreras’ backup. As for the rest, in a couple of years if you hear one of those names, you’ll likely say, “THAT guy played for the Cubs?”
And yes, those seven backup catchers, bad as they were as hitters, hit better than Cubs pitchers, who hit .112/.138/.125 this year (26-for-232) with three extra-base hits (all doubles) and 117 strikeouts.
Bring on the universal DH!
Tomorrow: The pitchers.