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New Year’s resolutions for the Cubs and MLB in 2022

Here are some ways the team and league can come back stronger next season.

Willson Contreras rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Brewers
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again. We make resolutions aimed at bettering our lives as we look out towards the New Year. I’m normally big on resolutions. I like setting goals and crushing them. Frankly, even when I don’t reach my goals I generally get some valuable information about my own priorities or processes that I didn’t have before. So with the spirit of goals and possibility in mind I thought I’d set some New Year’s Resolutions for the Cubs and MLB. After all, it sort of seems like they could use some guidance.

MLB should get a CBA done without missing any games

The number one priority for the league has to be hammering out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLBPA. They should do whatever it requires to make that happen without impacting the schedule because history has indicated that fans won’t have much sympathy for millionaires and billionaires squabbling when it impacts the season. Besides, the moment the schedule is impacted owners will begin losing revenue from Spring Training games. Those games are scheduled for February 26, less than two months away, so obviously talks are ongoing, right?

Oh. Nice to see 2022 is off to a roaring start.

MLB needs to resolve to standardize the baseball — and stop tinkering with it

As MLB locked out the players Bradford William Davis published a story at Business Insider highlighting the latest round of Dr. Meredith Wills’ research on the baseball and revealed that the league knowingly used two different baseballs in 2021. As I wrote last month the continued baseball shenanigans undermine trust between the league and the players that is already at remarkably low levels. While I don’t personally believe that MLB would manipulate which baseballs are used in various circumstances, some players clearly do believe that, which is a massive problem for the sport:

MLB literally owns Rawlings and ostensibly purchased the company to exert more control over the production of one of the most important pieces of equipment in the game. It’s past time for the league to exert that control and standardize the baseball. It’s the only fair thing for the players, teams and fans.

The Cubs need a real shortstop

The Cubs stunned everyone by closing a three-year deal with Marcus Stroman hours before the lockout. As I wrote at the time, Stroman was one of the best starting pitchers available in this year’s free agent class. You don’t sign a player like that to a short-term deal unless you think there is at least a shot you could contend in the division if there is a season in 2021.

That said, Stroman adds a lot of weak contact to a rotation that already specializes in weak contact. That type of rotation requires a top tier defense behind it and the Cubs have a glaring hole at shortstop at the moment. Yes, yes, I know, Nico Hoerner was a shortstop at Stanford and don’t get me wrong he filled in there admirably when the Cubs called him up from Double-A in 2019. But at this point we’ve seen 468⅓ innings of Nico at second and another 298⅓ innings that he’s played at short. By basically every metric he’s an above average defender at second and a below average defender at short. Pick your poison, it can be a old school metric like fielding percentage (.986 and .978 respectively) or a new one like DRS (10 and 0 respectively), they all say the same thing — the Cubs need a shortstop.

With El Mago heading to Detroit (honestly Tigers fans, you can’t even imagine the wizardry headed your way) and most of the highest profile shortstop candidates off the board the Cubs have very few options left to upgrade at short. It’s pretty much go big with Carlos Correa or angle for a stopgap solution like Andrelton Simmons for a couple of years until one of the many SS prospects in the minors is ready. You all can guess where I hope they land:

The Cubs should extend Willson Contreras

The only members of the Cubs 2016 championship core remaining on the team are Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras. Hendricks signed an extension with the team that guarantees he’s a Cub until 2023. There is a $16 million option for 2024 that will basically be a club option unless The Professor lands in the top three in Cy Young voting between now and then. Heyward’s deal was signed in 2015 and runs through the end of the 2023 season.

That leaves Contreras as the sole position player from the 2016 squad who the Cubs could still feasibly extend. Hoyer should do everything in his power to make that deal happen because catchers who are an offensive threat don’t exactly grow on trees in MLB. There were only five catchers with at least 400 plate appearances and a wRC+ over 100 in 2021: Buster Posey (who retired), Will Smith, Salvador Perez (more on him in a second), Tyler Stephenson, Willson Contreras and J.T. Realmuto. That’s it, that’s the list.

There is no banger class of catchers coming in the next few years of free agency because the Phillies and Royals extended Realmuto and Perez the way teams do when they know they have a scarce resource on their team. Whatever hopes the Cubs have for Miguel Amaya will have to wait at least a year while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Whatever you think of the Yan Gomes signing, it’s worth noting that he’s a worse catcher than Contreras offensively and defensively. Yes, that includes framing.

Besides, the architecture for this deal already exists in Perez’s extension with the Royals and it is eminently reasonable for Contreras. Perez signed a four-year $82 million contract with a a $13.5 million club option two months before his 31st birthday in March 2021. At the time many writers thought the contract slightly overvalued Perez — he proved them wrong almost immediately putting up a .273/.316/.544 slashline with 48 bombs across 665 plate appearances last season. Look, I don’t think Contreras has a 48 dinger season in the offing, but he has put up three seasons with a wRC+ over 120 and it seems likely to me that he’ll improve offensively with fewer innings behind the plate. Below is a comparison of Conteras and Salvy since 2016. First up, Contreras:

Contreras key stats since 2016

Year Age PA HR BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ HH% Max EV WAR
Year Age PA HR BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ HH% Max EV WAR
2016 24 283 12 9.2% 23.7% .206 .282 .357 .488 .363 126 33.9% 113.7 2.5
2017 25 428 21 10.5% 22.9% .223 .276 .356 .499 .362 122 35.8% 115.1 2.4
2018 26 544 10 9.7% 22.2% .141 .249 .339 .390 .321 101 33.3% 114.1 0.7
2019 27 409 24 9.3% 24.9% .261 .272 .355 .533 .368 126 41.5% 113.1 2.7
2020 28 225 7 8.9% 25.3% .164 .243 .356 .407 .336 108 47.0% 114.1 1.6
2021 29 483 21 10.8% 28.6% .201 .237 .340 .438 .337 109 48.4% 115.4 2.1
FanGraphs

And now, Perez:

Perez key stats since 2016

Year Age PA HR BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ HH% Max EV WAR
Year Age PA HR BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ HH% Max EV WAR
2016 26 546 22 4.0% 21.8% .191 .247 .288 .438 .308 89 37.3% 112.7 0.3
2017 27 499 27 3.4% 19.0% .227 .268 .297 .495 .329 102 38.5% 111.3 1.4
2018 28 544 27 3.1% 19.9% .204 .235 .274 .439 .304 88 47.4% 112.1 0.4
2019 29 0 0 0.0% 0.0% .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0.0% 0 0
2020 30 156 11 1.9% 23.1% .300 .333 .353 .633 .410 162 47.0% 110.4 1.9
2021 31 665 48 4.2% 25.6% .271 .273 .316 .544 .359 127 55.9% 114.4 3.4
FanGraphs

Salvy has more power than Willson while Willson walks more and has a significantly higher on base percentage. Interestingly, the above represents Willson’s whole career while it represents about half of Perez’s career. One would think that bodes well for Contreras who has logged fewer miles behind the plate which could impact how Willson ages as a player.

The bottom line is there is no real alternative to Contreras out there for the Cubs in the next couple of seasons. Someone is going to have to fill that place in the lineup and the odds are if it isn’t Willson it will be a worse hitter. 2021 Willson Contreras looks to be at least as good of a bet as 2020 Perez and the Cubs would be foolish to not extend the last remaining position player from 2016.