Nico Hoerner, finally healthy, is having the best year of his brief MLB career. In 101 games and 387 plate appearances, he is batting .304/.351/.429 with 18 doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 12 stolen bases. He’s also solidified a claim as the Cubs’ starting shortstop, playing solid defense at the position. Recently, manager David Ross had high praise for Hoerner:
“The more you get to know Nico, he’s just a baseball player who thrives on success and winning and work ethic,” Ross said. “He wants that moment probably more than anybody I’ve ever been around, to be honest with you. I’m not trying to compare him to — one of my teammates just went in the Hall of Fame — but he craves those moments. He is a winner. He’s a winning-type player. When you’re around him, he just exudes that. Everybody in our dugout is like, ‘I wouldn’t pitch to Nico right now.’ You get that feeling he’s going to come up with a big knock.”
That’s all good, but the headline to this article suggests something that some might not think is necessary while Hoerner still has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining. So why am I taking this position? Here’s why:
The Braves have signed OF Michael Harris to an eight-year, $72 million contract that runs through the 2030 season. The deal also includes a $15 million club option for 2031 and a $20 million club option for 2032.— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) August 17, 2022
Harris becomes the latest Braves player locked up long-term.
The official Michael Harris contract:— Braves Moves and Rumors (@Braves_Rumors) August 17, 2022
8/$72M with a max value of 10/$107M
31: $15M option/$5M buy out
32: $20M option/$5M buy out
Michael Harris is batting .288/.327/.498 with 12 home runs and is making a strong case for National League Rookie of the Year.
He has played 72 MLB games. He’s not the only player the Braves have locked up long-term:
Braves players locked up long-term.— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) August 17, 2022
Ronald Acuña Jr. - 2026 (+ 2027-28 club options)
Ozzie Albies - 2025 (+ 2026-27 club options)
Matt Olson - 2029 (+ 2030 club option)
Austin Riley - 2032 (+ 2033 club option)
Michael Harris - 2030 (+ 2031-32 club options)
The Braves, obviously, are in quite a different position than the Cubs are. They’re the defending World Series champions and, standing just 4½ games out of first place as of Thursday morning, are a strong candidate to make a deep playoff run again in 2022.
But the Braves didn’t start this signing spree just now. They started it with the signing of Ozzie Albies in 2019, when they were just two years removed from a 90-loss season in 2017. True, they had won the NL East in 2018 and would do so again in 2019, but they clearly saw the value in beginning to lock up young players long-term at below-market rates. Albies was criticized by some at the time for taking the deal, a seven-year, $35 million contract, because it was thought he could make more money by waiting. That might very well have been true, but clearly Albies thought the security of a seven-year contract was worth it.
The Cubs, clearly, don’t have a list of young stars like this. But they do have Hoerner, and there have been some reports that they plan to spend in free agency before the 2023 season begins.
So why not make Hoerner an offer that would buy out his arb years and the first couple of years of free agency? Hoerner turned 25 in May, so doing (for example) a six-year deal would buy out his age 26-31 seasons, which are likely to be his most productive years.
I would suggest a contract along the lines of the one the Braves gave to Michael Harris. Hoerner is arb-eligible for the first time in 2023 and is making $720,000 this year, per this Cot’s Contracts spreadsheet. His good performance this year — 4.1 bWAR, 3.6 fWAR — would suggest he’s in line for about $4 million in 2023.
So, how about something like this:
2023: $4 million
2024: $6 million
2025: $8 million
2026: $12 million
2027: $14 million
2028: $16 million
2029: $20 million team option, $4 million buyout
2030: $20 million team option, $4 million buyout
That’s a six-year, $68 million deal (including the buyouts), or an eight-year, $108 million deal if the options are exercised. For a talent like Hoerner, this would likely be much cheaper than having him go through arbitration for the next three years and then try to retain him in free agency after that. He’d hit free agency at 29, if not signed long-term, still young enough to be productive after that.
Is there risk for the Cubs in making such an offer? Sure, of course. Hoerner could be injured, or unproductive, or both. But this season for Nico suggests that after several years’ worth of injuries, he’s finally figured out how to be healthy and productive. His injury this year — colliding with an umpire — was a freak accident, and his performance improved after that.
Hopefully, the Cubs’ farm system will begin to produce other players who could be locked up like this and become that “Next Great Cubs Team” Jed Hoyer keeps talking about. Look at what the Braves have done overall:
After the Harris deal, the Braves now have 7 core position players locked up until AT LEAST 2028.— Alexis (@bravesfanhere) August 17, 2022
AVG age: 24.5, Avg. AAV: ~10.8m. Build the AA statue.
RF Ronald Acuna
CF Michael Harris
3B Austin Riley
SS Vaughn Grissom
2B Ozzie Albies
1B Matt Olson
C William Contreras
That’s the five players signed to long-term deals noted above, plus William Contreras and Vaughn Grissom, who are under team control for a few years going forward and might also get long-term deals from Atlanta at some point.
It’s not just the Braves who have done this sort of thing. They did it in Cleveland as long ago as the 1990s, when then-GM John Hart locked up young players like Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton and Charles Nagy, then did it again in 2014 with Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and future Cub Yan Gomes. Both of those groups of core players helped bring World Series appearances for Cleveland.
If the Cubs are serious about contending for a long time, they should sign Nico Hoerner — right now or right after the season ends — and begin the process of building that new core.
This poll is closed
... the Cubs should sign him to a long-term deal like the one noted in the article
... the Cubs should sign him to a long-term deal, but something different than the one noted in the article
... the Cubs should not sign him to a long-term deal at this time
Something else (leave in comments)