clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Cubs midseason grades

Some things were good for the Cubs before the All-Star break. And some... were not. (If that sounds familiar, I wrote the same words in last year’s midseason grades article.)

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Cubs stand seven games out of first place in the N.L. Central at the All-Star break. This still shapes up as a weak division that could be taken with fewer than 90 wins.

One thing the Cubs have is a lot of games remaining against the teams ahead of them in the division. The Cubs have 73 games left to play. Of those, 14 will be against the Brewers (six games) and Reds (eight games). The last three games of the season will be against the Brewers in Milwaukee — those could wind up very significant. The Cubs also have seven games left vs. the Pirates, who they are 6-0 against so far this year.

A reminder that the 2022 Cubs reached the All-Star break at 35-57. This year’s club is significantly better than that, record-wise, right now. Last year’s team went 39-31 after the break, a .557 winning percentage. If this year’s team can play to that percentage in the 73 remaining games, they’ll go 41-32. That would result in an 83-79 final record. They’ll likely have to do a bit better than that to win the N.L. Central. It’s not impossible.

Now, on to the grades for this year’s Cubs at the All-Star break. It’s notable, incidentally, that of the 48 players listed in last year’s midseason grades article, 27 are no longer in the Cubs organization.

Position players

Yan Gomes: B

Gomes is having a solid season, worth 1.0 bWAR so far, and with a significant increase in power — .415 SLG compared to .365 for all of 2022.

I probably shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to make the comparison anyway:

Gomes: .262/.303/.416, eight HR, 1.0 bWAR
Willson Contreras: .240/.334/.419, 10 HR, 1.5 bWAR

Contreras has played in 23 more games than Gomes and WAR is a counting stat. They’ve been pretty much equal.

Trey Mancini: D+

This was a bad signing, period. The Cubs signed way too many first basemen and still haven’t found one who is competent all the time. Mancini’s .661 OPS is the worst of his career and he’s hit just four home runs in 205 at-bats (had 18 in 519 at-bats last year).

Then there’s the mediocre defense, epitomized by his misplay in London which cost the Cubs three runs and perhaps the game.

And... they’re stuck paying him $7 million next year, too. Look, I’m sure Mancini is a good person and a good teammate and the story of his cancer recovery is inspirational.

But this was just a bad signing.

Nico Hoerner: C+

Nico got off to a fine start this year, but of late he’s just been bad. He’s batting .125/.186/.150 (5-for-40) this month with just one extra-base hit.

Perhaps the All-Star break will give him exactly what he appears to need, a time to reset and start the second half strong.

Dansby Swanson: B+

Yes, I expected him to have an OPS better than .753 at the All-Star break — he was coming to a park expected to be more friendly to his hitting style.

But otherwise I have no complaints. His defense is outstanding, as advertised, 1.4 defensive bWAR and he’s one of the best defensive players at any position in MLB. He’s likely going to win another Gold Glove this year. He is clearly a team leader and the Cubs got the best of the four “big” shortstop free agents last offseason, and at a lower price.

Hopefully his minor heel injury won’t keep him out too long after the break.

Patrick Wisdom: C-

Maybe this grade is higher than you would give, but I note that Wisdom has reached the break with a .451 SLG and his 14 home runs still rank second on the team. He’s been battling a wrist injury which might have taken away some of his power.

I still think the Cubs would be better just to put him at third base and leave him there for a while. Defensive metrics say he’s not good there, but the eye test says he’s at least competent.

If he could just hit even .220 or .230 he’d be a very good player.

Ian Happ: B

Happ seems to have a hot streak every year, and it doesn’t feel as if he’s had that yet. His .386 SLG is the lowest of his career to date. And he’s in a horrible slump over his last 12 games: .119/.289/.119 (5-for-42) with 14 strikeouts.

Those two great throws he made in Milwaukee, though — worth looking at again.

First, in the 10th inning last Tuesday [VIDEO].

Then, one inning later... [VIDEO].

Happ already has seven outfield assists, just one fewer than he had all of last year. If he keeps this up he’ll win another Gold Glove.

Cody Bellinger: A-

Again, a free agent who’s been as advertised. You can see why he’s previously won a Gold Glove, he makes everything look completely effortless in center field. He appears to be a streaky hitter, though. After an 0-for-11 start, he got really hot, then cooled off just before the knee injury suffered in Houston made him miss a month.

When he returned, he didn’t hit for a while, but then put together a 13-game hitting streak and homered in consecutive games.

The Cubs could use him either in center or at first base, where good defense is also important. I would love to see them find a way to keep him around.

Seiya Suzuki: C-

I am just really disappointed. Yes, Suzuki suffered an oblique injury in Spring Training and missed the first 11 games of the season. He then went 10-for-27 over his first seven games... and then just stopped hitting. Next 17 games: 12-for-60 as his OPS dropped from 1.003 to .682. Then, hot again! Next 18 games: .349/.447/.683 with five home runs.

That was through the end of May. It seemed like Suzuki was starting to fulfill the promise he had when the Cubs signed him.

Nope. Last 29 games: .211/.282/.294, with 31 strikeouts. He did, at last, homer on Sunday, breaking a drought of 150 plate appearances since his previous HR. After Sunday’s game:

“First half I feel like I was too worried about my swing, and ... all my thoughts were being displayed out there,” Suzuki said through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “But this past week, I kind of changed it up and I just wanted to have a competitive at-bat, and the results followed. So I want to make sure I have the same mindset going into the second half.”

Hopefully, that results in a good second half. I will say that more than almost any other Cub, Suzuki seems to get jobbed by umpires on third-strike calls.

Nick Madrigal: B

Every single person here knows I’ve been down on Madrigal. Yes, injured last year, but even when healthy didn’t hit much. And then didn’t hit much starting this year, though he seemed more competent at third base than I expected.

And then, finally, he started to hit like he did with the White Sox. Over his last 16 games: .367/.436/.531 (18-for-49). He even hit a home run, his first as a Cub.

That was fun, so let’s watch it! [VIDEO].

Christopher Morel: B+

He is just so much fun to watch, playing with enthusiasm and smiles every single day.

It’s too bad he’s not better at playing third base, because that would solve the Cubs’ problem at that position. JD said on Saturday’s broadcast that Morel’s best position is probably second base, and I’d agree, but the Cubs already have a good 2B.

15 home runs in 49 games, though... that’s damn impressive. THROUGH FRIDAY

Here’s a 423-foot rocket he hit against the Orioles [VIDEO].

Miguel Amaya: B

I could give Miguel an “incomplete,” because he plays so rarely, but his performance when he does play is impeccable. He calls good games, he hits well, and you can look above for the two plays he made in Milwaukee on Ian Happ’s throws, perfectly positioned.

It’s clear that Amaya is the Cubs’ catching future. I’d like to see him get more playing time.

Mike Tauchman: B-

Tauchman would probably have toiled the entire season at Iowa if not for the injury to Bellinger. He got called up to replace Bellinger in the lineup, played a competent center field and hit well enough to stick around as a fourth outfielder/DH after Bellinger’s return.

Last Wednesday in Milwaukee, Tauchman’s double tied the game, then he scored the winning run by hustling home when a throw got away.

The look on his face after the double shows the sheer joy that can be felt playing this game. [VIDEO].

Tucker Barnhart: D+

In some ways that grade isn’t fair. Barnhart was signed to be a backup catcher, and he hasn’t been terrible doing that, especially calling games, where the pitchers seem to like him.

But his hitting has been mostly abysmal, although an 8-for-30 run over his last seven games, including a double and a home run, has brought his OPS number from disastrous (.429) to bad (.518). If he could somehow get his OPS to around .600 he’d be perfectly fine.

As is the case with Mancini, the Cubs are stuck with Barnhart for 2024, as he has a $3.25 million player option that he will almost certainly exercise.

Jared Young: Incomplete

There’s the incomplete, for a guy who had been hitting baseballs hard at Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs decided to give him a shot, he homered in his first game after his recall, went 4-for-9 in his first three games and then... well, 2-for-21 since. I didn’t understand why he didn’t play against the Yankees the first two games. Gotta give the guy a chance, right?

The Cubs have a first base problem. It doesn’t seem like Young is the solution, but why not give him an extended look?

Matt Mervis: Incomplete

Same thing with Mervis, though he was a much more ballyhooed prospect and fans were buying his jersey before he even played a MLB game, which I thought was a bit much.

Mervis could have taken control of the 1B position, but after hitting a reasonable .235/.291/.373 (12-for-51) over his first 14 games with two home runs, he just stopped hitting, going just 3-for-39 over the next 13 games, with 14 strikeouts.

It might be time for the team to give him another shot at first base after the All-Star break. In 15 games since he returned to Iowa THROUGH FRIDAY, Mervis is batting .260/.403/.540 (13-for-50) with three home runs and 10 walks.

Miles Mastrobuoni: D-

The Cubs seem to be keeping him around because they’re afraid if they let him go he’ll do what Zach McKinstry did in Detroit, that is, hit pretty well for a while. In fact, the Cubs would have been better off letting Mastrobuoni go at the end of Spring Training and keeping McKinstry.

Miles will likely head back to Iowa when Swanson is activated from the IL.

Edwin Rios: F

This was a complete waste of a signing, made likely because Rios bats lefthanded. Or, more correctly, stands in the lefthanded batter’s box with a bat. He is 2-for-28 with 16 strikeouts in the major leagues this year. That’s just awful.

There’s clearly a reason the Dodgers let him go. Right now, Rios is simply taking up a 40-man roster spot that could go to someone more useful.

Eric Hosmer, Luis Torrens and Nelson Velázquez also played at least one game for the Cubs as position players in the first half.


Marcus Stroman: A-

I waffled between A- and B+ for Stroman, because he’s got an ERA of 7.71 (!) over his last three starts.

But in the end, Stroman has done everything asked of him, he’s still having the best year of his career, and even though he opted out of pitching in the All-Star Game (for the right reasons, IMO), he’s still got that All-Star nod on his resume, his second.

Will he be a Cub after August 1? Will he be a Cub in 2024? TBD.

Justin Steele: A-

The minus here is only because he had to miss a couple of starts with forearm tightness, which worried many because that can be a precursor to Tommy John surgery. Fortunately, it wasn’t a big deal and Steele has a 2.31 ERA since he came back from the IL, with just three walks in 23⅓ innings.

Steele turns 28 tomorrow. I don’t see any reason why the Cubs shouldn’t sign him to the same three-year extension they gave to Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner. Get it done, Jed.

Drew Smyly: C

If this grade had been given in mid-May it’d have been another A-, but Smyly has just been dreadful since then. Last nine starts: 6.39 ERA, 1.832 WHIP, 10 (!) home runs allowed in 42⅔ innings.

He did have one shining moment this year, taking a perfect game into the eighth inning, when it was broken up by this collision [VIDEO].

The look on Smyly’s face speaks volumes.

Smyly still has talent. His curveball can be unhittable at times. As I said in Saturday’s game recap, what I’d do if I were David Ross is have Smyly be the fifth starter after the break. That would give him 10 days off and perhaps a reset.

Kyle Hendricks: A-

I get to say it now: Told you so.

Kyle isn’t “The Professor” for nothing. He had a rehab plan, and it worked to perfection. He’s been just great since returning, except for his first start. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in San Francisco — here are some of the highlights [VIDEO].

The two homers Hendricks allowed Sunday pushed his ERA over three, just barely, to 3.01. He’s still having a very good year.

Jameson Taillon: D

This would have been an “F” grade except for the magnificent start he made Friday at Yankee Stadium. I think everyone here knew Taillon had that sort of talent and ability. He seems a thoughtful guy who really felt badly about his failures and wanted to do everything possible to fix them. He was quoted in The Athletic after Friday’s game:

“I feel like for a while there I’ve just been trying to put my head down, grind and put up results for that reason,” Taillon said. “I don’t know if Cubs fans truly know what I’m about yet when I’m good and when I’m right. But I’ve been putting in the work and it’s nice to see it come to fruition. Hopefully we can keep knocking it out.”

Here’s hoping for a great second half, Jameson.

This is an impressive stat from the Cubs pitching staff:

Adbert Alzolay: A

How many times? I mean, really, HOW MANY TIMES did I say the Cubs should make Alzolay their closer? He’s got the stuff — he’s touched 98 a few times since he was given the role — and seems to have the right mentality to close.

Since being officially made closer: nine games, 2.61 ERA, 1.065 WHIP, 1.54 FIP, 15 strikeouts in 10⅓ innings. Yes, he has one blown save, but other times he makes it look easy. Once he really settles into the role, I think he’ll be one of the better closers in the league.

Michael Fulmer: C-

Started the year as the more-or-less-but-not-official closer, had a couple of spectacularly bad games against the Dodgers, then was pushed back to middle relief. Over his last 30 appearances Fulmer has a 3.23 ERA and 1.076 WHIP, perfectly reasonable numbers for a middle relief/setup guy. Still a few too many walks, and that home run to Victor Caratini Thursday was a crusher. But Fulmer seems the guy they signed.

Julian Merryweather: B

Had a horrific first outing, but since then has posted a 2.19 ERA and 1.301 WHIP in 36 games THROUGH SATURDAY, and struck out 51 in 37 innings while allowing only two home runs. I was down on Merryweather after that bad debut, but must admit he’s been very good since. He throws 98+, which is what enticed Jed & Co. to sign him. He still walks a few too many, but in general has done his job.

Mark Leiter Jr.: B-

Leiter was very good through May 30 — 1.61 ERA, 0.806 WHIP, just one home run allowed in 22⅓ innings.

Since then... not so much. He’s made 13 appearances in that span and has a 6.08 ERA, and just doesn’t seem as sharp. It can’t be overwork, 13 appearances over 32 team games isn’t that much.

Might be another guy who could really use the All-Star break.

Javier Assad: C

Assad’s season ERA of 4.17 is skewed by two really bad outings to start this season, after which he had a 12.46 ERA. Since then: 3.06 ERA, 1.392 WHIP in 11 games. He seems quite suited to the “eat innings” role he’s served on a number of occasions, and has allowed just one run over 11 innings in his last four outings.

There’s definitely talent here, it’s just a matter of finding the right role for him.

Anthony Kay: C

He hasn’t really pitched enough for me to form a real opinion. I wasn’t going to give a grade at all, but that three-run double he gave up in Milwaukee last week on the first pitch to a guy who hadn’t been in the major leagues in two years... yikes.

Seems like a fungible lefty, the Cubs can probably find another guy like this somewhere on the waiver wire, or in their system.

Michael Rucker: C-

Rucker had been going along well after a bad start, with a 1.35 ERA and 0.975 WHIP over 10 appearances between May 28 and July 5. Then he gave up that home run to Giancarlo Stanton on Saturday that put the game out of reach. Another fungible guy, the Cubs likely have someone better in their system going forward, like...

Daniel Palencia: Incomplete

Palencia looks really good, but it’s been only two games THROUGH SATURDAY, so it’s not really possible to form a judgment. He was helped out in his MLB debut by great defense from Ian Happ, and threw another scoreless inning in his second game.

He throws 100+. The Cubs don’t have anyone else quite like him. If he can harness that speed and command it and develop control... well then, there’s a possible future closer.

Hayden Wesneski: C

Wesneski burst on the Cubs scene after being acquired from the Yankees last summer for Scott Effross with several really good September outings. That plus a good spring got him the fifth rotation spot out of Spring Training.

Of his first seven starts, only one was really bad (pounded by the Mariners at Wrigley in April).

Then he got hit hard by the Twins in early May and was demoted to the bullpen. He threw reasonably well in relief, with only one bad outing out of seven (including two spot starts), but has now been sent back to Triple-A Iowa to stretch out to start again. He threw three shutout innings there Friday, throwing 60 pitches, with six strikeouts.

He’ll be back.

Brad Boxberger, Nick Burdi, Jeremiah Estrada, Brandon Hughes, Caleb Kilian and Keegan Thompson also pitched in at least one game for the Cubs in the first half.


Give the 2023 Cubs a midseason grade.

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    (13 votes)
  • 5%
    (70 votes)
  • 13%
    (184 votes)
  • 24%
    (339 votes)
  • 24%
    (337 votes)
  • 24%
    (330 votes)
  • 5%
    (70 votes)
  • 0%
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    (6 votes)
1370 votes total Vote Now