CHICAGO — The Cubs might have their first baseman of the future already in hand in slugging prospect Matt Mervis, but that hasn’t prevented the club from addressing the clear need for reinforcements at that position for the upcoming campaign.
On Friday morning, the Cubs announced the signing of free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer, who brings experience to the field and depth to the roster as Chicago attempts to pull out of its recent rebuilding phase. In order to add Hosmer to the 40-man roster, righty Mark Leiter Jr. was designated for assignment.
Hosmer is a no-risk addition for the Cubs, given the veteran’s contract situation. The Padres are required to pay out the remainder of the eight-year, $144 million deal he signed with the club prior to the 2018 campaign. There are still three years and $39 million left in that contract for San Diego, which means Chicago only needs to pay Hosmer a league-minimum salary ($720,000) on the one-year deal.
In Hosmer, the Cubs add a World Series champion (2015), All-Star (’16) and a four-time Gold Glove Award winner (2013-15, ’17). The 33-year-old also adds another high-contact bat, as Chicago continues to move beyond its extreme swing-and-miss rates of recent years. Hosmer is prone to ground balls as a hitter, but he has still shown the ability to turn things on offensively for stretches.
Last year, he was one of baseball’s hottest hitters out of the chute, batting .377 with a .994 OPS through May 13. He then hit .222 with a .596 OPS in 73 games the rest of the way. Overall in ’22, Hosmer had a .268/.334/.382 slash line (.716 OPS) with eight homers, 19 doubles, 44 RBIs and a 108 OPS+ (eight percent above average).
The Cubs produced a .223/.288/.339 slash line (.627 OPS) with a 69 OPS+ out of players used as first basemen last season.
The Cubs had their eye on free agent José Abreu going into this offseason, but he signed a three-year deal with the Astros. With the Frank Schwindel experiment not working out, Chicago wound up with what manager David Ross described as “a big hole” at first base as a group of players cycled through the spot down the stretch in 2022.
The North Siders do have Mervis (No. 21 on Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs prospect list) coming soon, but the goal would be not to rush his arrival to the Majors. Last year, the 24-year-old Mervis hit .309 with 36 homers, 119 RBIs and a .984 OPS across the High-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels. He then added six more homers with a .914 OPS with Mesa in the Arizona Fall League.
Mervis is expected to get a shot to crack the Cubs’ Opening Day roster this spring, but Hosmer helps add a layer of depth and insurance, at least at the start of the season. The Cubs also have Patrick Wisdom, who is an option at both infield corners, but who could also potentially fill a platoon role with Hosmer at first. Last year, Wisdom had a .557 slugging percentage against lefties.