Hey, the Cubs made a move! Welcome former Arizona Diamondback Daniel Descalso to the North Side, folks. Is the deal earth-shattering? No. Does it affect the Cubs outlook in the NL Central? A little. Is it a good deal? There are pros and cons.
One pro is that Descalso is a super-utility player who can handle almost every position. Over the last two seasons with Arizona, Descalso saw time at shortstop, second base, third base, left field, and first base. But he mostly played second and third and, if I were to bet, that’s where he’ll likely end up playing most of his time as a Cub.
Another pro is that Descalso is coming off his most impressive offensive season. While he hasn’t been known for offense over his career, he did finish 2018 with a .341 wOBA, 15.1 percent walk rate, 13 homers, and a .238 batting average in 423 plate appearances. I’ll take those numbers from my utility hitter.
Finally, and most important, Descalso’s contract is so inexpensive. The Cubs only guaranteed him $5 million over two years ($2.5M AAV), which is less than either Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler. There’s also a $3.5 million club option ($1 million buyout) and another $750,000 in incentives that could push the deal to $8.25 total, which would also mean the 32-year-old has performed well.
But there are some inherent risks to signing Descalso. His encouraging offensive numbers last season did come in hitter-friendly Chase Field. And before he played for the D-backs from 2017-18, the lefty hitter benefited from the thin air of Coors Field. So whether Descalso can continue to provide run value outside of hitter paradises remains to be seen.
Don’t expect lights-out defense from Descalso, either. According to UZR/150, the new Cub is below-average at basically every position plays (1B: -6.1; 2B: -5.3; 3B: -5.6; SS: -16.4; LF: -9.1). And his defense runs saved (DRS) basically matches his UZR.
Another con is that Descalso is now 32 years old, which, while not exactly ancient, is usually the time many hitters begin to bow out of their glory years. Perhaps the adjustments he made that led to a career offensive year continue to yield solid results in Chicago. But if they don’t, I’m not sure how thrilled fans are going to be seeing Descalso take away plate appearances from the much younger David Bote.
Overall, it’s sort of hard to hate the deal when it’s not really costing the Cubs anything. Descalso’s contract barely moves the luxury tax needle. Of course, I could have said the same thing when the Cubs signed Duensing and traded for Kintzler. Those small contracts end up snowballing, and God forbid it prohibits the Cubs from acquiring other valuable talent from outside the organization.
There’s also the thought that it could be the precursor for a trade involving an older, more expensive player who spends a lot of time at second. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, and it seems highly unlikely but we keep hearing about the Cubs getting creative. For now, we’ll just take this for what it is: a solid deal for a solid utility bat.