In a heartfelt farewell note to the Dodgers and their fans published in The Players’ Tribune soon after his deal with the Cubs was formally announced, Joc Pederson took time to thank everyone who’d been a part of his journey over a decade in the organization. He reflected on choosing to accept a signing bonus rather than staying at USC and about how he always tells his daughter to dream big, which brings us to the Cubs’ role in the story.
Pederson passed on college to pursue his dream of playing Major League Baseball, but he didn’t and doesn’t simply want to be on a roster. He was adamant about the desire to be a “full-time, everyday, All-Star caliber player,” which is how he ended up joining the Cubs on a $7 million deal that came well short of other offers he’d turned down.
His reasoning was simple.
And when this offseason came around, I’ll tell you what: I had some nice offers. There were teams willing to give me pretty great money to be a part of their outfield platoon — a role I’ve had success in. Any one of them would have been a comfortable choice….. kind of like how USC would have been a comfortable choice, way back when.
But as tempting as it was, I knew one thing in my heart: If I took that money, then that would be me accepting a part-time role as my identity as a baseball player. That would be me confirming “part-time player” as the ceiling of my career. And I wasn’t ready to do that.
He’s sort of hinting at it there, but he goes on to make pretty clear that the Cubs presented the best opportunity for him both professionally and personally. He recalled lying in bed, thinking about the structure of a deferred deal — his guarantee with the Cubs is for $4.5 million this season and a $2.5 million buyout of a $10 million mutual option — and researching rosters to see who had a need in left.
Pederson said the realization struck him like a bolt of lightning and he told his wife, who he says loves Chicago, that he’s going to play for the Cubs. Now comes the part about the guarantee, something ESPN’s Jeff Passan noted when the agreement was first being reported but that many others, present company included, found a little curious.
Cubs were very appealing to Joc Pederson because he's going to get the opportunity to play every day. He's got a reputation as a RH killler, but if he hits lefties and re-enters the market after a strong age-29 season — Wrigley fits him well — he could command much more.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 29, 2021
Pederson is, after all, a lefty hitter with pronounced platoon splits that make Kyle Schwarber‘s production against southpaws seem quite good by comparison. The former Dodger has just a .191/.266/.310 slash with a 59 wRC+ over a mere 385 plate appearances in lefty/lefty situations compared to the .197/.301/.348 and 75 posted by his predecessor over 435 chances in a shorter period of time. Okay, so maybe that’s not a very big difference.
It is, however, the kind of production that makes you think the Cubs would want to use Phil Ervin in a short-side platoon role in order to shield Pederson and improve the team’s production against lefties. While that may still happen, it appears more likely Ervin will spell Jason Heyward in right.
That’s because, as Pederson wrote, David Ross promised him everyday reps in left for at least half the season.
He told me about what I could expect my role to be. He was like, “You’re going to be our guy in left field, save for the occasional rest day, same as anyone. But if we’re at the All-Star break and you’re hitting a buck fifty, you know….. we’re going to reassess. We’ll probably have to make a change.” (100%. I absolutely respect that, and I respect Rossy for saying it. Anything else would have felt like a fake promise.)
Now, how much of that is real and how much is a recruiting job aimed at getting Pederson to accept a little less money in 2020 and overall is anyone’s guess. There’s also the idea that the Cubs could be hoping Pederson improves those splits and boosts his trade value by the time the deadline comes around. But maybe, just maybe, part of it is about truly making the Cubs a little more competitive than we thought they’d be prior to the signing.
Pederson is notably better than Schwarber when it comes to punishing high fastballs, an area in which the Cubs as a team have been deficient since at least 2017. That’s when Pederson’s old team notably exploited said weakness to stifle their NLCS opponents in a five-game laugher that may as well have been a sweep.
The other advantage, one that could be very big as the Cubs employ a staff of soft-tossing veterans and inexperienced young pitchers, is that Pederson’s glove is much better than Schwarber’s. Incremental advantages like that are going to be important when the margin for error has been shaved down to almost nothing.
One of my most overused pet phrases is “We’ll see,” but I can’t really come up with anything better as it relates to Pederson’s usage. He could end up reversing his career trends and making the deal look like a bargain or he could end up being even worse against lefties and creating a black hole in the lineup every few days. Either way, he should still have trade value as a masher of righties.
He’s also a good dude who fans and teammates will love, so sticking around for another year on a reasonable deal is a possibility. Given how the Cubs are at something of an inflection point as they traverse what we can only hope will be a narrow chasm between competitive periods, it’s hard to see this deal as anything but a big positive.