The Cubs have an unexpectedly good 11-7 record through three weeks and it’s looking more and more like they can really hang with the better teams in the league. They’ve got one of MLB’s best offenses on paper, boasting an aggregate .282 average, a 117 wRC+, and .347 wOBA. All of those marks rank in the top four, though the stats are skewed pretty heavily by a handful of very productive players.
Eric Hosmer is currently sporting a 79 wRC+ with a .294 wOBA that is greatly outpacing his .237 xwOBA (what his batted ball profile says he should be expected to produce). Trey Mancini has fallen to a 39 wRC+ with a .232 wOBA that’s only six points below his expected mark. Those numbers lead to Cubs first basemen sitting 28th in both wRC+ (58) and wOBA (.261) through 18 games. Their DH rank is only two spots higher with a wRC+ of 70 and a .280 wOBA mark that sits 44 points below league average.
“We’ve played three weeks of baseball, so you have to be patient and be thankful that some of our guys have gotten off to hot starts,” Jed Hoyer said before Thursday’s loss to the Dodgers. “That allows some other guys to struggle. When those guys struggle, the other guys will pick them up, but I don’t think there’s like a specific number [to get a full evaluation of performance].”
Hoyer was being asked about the eventuality of Matt Mervis coming up to add more punch to a lineup that clearly lacks it at two spots that should be producing at a much higher level. It only makes sense to promote the 25-year-old to provide both power and patience to further round out a roster that looks more balanced than in recent seasons. As Patrick Mooney wrote in his piece on the topic, however, a promotion “is simply not under consideration” with the Cubs playing solid baseball.
I mean, yeah, why try to do even better when you’re already doing well? Just think about what the Cubs would be doing if they were just in the middle of the pack for offensive production at first base and DH.
Mooney expressed the understandable delicacy of a situation in which the front office doesn’t want egg on its face after giving both Hosmer and Mancini a certain level of expectation for playing time, saying April is too early to backtrack. That could be more about future pursuits than it is either of those veteran leaders, though Hosmer’s already been jettisoned by two teams and the Cubs are only on the hook for the minimum salary.
Perhaps Hoyer will have enough evidence in 10 more days when the calendar turns to May and the Cubs head to face the Nationals near Mervis’s birthplace. If those numbers at first and DH haven’t improved markedly by that point and Mervis is still mashing, there’ll be even less of a valid argument than there is right now.
Matt. Mervis. CRUSHED. The first baseman keeps the bats hot for the I-Cubs with this 410-foot bomb! 💣 pic.twitter.com/IFw2jAJs8W
— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) April 20, 2023
Though Hosmer seems like the odd man out due to the nature of his deal, the Cubs don’t necessarily need to part with him in order to find room to add Mervis to the 40-man. They could clear space by DFA’ing Luis Torrens or Edwin Ríos, neither of whom has logged even 20 plate appearances. Of course, that also means neither would free up enough opportunity for Mervis, who really needs to be getting everyday playing time.
That brings us back to Hosmer, who would become pretty redundant as a left-handed-hitting first baseman and DH. It’s really easy to look at the remainder of the season and see him being Bryan LaHair‘ed before July.
Ah, but we also have to take into consideration the Cubs’ propensity for procrastination when it comes to making roster moves with even a whiff of finality. Mervis is going to force his way onto the 40-man at some point this season, but Hoyer is going to play this thing out until he’s really got no choice but to make a roster move. I’d say most fans are of the opinion that a move is already overdue, which tells you a little something about Hoyer’s patience.
Or maybe it’s loyalty. Or stubbornness.
“At some point, Matt’s going to impact the Cubs,” Hoyer admitted. “There’s no question. When that is, I don’t know. But we’re aware that certainly he can have an impact here.”
And hey, it’s possible this is just Hoyer playing it coy as we’ve seen so often before. I wouldn’t bet on Mervis being up at the start of May, but I won’t be surprised if he gets the call.