The N.L. Central woke up on Friday morning and finally realized $4M spent in free agency between its five teams was a bad look. The Cubs finally made a move and signed outfielder and former Dodger Joc Pederson to a 1 year/$7M contract. A year removed from hitting 36 home runs, Joc struggled significantly to find his swing in the shortened 2020 campaign. Despite winning the World Series and performing extremely well in the postseason (.382/.432/.559), some may have forgotten he spent the regular season slashing .190/.285/.397 in 43 games and 138 plate appearances. Pederson, not known to hit for average, still has a higher ceiling in the Cubs lineup than that of his predecessor and former Cubs power hitter Kyle Schwarber – although neither has hit higher than .250 in a season. The pressing matter at hand, however, isn’t average – its team slugging. The Cubs have finished in the top half of the league in team slugging each season since 2016, which ultimately raised many question marks when they finished 24th last season. This move at first glance is an attempt to try and improve the Cubs’ power numbers, or lack thereof, so I am interested to see if this move leads to any noteworthy change.
Similar to most power hitters in today’s era, Joc sacrifices contact for power. While his role will continue to be focused on hitting for power, I hope the Cubs’ hitting coaches work on having Pederson expand his approach to working to the opposite field. In 2020, opposing teams shifted on Joc 81.2% of the time, diminishing his numbers in all of his advanced batting statistics last season from years past. Pederson, with the shift in play had a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .260. With no shift in play, he carried a wOBA of .430! Furthermore, because opposing teams shifted so frequently with Joc for the first time in his career, it is no wonder he had a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .200 (league average was .292). Another important measure to mention is that Joc never really had the opportunity to play against left handed pitching the last three seasons with the Dodgers. L.A. always had the depth in their roster to let Joc focus on right handed pitching, so I’m not sure whether the Cubs attempt to do the same or if they have him as an everyday starter.
With the expectation that 2021 will not be anywhere near as short as 60 games, I project Joc to make the well needed adjustments to his game that he wasn’t fortunate enough to have last season. If he manages to stay healthy, we are talking about a player who can easily return to his 2019 form and potentially make a huge impact in the Cubs’ lineup. People can say whatever they’d like about the Cubs, but as of right now the lineup has potential to do serious damage.
Cubs 2021 Projected Lineup:
1) Ian Happ (OF)
2) Anthony Rizzo (1B)
3) Kris Bryant (3B)
4) Javier Baez (SS)
5) Joc Pederson (OF)
6) Willson Contreras (C)
7) Jason Heyward (OF)
8) Nico Hoerner (2B)
Even though the team lacks pitching, I am intrigued nonetheless to see Joc in a Cubs uniform after having viewed him as a rival for so long during his tenure in L.A. Unfortunately for him and the Cubs, the chance of the phrase “Joctober” coming into fruition next season is low unless the Cubs go out and make more moves. Despite the MLB looking into having an expanded playoff, it is still a long shot to see the Cubs playing in the postseason with how stacked the N.L. is.
Why do I believe the Cubs aren’t heading to the postseason? On the same day the Cubs make the first “big” move for the division, the St. Louis Cardinals made an even bigger one. The Colorado Rockies traded their star and future HOF 3B Nolan Arenado and $50M in cash to the Cardinals. There is still uncertainty amongst all the details, but for now, Ken Rosenthal suggests that the Cardinals are sending in return P Austin Gomber along with some prospects. Regardless, the trade as a whole is extremely lopsided and a complete steal for St. Louis. Arenado not only improves the lineup offensively (no, Nolan Arenado will not struggle being away from Coors Field) but he also improves an infield that already has Paul Goldschmidt. This move makes them immediate favorites for the division, and with the talent in the N.L., I do not envision a scenario in which two N.L. Central teams make the postseason.
The trade, however, could change the dynamic of the entire MLB going forward more than most would imagine. With St. Louis delivering a gut punch to the other teams in the division, I am interested to see how those teams respond to the news. It was a long shot anyone in the Central was going to win the pennant in the first place, and now that the division seems all but the Cardinals to lose, non-Cardinal players may have a higher chance of being moved before becoming free agents in 2022. That includes notable players such as:
- Brewers: Avisail Garcia, Josh Hader (not FA, arbitration elgible)
- Cubs: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Zach Davies, Anthony Rizzo
- Pirates: Gregory Polanco, Felipe Vazquez
- Reds: Nicholas Castellanos, Michael Lorenzen
With how many rumors have been circulating around the Cubs and players such as Bryant, I have accepted the notion of the Cubs throwing in the towel and getting some return for KB over letting him walk. I will mention, however, I believe he is someone who should be resigned in 2022. But after how everything has unfolded, it seems almost inevitable for him to be playing for another ball club in 2021, let alone 2022. Maybe it’s my pessimism that believes the division is already over, but frankly if the Cubs are going to sell, they might as well sell everything they got and look to compete again in 2-3 seasons.