Second base has been the one glaring weakness for the Chicago Cubs, and the front office should be on the hunt for infield depth at the trade deadline.
The Chicago Cubs find themselves in a dogfight with the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL Central title for the third year in a row. Theo Epstein and his front office have built a complete roster with very few glaring weaknesses. The Cubs are also effectively tapped out financially and in terms of top prospect depth. That does limit the type of moves the team can make at the trade deadline.
Luckily for Epstein and the Cubs, there aren’t many moves to be made at the trade deadline. They need to add an experienced reliever and are also in need of infield depth. Javier Baez continues to produce at an MVP level at shortstop, but second base has been lacking for the Cubs.
Addison Russell lost his job to Baez and has been playing second base since returning from his suspension for domestic abuse. The former All-Star is hitting just .248/.314/.408 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 45 games. Daniel Descalso has a .554 OPS in 180 plate appearances, and the Cubs still don’t know if Ben Zobrist will return this season. David Bote has been solid offensively in split playing time between second and third, but is a defensive liability.
It was only last season that Baez was struggling to nail down a permanent starting job and the Cubs were overflowing with middle-infield depth. Now, Baez is the only productive middle infielder on the roster. Russell is no longer worth the headache that comes with his off-field issues and Zobrist may retire as he deals with personal issues. Ian Happ, who hit 39 home runs over his first 257 MLB games, is totally out of the picture after failing to make the roster out of camp and is hitting just .227/.350/.411 in the Minor Leagues.
The Cubs will be in the market for a veteran infielder who can play multiple positions, and these five players stand out as the best options given the constraints with which the team is working.
5. Whit Merrifield
The Cubs have no idea when or if they’ll get former All-Star utilityman extraordinaire Ben Zobrist back, but there’s a chance they could acquire a player who checks all of the boxes Zobrist checked early in his career when his ability to Swiss Army knife himself all over the field. Kansas City Royals All-Star Whit Merrifield has played all three outfield positions this year, as well as 32 games at second base. He even started four games at first base out of necessity. Merrifield is hitting .308/.355/.500 this year with 11 home runs and 44 RBI.
Merrifield is a valuable trade chip, but he might not actually be made available by the Kansas City Royals. He is the type of player a rebuilding team likes to have around during the lean years to help the younger players mature and handle the pressures of being in the big leagues. The Royals are paying Merrifield almost nothing the next three seasons and can exercise an option worth $10.5 million in 2023 if he is still producing into his age-34 season.
Because the Royals have no immediate incentive to move Merrifield this year, that likely means the Cubs will not be able to put together the type of package needed to pry him loose. That being said, he is exactly the type of player Chicago needs to steady their middle infield.