Last night, the Cubs optioned infielder Nico Hoerner, report Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers of ESPN (Twitter link). That sets the stage for non-roster invitee Eric Sogard to make the season-opening roster, Passan and Rogers add. Sogard’s contract will need to formally selected to the 40-man roster before Opening Day.
Passan and Rogers suggest the Cubs’ decision not to break camp with Hoerner is fueled by a desire to gain an extra year of team control over the 23-year-old. Hoerner has 1.021 days of MLB service time, so the Cubs would need to keep him in the minors for 36 days to avoid him reaching two full years of service in 2021. Hoerner is presently controllable through 2025, so the demotion could keep him in Chicago until after the 2026 season.
If optioning Hoerner is indeed motivated by service time concerns, it’s a bit of a bizarre decision. The Cubs are coming off a year in which they won the National League Central and are part of a four-team group with a plausible chance at claiming the division in 2021. Accepting a suboptimal second base situation for over a month of this season in order to hold onto Hoerner’s contractual rights for 2026 wouldn’t seem to be a worthwhile trade-off.
There is a case to be made the Cubs are better off, strictly from an on-field perspective, in turning to a Sogard-David Bote platoon at the keystone over Hoerner. While Hoerner flew to the majors after being selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, he hasn’t yet been productive there. Across 208 MLB plate appearances, the Stanford product has hit just .247/.309/.333. He didn’t hit a single home run over 126 plate appearances last year, slugging a punchless .259.
Of course, Sogard is coming off a dismal season of his own, having hit .209/.281/.278 with just one homer in 128 plate appearances with the Brewers. Sogard was quite good in 2019 but he’d never before approached the .457 slugging percentage or 13 homers he hit that year, so it didn’t seem he’d be able to sustain that level of production. Both Hoerner and Sogard have hit well in Spring Training.