CHICAGO — The recent signing of Joc Pederson rounded out the Cubs’ starting outfield, but the team has still been on the hunt for ways to supplement that cast. Chicago found what it hopes will be a solution in Jake Marisnick.
On Thursday, the Cubs reached an agreement with Marisnick on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million in guaranteed salary, pending physical, sources told MLB.com. The Cubs have not confirmed the pact, which includes a $1 million salary in 2021 and a $4 million mutual option (or $500,000 buyout) for 2022.
The starting outfield trio for the Cubs projects to be veteran Jason Heyward in right field, Ian Happ in center and Pederson in left. While Pederson has extreme platoon splits, Chicago has
Even with that plan, both Heyward and Pederson will surely receive days off from manager David Ross against certain tough lefties. Beyond that, the Cubs were in the market for bench options that not only offered pinch-hitting options, but defensive upgrades for later innings.
That is how Marisnick fits into the Cubs’ roster picture.
Over the course of his eight-year career — which includes stints with the Marlins, Astros and Mets — Marisnick has established himself as an excellent outfield defender with plus speed. He can essentially assume the role that opened up when the Cubs non-tendered center fielder Albert Almora Jr. (now with the Mets).
In the abbreviated 2020 season, Marisnick was effective at the plate (.333 average and .959 OPS in 34 plate appearances) when healthy. Hamstring troubles limited him to just 16 games, though. Marisnick dealt with a left hamstring issue early in the season and then a right hamstring setback in September.
The leg issues offer an explanation for Marisnick’s Sprint Speed slipping to 28.2 feet per second in 2020, per Statcast. That put him in the 84th percentile in the Majors. From 2015-19, Marisnick’s annual Sprint Speed stayed between 29.1-29.4, keeping him between the 94th and 97th percentile each year.
Defensively, Marisnick has posted 71 Defensive Runs Saved in his career in the outfield. That includes 50 in 3,843 1/3 innings in center field, along with plus showings in both left (12 DRS in 331 2/3 innings) and right (nine DRS in 382 1/3 innings).
As a hitter, Marisnick has hit .229 with a .666 OPS in 701 career games, while stealing 73 bases in 100 attempts.
While Happ earned the everyday job in center last year, Ross typically shifted him to left in later innings to upgrade the defense. With a true center-field option like Marisnick in the fold, Ross has that option available again, and Chicago can keep Heyward in right full-time (the team’s preference).
Earlier this offseason, the Cubs also acquired Phillip Ervin as a fourth-outfielder option, but he is better utilized in the corners than in center field. Ervin does have a better track record against lefty pitching (.811 OPS and 113 wRC+) in his career compared to Marisnick (.711 OPS and 93 wRC+), so there could potentially be room for both on the MLB roster.
Another benefit to adding Marisnick could be avoiding using middle infielder Nico Hoerner in center field, unless out of necessity. The Cubs have also not ruled out using third baseman Kris Bryant in left field (a position he’s played in the past against lefty pitching), so the added depth helps Ross when weighing such scenarios.