Eric Hosmer Expected to Be Cubs’ Opening Day First Baseman

For those who believe Jed Hoyer wants to pump the brakes on all the Matt Mervis hype, the president of baseball operations all but confirmed Mervis will be handled with kid gloves. Eric Hosmer, whose signing was made official on Friday, is expected to open the season as the Cubs starting first baseman.

Hoyer discussed the Hosmer acquisition with reporters prior to Friday’s opening ceremony, offering some clarity on how the team will handle the 33-year-old veteran and his rookie. Mervis has been on everybody’s radar thanks to a monstrous 2022 in which he mashed 36 homers and notched 119 RBI across three levels of the organization, but the Cubs didn’t want to head into ’23 being reliant on his continued dominance.

“It was a chance to bring in a guy that has had some really good years, has had a really good career, and there’s a change of scenery element, I think to him,” Hoyer said.

Hosmer is a no-risk addition for the Cubs because the Padres are required to pay out the remainder of the eight-year, $144 million deal he signed prior to the 2018 campaign. There are still three years and $39 million left on that contract, which means Chicago only needs to pay Hosmer a league-minimum salary of $720,000 on his one-year deal.

The Cubs have also added free agent Trey Mancini, a short-side platoon partner for Hosmer who can also DH and play corner outfield spots. Cody Bellinger was the Dodgers’ everyday first baseman when he came up, so he could pick up innings there in a pinch.

Mervis is not currently on Chicago’s 40-man roster and it’s fair to wonder if Hoyer thinks the lefty slugger needs more minor league seasoning. The 24-year-old has been mentioned as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate, but the Cubs could be looking at this as a redux of Anthony Rizzo’s acclimation to an everyday role when he first came over. Hoyer is more than familiar with that situation.

Roster mathematics favor an Iowa start for Mervis unless Hoyer makes a trade or two. Hosmer will be the starter and Mancini will see time there, plus Patrick Wisdom could flex over in addition to Bellinger. Wisdom is slotted in as the starting third baseman, but Nick Madrigal is reportedly taking reps at the hot corner. Each of those players will be part of the DH-by-committee plan David Ross intends to deploy in 2023. Hoyer also signed Mike Tauchman, who will have an opportunity to be part of the outfield/first base/DH hybrid that seems to fascinate the front office.

Adding redundancy and competition is actually good for Mervis because it tempers expectations and reduces the pressure on him to perform out of the gate. That won’t appease the team’s fans, many of whom, myself included, believe Mervis is the optimal solution. He hit twice as many homers in 2022 as the combination of Frank Schwindel, Alfonso Rivas, and P.J. Higgins, plus he’s athletic enough to keep improving his defense at first base.

Having a fail-safe in the roster blueprint is not a bad thing, but something tells me Mervis will prove to everyone in spring training that he deserves a shot.

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