The Cubs have a wealth of middle infielders, two of whom are going to command a huge majority of the available innings. That means getting creative when it comes to deploying a trio of Miles Mastrobuoni, Zach McKinstry, and Nick Madrigal. Or perhaps it means working to trade at least one of them in order to eliminate what Jed Hoyer prefers to call a “good problem” rather than a roster glut.
Sahadev Sharma reported for The Athletic that McKinstry is “a popular name when other teams call the Cubs regarding trade possibilities,” and he’s also out of minor league options. Mastrobuoni is almost a carbon copy as a lefty-batting utilityman, plus he’s even more versatile from a procedural perspective because he still has three minor league options left.
Madrigal’s hit tool makes him a player the Cubs want to keep around, but he doesn’t have nearly the same positional flexibility. That’s why he’s been working on third base, though having him get any real reps there feels like little more than a novelty at this point.
“Certainly, guys get hurt, guys need days off,” Hoyer told reporters over the weekend. “I think he’ll probably play some third base as well. We wanna have a really versatile infield, so we expect that he’s definitely gonna work over there and take reps.
“It’s not the way you think of a stereotypical third baseman — power, slugger, but he’s a really good hitter, really good player. He can definitely do it.”
Madrigal’s had a tough time staying healthy, in part due to an upright running style that taxes his hamstrings, but his arm isn’t a great fit for the hot corner even if he’s in the lineup every day. This almost feels like something the Cubs are doing either to improve the diminutive infielder’s stature as a trade target, though it could be as simple as keeping his confidence up heading into camp.
After all, the guy probably isn’t feeling great about a season in which he batted .249 with no homers and seven doubles while struggling to stay on the field due to leg issues. Madrigal knows he’s only seeing time at second if Nico Hoerner is hurt or needs a day off, so the logical solution is to work on earning a shot at playing somewhere else. I don’t know that it’s a great idea, but I’d like to think Madrigal is behind this and is busting his ass to be better.
While that alone won’t keep him in the lineup, it’s admirable that he’s doing what he can to provide value. That said, I’d much rather see Christopher Morel and Patrick Wisdom at the hot corner even if their defense last year left more than a bit to be desired.
Another wrinkle here is that speedy outfielder Ben DeLuzio is a dark horse candidate to make the roster, which would limit the chances for McKinstry or Mastrobuoni to flex to the grass. Oddly enough, that could actually provide Madrigal with more of a foothold since the Cubs would not have as much need for positional versatility. I would not be at all surprised to see two of these players traded before long, though perhaps the team will just stash them at Triple-A.
Hoyer’s correct about this being a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem that should be alleviated with a transaction or two.