As that kid in that very old meme says: is this real life? So lame. But that’s in my head.
That’s how shocked I am this morning to see it reported that the Cubs are signing a legit free agent at this moment for what will be, presumably, a real contract costing real dollars:
Free-agent outfielder Joc Pederson in agreement with Cubs, pending physical, sources tell @TheAthletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 29, 2021
Nothing about the Cubs’ offseason so far, from the non-tendering to the sell-trades to the avoiding reasonable earlier signings to failing to bring back Jon Lester despite his desire to return on a cheap deal, would have told you they were in the market for a deal like this. Not that it figures to be an ENORMOUS signing, but it’s going to cost them real money.
Pederson, 28, will remind a lot of folks of Kyle Schwarber if you just look at the eerily similar stat lines so far in their careers:
And, indeed, in a lot of ways, Pederson looks like he’ll be a replacement for Schwarber in left field. Powerful lefty bat that you’re gonna have to platoon sometimes, and with some yet unrealized offensive upside, coming off a down 2020? Similar.
There are key differences, though. For one thing, Pederson can play all over the outfield, and in left field, he actually rates as a very good defender. Schwarber, for all his work out there, had made himself into merely “passable.” If Ian Happ is to be in center field, where he’s still kinda developing, it’s going to be much better for the overall defense in the outfield if it’s a guy like Pederson in left rather than Schwarber.
Another key difference? Since 2017, Pederson has actually made himself into something of a near-contact-type hitter. Surprising, given his profile, but over those more than 1400 plate appearances, he’s struck out 3% less often than league average. Yes, this is a contact upgrade.
Pederson has also been a little more consistently productive, without ever quite having a monster season:
One other plus here? Pederson had a down 2020 regular season, but blew up during the Dodgers’ postseason run to the title, hitting .382/.432/.559 over 37 PAs, which if you factored it in with his 138 regular season PAs, would give him a pretty normal season for himself. Such is the deal with these short-season stats.
The downside here is that Pederson has become virtually unusable against fellow lefties. For his career, he hits just .191/.266/.310 against lefties (59 wRC+), and at this point, where you may have seen some signs for hope that Schwarber could be a full-time guy, there aren’t really those signs (that I’m aware of) with Pederson. He’s a platoon guy, through and through. Pair him with Phillip Ervin or Michael Hermosillo and you might have some great production overall from the spot.
UPDATE: If this is the full scope of the deal, it’s a cheap one:
Joc Pederson is in agreement on a one-year, $7 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, sources tell ESPN. First with the agreement was @Ken_Rosenthal.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 29, 2021
Keep in mind, Schwarber was projected to get more than that in arbitration when the Cubs decided to non-tender him. Then Schwarber went on to get $10 million from the Nationals ($7 million salary, $3 million buyout on a mutual option). So at first blush, it looks like the Cubs got the better-fitting player on the smaller deal. I love Schwarber to all the appropriate levels, but this looks like a good swap, all things considered.
UPDATE 2: And there is an option:
Pederson’s deal has a 2022 option. With the buyout component, the #Cubs will be spending much less in 2021 dollars on Pederson than Schwarber, who they projected more as an $8M-plus arbitration salary for 2022. The marginal difference is likely to be redirected toward SPs.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) January 29, 2021
That report reads like the buyout is included in the $7 million, which would make this contract even more of a bargain. I’d be surprised. Then again, maybe it’s a mutual option structured very much like Schwarber’s, and the buyout component is actually on top of the $7 million (like Schwarber’s). That would seem to make more sense.