The Cubs announced agreement with second baseman Nico Hoerner on a three-year contract extension covering the 2024-26 seasons. The deal reportedly guarantees the Apex Baseball client $35MM over that stretch. It buys out his final two seasons of arbitration eligibility and one free agent year.
Hoerner has emerged as one of the Cubs’ better players in recent years. A first-round pick out of Stanford in 2018, he made it to the majors within a year and a half of being drafted. That was a brief cameo and Hoerner struggled during the abbreviated 2020 campaign. Over the past two seasons, however, he’s taken a step forward at the dish to pair with his strong up-the-middle defensive profile.
The Oakland native lost a good chunk of the 2021 season to hamstring and oblique issues. When healthy, he posted a .302/.382/.369 line over 44 games that year. He followed up with his first full season, in which he hit .281/.327/.410 in 135 contests. Hoerner connected on 10 home runs and 22 doubles. More impressively, he kept his strikeout rate to a minuscule 11% while making contact on an above-average 86.6% of his swings. Going back to the start of the 2021 campaign, he’s a .286/.341/.400 hitter in a little under 700 trips to the dish.
It’s hardly elite offense but Hoerner has compensated for modest power with excellent contact skills. Putting the ball in play has allowed him to run a high batting average that props up the offensive profile. He’s also been a plus on the basepaths, stealing 20 bags in 22 attempts last year.
Hoerner has paired that decent hitting with strong work on the infield. He has played over 1400 major league innings at shortstop, drawing strong grades from Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average. DRS has pegged Hoerner as 10 runs better than the average defender at the infield’s most demanding position. Statcast has credited him as 16 runs above par.
The Cubs are kicking Hoerner to the other side of the second base bag in 2023. Chicago added Dansby Swanson on a seven-year free agent deal this offseason. Hoerner seemed fully on board with the position change, agreeing to move to the keystone to enable the club to add a player of Swanson’s caliber. There’s little question he’ll be an excellent second baseman, where he’s also gotten elite grades from public metrics in 468 1/3 frames between 2019-21.
Hoerner has between three and four years of major league service time. He and the organization had agreed to a $2.525MM salary for the upcoming season. The three-year pact apparently takes effect in 2024, as the deal reportedly buys out his final two arbitration years and one free agent campaign. He’s now slated to first hit the open market over the 2026-27 offseason, at which point he’ll be entering his age-30 campaign.
It’s rare for players already into arbitration to sign extensions that buy out exactly one free agent year. Players like Miguel Sanó (three years, $30MM) and J.P. Crawford (four years, $46.15MM) have signed extensions in this vicinity in recent seasons. Crawford’s deal bought out two free agent years, however. Sanó’s contract came with a club option for a second would-be free agent year. Hoerner secures a shorter-term commitment that locks in his arbitration earnings and allows him to still hit the market at age 30.
The team, meanwhile, picks up one additional season of a player they obviously value highly. It’s a bit of a surprise to see them commit $35MM to pick up control of one free agent year. Had the sides gone annually through arbitration, Hoerner would have built off this year’s $2.525MM platform salary.
Assuming he’d have made around $12-15MM for his final two arbitration seasons, the Cubs are valuing the free agent year in the $20-23MM range. It’s possible that proves to be below market value by that point, though it’d probably require Hoerner taking another step forward with the bat. The Cubs seem confident he’ll do so, with this agreement signifying they view him as a key part of a core that can get them back to playoff contention.
Ken Rosenthal and Sahadev Sharma of the Athletic first reported the Cubs and Hoerner were in advanced extension talks. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported the deal had been agreed upon as well as the contract terms.
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