Cubs Considering Alternatives To Christopher Morel At Third Base

As noted this morning by Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, the Cubs have “evaluated alternatives” to third baseman Christopher Morel this season, with one such alternative possibly being top prospect Matt Shaw

Morel has started 50 of the team’s 66 games this year at third base, taking over from the group that shared the position down the stretch last season: Nick Madrigal, Jeimer Candelario (now with the Reds), Miles Mastrobuoni, and Patrick Wisdom. Madrigal started 11 games at third this year (and filled in as a defensive replacement on 25 other occasions), but he was optioned to Triple-A earlier this month and is currently on the minor league injured list. Wisdom, meanwhile, has played a utility role off the bench, taking reps at first base, third base, right field, and DH. Mastrobuoni also played a utility role before he was optioned in mid-May.

Prior to this season, Morel had only played 180 2/3 MLB innings at the hot corner, having spent more time in his first two seasons at second base and in the outfield. However, he played 156 games at third base in his minor league career – more than any other position – and after his strong performance at the plate last year (26 home runs and an .821 OPS in 107 games) the Cubs wanted to find him a position to keep his bat in the lineup on a regular basis. Unfortunately, his glove has been all but unplayable at third base this year. Morel has already made eight errors, and his -8 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and -11 Outs Above Average (OAA) both rank last among all third basemen. In fact, his -11 OAA ranks dead last in all of baseball.

To make matters worse, Morel’s bat has not been what it was last season. While he is on pace for nearly 30 home runs, his .702 OPS is barely above the league average. That’s not terrible, but his .203/.315/.388 slash line certainly doesn’t justify his awkward fit at third base. His .375 xwOBA (10th among qualified NL batters) suggests he’s due for some positive regression, but even if he starts hitting again, it’s become clear he’s a much better fit at DH (where has has started his other 15 games) than third base.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, they aren’t exactly flush with other options. Madrigal has a smooth glove, but his bat is a serious weakness; he has a .616 OPS over three seasons with the Cubs and a .535 OPS this season. Wisdom is off to a poor start at the plate himself, and his defensive metrics at third base over the past few years have been nearly as bad as Morel’s. Mastrobuoni has never looked like more than a bench piece, and the same could be said of David Bote.

Therefore, unless the Cubs are planning to look outside the organization for a new third baseman, their best solution could be a prospect like Shaw. The 22-year-old is currently playing for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, with whom he has a 118 wRC+ in 69 games over the past two years. Shaw got the bulk of his starts at shortstop last season, but he has slid over to third for 35 out of 54 games in 2024. His glove will never be a standout tool; like Morel, he just needs a position so he can get his powerful swing and quick legs into the lineup.

Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and FanGraphs all have Shaw ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Cubs organization, which is widely considered one of the deepest farm systems in the game. However, given his young age and lack of experience above Double-A, he won’t be the immediate answer in Chicago. As Mooney puts it, the Cubs are “open to the possibility” that Shaw “could eventually become part of the solution.” Until then, the Cubs might just have to hope Morel turns it around at the plate enough to mask his struggles with the glove. He may already be doing just that, with a .934 OPS in his last 10 games.

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Title: Cubs Considering Alternatives To Christopher Morel At Third Base
Author: Leo Morgenstern

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