Sit back, sip on a drink if you have one, imagine a world where the Chicago Cubs aren’t pinching pennies and are actually trying to act like a franchise in the third-largest market in the country. OK, now chug that drink and pretend to be excited about free agent infielder Hanser Alberto because I guess I’ll attempt to convince you how he can help the Cubs.
The 28-year-old was one of 59 players to be non-tendered earlier this week, as the Baltimore Orioles decided to cut ties with the Dominican. This was a somewhat surprising move from the Orioles, but unsurprisingly the non-tender did end up producing this quote from Baltimore’s general manager Mike Elias.
Mike Elias is full of praise for Hanser Alberto and said they're interested in bringing him back, but "part of our job is to operate within the economic framework of the collective bargaining agreement." #Orioles
— Jon Meoli (@JonMeoli) December 3, 2020
So that was just a bunch of words to say the Orioles didn’t want to pay Alberto a few million dollars in 2021.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the versatile infielder was only projected to earn between $2.3 and $4.6 million in his second to last arbitration year. Let’s be real here, that number was most certainly going to be closer to $2 million than $4 million.
And really that’s the first step of finding someone who can fit the Cubs’ roster in 2021. Alberto’s not going to cost a lot money. If we’re led to believe the Cubs are still trying to compete next year, then they should spend a little to make some improvements even if it is toward the bottom of the roster.
But hey, Alberto can actually provide some value.
Diversifying the offense
Before I go on, I want to make it clear that getting a guy like Alberto isn’t the number one option on my offseason wishlist. Again, I’m willing to give the Cubs some benefit of the doubt that they will go out and spend *some* money after cutting Kyle Schwarber. Eddie Rosario is still my guy, but Alberto could change the dynamic of the lineup too.
We’ve heard it for two seasons, the Cubs need more contact guys. It took me far too long to realize that the lineup was too similar. Yeah, it’s great to have a group of hitters who can draw walks and get on base at a good clip, but then there really wasn’t enough of the hitting to go along with it.
Here’s what Jed Hoyer said back in November. Via Marquee Sports Network.
“On the offensive side, we want to look and feel and perform different than we have the last few years,” Hoyer said. “We need to be different as an offense, no question. I think we have to identify some of the things we’ve done poorly and we have to work to improve them.
There’s more to that than just getting different players, as coaching, preparation, and other aspects of development certainly play a part. But for now, let’s talk about one player who already does things differently.
Alberto’s contact rates
The easiest way to diversify the offense is to target high contact hitters. Hello, Hanser Alberto. In 2019, the right-handed hitter made contact at an 86.5% rate. In 2020, that number was at 85.5%. On pitches thrown in the strike zone, Alberto’s contact rates the past two seasons were 93.6% and 91.1%.
As a team in 2020, the Cubs only made contact 72.8% of the time on all pitches.
So yes, Alberto’s walk rate has been extremely low, below 3% the last two years, but he’s batted .305 in 2019 and .283 in 2020. As a matter of fact, in 2019 Alberto played in 139 games and had 550 plate appearances, it was the first time in his MLB career that he got playing time every day and he ended up slashing .305/.329/.422, with 12 home runs.
However, not only is Alberto a good contact guy, he also fills another need for the Cubs, a guy who can hit lefties.
Alberto hits lefties
In 2020, the Cubs had the third lowest wRC+, second worst OPS, worst slugging % and second worst batting average in MLB against left-handed pitching. And it’s not like things were much prettier in 2019, as the team ranked in the bottom half and bottom third of most offensive categories against lefties as well.
Meanwhile, Alberto has been thriving against lefties ever since he became a starter for the Orioles. In 2019-20, Alberto smashed left-handed pitching, slashing .394/.411/.532, with six home runs in 280 plate appearances. That translates to a 150 wRC+ and if you don’t like fancy numbers that just means he was 50% percent better than league average.
I’m not saying that Alberto is going to come in and continue hitting nearly .400 vs. left-handers, but he’s definitely an improvement over some of the bench bats the Cubs currently have. Use him in the right spots and avoid putting him in bad matchups and then you really do improve your daily lineup.
Alberto made his MLB debut with the Texas Rangers in 2015, and played a total of 89 games with them in three seasons. Prior to his two-year stint with the Orioles, Alberto played all over the diamond, even making one start at first base in 2016. However, he’s settled in at second base, making 142 starts at the position throughout his MLB career.
Alberto has also made 69 starts at third and in a pinch he could slide over to shortstop, where he’s started 12 times.
It’s still early in the offseason, as there’s been minimal movement, but you could envision Alberto being in a platoon for the Cubs in 2021. Probably think of him playing Jason Kipnis’ role from this past year.
Alberto can probably be had for $2 million with some incentives and he’ll also be under team control through 2022.