Cubs Still Need to Make Room for Jeimer Candelario on Active Roster

The Cubs made a pair of moves yesterday, adding third baseman and former prospect Jeimer Candelario along with righty reliever José Cuas. Between the previous move to outright Edwin Ríos and swapping Nelson Velázquez for Cuas, the 40-man roster is now full. Cuas has options and figures to start out at Triple-A Iowa, but Candelario was added to help with the playoff push as — presumably — the everyday third baseman.

Before getting to that, it should be noted that the Cubs also received a cash consideration from the Nationals along with Candelario in exchange for Kevin Made and DJ Herz. That’s a big deal because FanGraphs’ Roster Resource has the Cubs at just $4.64 million under the $233 million competitive balance tax threshold right now. Even as they have clearly shown they’re going for it, I doubt Jed Hoyer has the green light to create a dead-weight loss for Tom Ricketts.

Update: The Nats are paying down the rest of Candelario’s salary down to the league minimum, so the Cubs will just have to pay the prorated portion of that $720,000. Based on the amount of games left, that’s something in the neighborhood of $250,000. Not a bad deal at all.

So while they are still likely to add some more immediate bullpen help, we’re probably looking at one or two guys whose salaries won’t tip the scales much further.

Anyway, back to the situation as it pertains to where Candelario will play and how the Cubs clear a spot for him. All of his 3,046 defensive innings over the last three seasons have been spent at third base, where he’s been less than great for the most part. He has, however, stepped up in a big way in 2023 with six outs above average and one defensive run saved. Those both rank in the top 10 among all qualified third basemen.

That improvement has helped Candelario to generate 3.1 fWAR, the highest total in the NL and third-highest in MLB at his position. All other Cubs third basemen combined have accounted for 1.1 fWAR: Nick Madrigal (0.8), Patrick Wisdom (0.6), Miles Mastrobuoni (0.0), Ríos (-0.3). Even considering how well Madrigal has acquitted himself at the hot corner this season, Candelario is a big upgrade and needs to get as many reps there as possible.

Ah, but the Candy Man has racked up 518 innings at first and had solid numbers over there during the short 2020 season with Detroit. If we remove Cody Bellinger, who has played the position only sparingly, Cubs first basemen have combined for -2.1 fWAR this season. That charge is led by Trey Mancini‘s -0.8, with three other offenders either in the minors or out of the organization entirely.

Based on all the available information, the most obvious options to clear both an active roster spot and playing time for Candelario would be to trade or DFA either Wisdom or Mancini. Seeing as how both are right-handed and one can play multiple positions, we can probably narrow it down to either trading Wisdom or designating Mancini.

The former option is something we discussed in more detail at last year’s deadline, when it would have made more sense to deal Wisdom to a team desperate for power. Now, however, he might hold more value to the Cubs for that same reason. Though his .488 slugging percentage is a mere seven points higher than that of his new teammate, Wisdom’s .293 ISO is 60 points higher and ranks eighth in MLB among 395 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances.

Even though Mancini is a great dude by all accounts and is surely a tremendous clubhouse presence, he had been looking like a bad fit for this roster even before the Candelario acquisition. Mancini’s athleticism has dropped off markedly, making his defense very suspect and eroding what had already been subpar baserunning. He’s striking out at a career-high 29.7% clip, has a career-worst .102 ISO, and his platoon splits show nothing to make him a good option against lefties.

The only thing I can imagine would give Hoyer pause would be the personal side of things and not wanting to jettison yet another veteran clubhouse guy after cutting Eric Hosmer loose earlier in the season. There could be a measure of pride involved there as well, though you’re not going to survive as an executive if you can’t admit your mistakes and move on from them. That means eating the $10 million or so of what’s left of Mancini’s deal and letting him try to catch on somewhere else.

Because the Cubs like to kick the can down the road as long as possible on permanent personnel decisions, I’m guessing we’ll know of their plans a little closer to the 5pm CT trade deadline. Perhaps they’ll dangle Wisdom and then make the call on Mancini if there are no takers. Or maybe it’ll end up being another move entirely to clear space for Candelario, though that would leave the roster with an unnecessary glut.

The best course of action to help this team make a legitimate playoff push would be to cut Mancini and move Wisdom into a backup role with Candelario as the everyday third baseman and Madrigal as a DH/utility infielder. So of course what they’ll do is option Miguel Amaya to Iowa.

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