Cubs Adding 1B Garrett Cooper on Minors Deal

You can never have enough first basemen in your organization, or so the Cubs seem to believe. As first reported by Craig Mish of the Miami Herald, they are bringing 33-year-old Garrett Cooper into camp as a non-roster invitee. The righty batter hit a career-high 17 homers with 61 RBI last year across 457 plate appearances with the Marlins and Padres, but his 96 wRC+ was easily the lowest he’s generated in a full season.

That comes from having a 28.9% strikeout rate with a 6.8% walk rate and below-average speed. Cooper’s 60-grade raw power has never really shown up, as evidenced by the low homer totals and a .166 ISO that falls just shy of the league average over the last seven seasons. It’s hard to see what he brings to the Cubs in that broad view, though the picture comes into focus when you check his splits.

Cooper makes a lot of sense as a short-side platoon hitter, basically a cheaper version of Rhys Hoskins or J.D. Martinez. In 112 PAs against southpaws — one-third of what he saw against righties — last season, Cooper hit .324 with a 145 wRC+ and .206 ISO buoyed by five homers. He even had four of his 18 doubles and his lone single against righties. While not as pronounced, his career platoon splits favor targeted usage.

More important than the potential price tag is the notion that Cooper will presumably be far more open to accepting a backup or niche role on a team that has multiple options from the left side. Michael Busch was penciled in as the primary starter at first shortly after being acquired from the Dodgers, Matt Mervis has started the first three spring games, and Cody Bellinger is back for at least one year.

This could also signal a trade to clear space on the roster for Bellinger while also alleviating some of the growing glut at the corners. Patrick Wisdom was noted as a possibility to be moved, an outcome that grows more likely on paper with Cooper in the fold and Christopher Morel looking more comfortable at third base. Nick Madrigal is likewise more expendable, though his particular skillset isn’t as redundant.

And don’t forget, the Cubs also have Dominic Smith in camp as another lefty bat. He has a much steeper climb to secure a roster spot, however, as he has even less power than Cooper and doesn’t profile as a DH. What has been a fairly nebulous situation to this point should begin to clear up soon as Bellinger is officially announced and Busch is worked into spring action.

After getting a late start in camp due to a sore shoulder, Busch is expected to make his Cubs debut on Monday against the Royals. Should he prove capable of holding down first base, the need for veteran insurance will be greatly reduced. Assuming Bellinger serves as the everyday center fielder, having Busch at first with Mervis as the DH and Cooper filling in against righties would work. Or they keep Wisdom and use him as more of a utility guy, which is probably the better move purely due to his prodigious pop.

There are a number of different ways the Cubs could slice it, I’m just leaning into my personal preference here. The simple fact of the matter is that Bellinger immediately makes the roster better and enables Craig Counsell and the front office to fine-tune a few spots at the margins.

Ed. note: I didn’t see this until after publishing, but Jon Heyman tweeted that Cooper’s decision came down to the Cubs and Red Sox. That’s interesting because it indicates not only the possibility that Cooper received assurance from the Cubs of a better chance at a roster spot, but also Boston’s need for a right-handed 1B/DH type. With lefty-hitting Triston Casas establishing himself last season, Wisdom might be exactly what they’re looking for.

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