The Cubs Should Think About Selling High On Patrick Wisdom

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With a record of 35-57, the Cubs are 14 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the National League Central and 14 games out of a Wild Card spot. That makes them one of the more clearcut sellers at this year’s trade deadline.

Naturally, there were a number of Cubs featured on MLBTR’s list of top trade candidates, with Willson Contreras, David Robertson, Mychal Givens and Ian Happ all making the cut. Contreras and Robertson are both hitting the open market at year’s end, with Givens almost certainly joining them. He has a mutual option for 2023 but those are almost never picked up by both sides. That makes them all logical trade candidates. Happ has an extra year of control but still makes sense to be on the block, as MLBTR’s Anthony Franco recently explored. Taking players with limited control and turning them into prospects that can help in the long term is the standard playbook for losing teams.

They also have another player who could make sense as a trade chip, though for different reasons. Third baseman Patrick Wisdom is not nearing free agency. He came into this season with one year and 58 days of MLB service time, meaning he should finish this season at 2.058. He won’t even qualify for arbitration until after 2023 and is set to become a free agent after the 2026 campaign. The Cubs will almost certainly get out of this rebuild and return to contention at some point in that window, though Wisdom could still make sense to move given his unusual journey.

Wisdom was selected over a decade ago, when the Cardinals used the 52nd overall pick on him in the 2012 draft. He got a taste of affiliated ball that year, playing in Low-A, faring well enough to be ranked the 11th best Cardinals prospect in 2013 by Baseball America. However, he struggled as he climbed the minor league ladder and eventually fell off that list.

Wisdom always had power, but also strikeouts and low batting averages. In 2014, he got his first taste of Double-A, hitting 14 home runs but striking out 29.9% of the time, with a .215/.277/.367 line and wRC+ of 83. He repeated the level in 2015 and had fairly similar results. Going up to Triple-A in 2016, he missed time with injuries and only played 78 games, producing tepid results when on the field. 2017, his second shot at Triple-A, he showed some promise, hitting 31 homers and batting .243/.310/.507. He struck out 29.4% of the time but was still a bit above average, with a wRC+ of 105. He got a third stint with the Memphis Redbirds in 2018, reducing his striking rate a bit to 26.6% and increasing his batting average to .288.

That was enough to get him a call-up to the big leagues, where he fared very well. He hit four home runs in 32 games and slashed .260/.362/.520. Jumping to major league pitching made his strikeout rate tick up even higher, coming in at 32.8%, though he still produced a 142 wRC+ in his debut.

Blocked for playing time in St. Louis, the Cardinals traded him to the Rangers prior to the 2019 campaign. The new jersey didn’t help Wisdom, though, as he struggled badly as a Ranger. They only let him play nine games at the big league level, where he struck out in over half of plate appearances. Spending most of his time in Triple-A, he hit 31 home runs for the Nashville Sounds but struck out 27.6% of the time and hit .240/.332/.513 for a wRC+ of 97. Reaching free agency, he signed with the Mariners in 2020 but they designated for assignment before he appeared in a game with them. He then signed with the Cubs, appearing in just two games for them that season. He was designated for assignment again at the end of the year.

Then came 2021, which would prove to be a tremendous breakout for Wisdom. Re-signing with the Cubs on a minor league deal, he began the year in Triple-A. Injuries opened a roster spot for him in May, and the Cubs eventually underwent a massive deadline selloff, trading away Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. That opened up at-bats for Wisdom, who made the best of them. He would go on to hit 28 home runs and 13 doubles in 106 games, slashing .231/.305/.518. He still struck out a lot, even more than usual, in fact. Among players with at least 350 plate appearances last year, his 40.8% rate was the easily the highest, more than five points higher than the next guy on the list, Mike Zunino at 35.2%.

Wisdom has seemingly always had the same formula and this year is no exception. He’s hit 17 home runs and 18 doubles, slashing .220/.316/.441. Despite the low batting average, he provides enough power to be above average, as evidenced by his 111 wRC+. He’s improved his strikeout rate to 34.5%, though that’s still well above the league average mark of 22.3% and third in the league among qualified hitters.

Through all of those twists and turns and despite his flaws, Wisdom has turned himself into a productive big leaguer. He produced 2.2 wins above replacement last year, according to FanGraphs, and has racked up another 1.1 already this year. But due to the prolonged nature of his development, he is now 30 years old and turns 31 in August. Though the Cubs could conceivably have a very aggressive winter and get back into contention next year, it becomes more probable in 2024 and 2025, seasons in which Wisdom will celebrate his 33rd and 34th birthdays.

It’s entirely possible that Wisdom is still mashing dingers in those years, but rebuilding teams generally prefer to open a competitive window with players who are just entering their prime years and will remain productive core pieces for five, six, seven years into the future. Given his age, Wisdom would be a better fit on a win-now club. Getting Wisdom out of the way could also allow the Cubs to move Christopher Morel back to the dirt. An infielder throughout most of his minor league career, he’s hitting very well in his rookie season despite being pushed into more outfield work. He has -5 Outs Above Average on the grass this year, a -5 Defensive Runs Saved and -3.3 Ultimate Zone Rating.

There’s also the fact that Wisdom’s high-strikeout approach comes with volatility. Players that strike out at these incredible rates are prone to swoons in performance. Looking at last year’s highest strikeout rates among qualified hitters, you get Joey Gallo, Miguel Sano, Javier Baez, Matt Chapman, Adam Duvall and Tyler O’Neill. Other than Chapman, all of those guys are having disappointing seasons compared to last year, and Chapman’s is still disappointing compared to some of his previous seasons. Gallo had a 123 wRC+ last year but 85 this year, Sano went from 110 to 19, Baez from 116 to 74, Chapman from 101 to 102 (but was higher in the four previous season), Duvall from 103 to 87 and O’Neill from 144 to 87. In the case of Sano and O’Neill, injuries are playing a big factor, but it still demonstrates the unsustainability of this style of hitting.

For the Cubs, perhaps they should try to cash in the Wisdom chip before it cracks. There haven’t been any public rumors mentioning Wisdom, but there are a few fits that make sense. He largely plays third base but has also lined up at first base and the outfield.

The Mets are using Eduardo Escobar at third most of the time, who’s hitting just .224/.279/.397 on the year for a 94 wRC+. They’re also known to be looking for another bat to supplant Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis in the bench/DH mix. Wisdom could perhaps be viewed as a better version of Davis, who is striking out 31% of the time but has just three homers and eight doubles.

The Rays have been shuffling various guys through the hot corner, with Yandy Diaz and Isaac Paredes both having great seasons. Though Diaz also plays first base and Paredes second. If Brandon Lowe, fresh off the IL, is healthy enough to move to the outfield, that would help them cover for the injuries to Kevin Kiermaier, Manuel Margot and Harold Ramirez. Even if not, Wisdom would certainly be a better bench bat than Yu Chang and his batting line of .181/.253/.264. Of course, the low-spending Rays would certainly like Wisdom’s lack of a meaningful salary.

The Brewers are leading the Central due to their pitching but are just about league average offensively. They’ve been spreading at-bats around to Luis Urias, Jace Peterson and Mike Brosseau, though all of those three are capable of playing elsewhere. Bob Nightengale of USA Today recently reported the Brewers are open to moving Kolten Wong, which could open room for Wisdom to take some time at third and bump that trio into spending more time at second.

The Phillies keep trotting out Alec Bohm at the hot corner, who’s hitting .276/.311/.388 for a wRC+ of 92. His numbers were even worse before he went on a tear here in July, hitting .382/.421/.647 for the month. They’ll probably just stick with Bohm and hope he sustains that, but Wisdom would certainly fit financially. The Phils are in uncharted territory in terms of payroll, crossing the luxury tax line for the first time. Since Wisdom hasn’t yet reached arbitration, he wouldn’t stretch them in that regard.

The Rangers have been mixing veterans in at third all year but have given most of the playing time to rookie Josh Smith lately, who’s hitting at a below-average rate. They’re 7 1/2 games out of a playoff spot and probably sellers but could acquire Wisdom to see what happens down the stretch. He could also hold down the position next year while they wait to see what’s going on with Josh Jung. Their top position player prospect had a chance to be the Opening Day third baseman this year but suffered a shoulder injury in February. He underwent surgery and has yet to return to game action.

There are also a handful of teams that aren’t necessarily “win-now” in the strictest sense but could try to implement Wisdom next year. The Rockies, Orioles, Angels, Tigers and Diamondbacks all have long odds of cracking the postseason here in 2022 but are all likely to make moves towards competing next year.

Even if a team doesn’t have an obvious fit at the hot corner, he’d likely serve as an upgrade on one of their bench bats, even among the best teams in the league. The Dodgers, for instance, have Hanser Alberto who’s hitting .227/.236/.364 for a wRC+ of 66. The red-hot Yankees have Marwin Gonzalez and his .234/.301/.378 batting line, 95 wRC+. The Astros have rookie J.J. Matijevic, who’s hitting a tepid .150/.209/.350 for a wRC+ of 58. Limiting Wisdom to a part-time role could also improve his output, as he’s generally been better against lefties. He has a 120 wRC+ against southpaws and 106 against righties for his career, with a more pronounced 142-100 split this season, though he still strikes out a lot against both.

There’s certainly no urgency for the Cubs to work out a Wisdom trade right this second. They will no doubt be busy working out trades for Contreras, Robertson, Givens and Happ in the coming weeks. With Wisdom’s extra years of control, he’s certainly on the backburner in terms of priorities. However, given the volatile nature of his production, they could look to strike while the iron is hot.

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