A little more than two months since Addison Russell‘s 40-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s joint domestic violence policy was announced, the Chicago Cubs have seemingly found the former All-Star’s replacement, at least for the immediate future.
Daniel Descalso, 32, last played for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season. A third round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007, Descalso lasted five seasons with the Cubs’ National League Central rivals before making his way through the NL West and spending the last two seasons with Arizona.
Inked on a two-year deal worth $5 million, Descalso has an opportunity to make north of $8 million if certain performances bonuses are met. There will also be a team option for a third year worth $3.5 million and a $1 million buyout on that option.
Sources: Descalso deal with #Cubs is two years, $5M with a club option fo 2021.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 18, 2018
Option for 2021 in Descalso’s contract with #Cubs is worth $3.5M. Team can also buy him out for $1M. Potential overall value, with performance bonuses, is $8.25M. Descalso gets a 49.25 percent increase over the $1.675 AAV in his previous two-year deal with #DBacks.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 18, 2018
Offensively, Descalso isn’t Bryce Harper, but few are. In his nine-year career, the infielder owns a .694 OPS with a career .370 slugging percentage and .240 batting average. As one would expect with numbers like that, Descalso has never hit more than 13 home runs in a season, a feat he accomplished last season.
Prior to 2017, Descalso had yet to hit more than ten home runs or log a slugging percentage north of .430. In the last two years, the veteran has rectified that, mashing 10 home runs in ’17 and the aforementioned 13 in ’18 while at the same time logging a career-best .436 slugging percentage.
Following with the uptick in Descalso’s slugging percentage has been an increase in his ISO. While a member of the Cardinals, the infielder never posted an ISO higher than .128, a number that has risen each of the last three seasons, from .160 in ’16 to .163 in ’17 to a new career mark of .198 in ’18.
Accompanying Descalso’s sudden power display, as one would expect, has been sharp rises in his overall offensive worth. Each of his .341 wOBA, 111 wRC-plus and 43.1 percent hard contact rate in 2018 are all career bests. That last figure, hard contact rate, bodes well for the sustainability of Descalso’s offensive increase. Like with his ISO, Descalso has seen huge increases in his hard contact rate over the last handful of years. What used to be a 20.1 percent mark in 2015 has more than doubled over the last three seasons.
Additionally, Descalso is beginning to lift the baseball much more compared to earlier in his career. With the Cardinals, Descalso was primarily a ground ball hitter, averaging way better than a 40 percent ground ball rate. In contrast, his fly ball rate suffered, sitting in the low- to mid-30’s for much of his tenure with the Cardinals. Of late, however, those numbers have flipped. Over his last two years with the Diamondbacks, Descalso’s ground ball rate has not been higher than 38.9 percent, clocking in at just 30.1 percent in 2018. To make up for that, Descalso put the ball in the air a career best 46.3 percent last season, making for the second straight season in which he had posted a mark north of 40 percent.
On the defensive side of things, Descalso can be described in one word, average. Last season, the versatile infielder logged a negative-one in Statcast’s outs above average, wiping out the plus-one mark he earned in 2017 and giving him a total of zero over the last three seasons.
What Descalso lacks in defensive skill, he makes up for by playing all over the place. Last year, the veteran logged significant time at second and third base while also racking up more than 50 innings at first base and even 25 innings in the outfield.
For his career, Descalso has recorded more than 1,000 defensive innings at three different infield positions, second base (1,974), third base (1,401.2) and shortstop (1,255.2).
Adding to their already versatile roster with Descalso, the infield combinations are endless. Zobrist, who shares in Descalso’s strength for hitting left-handed pitching, will likely be no more than a part-time player in the last year of his contract at the age of 37.
The signing of Descalso by the Cubs covers multiple holes within the club. First and foremost, it gives them another Zorbist-type player who can fill-in at a slew of different positions and hold his own. While his offensive game hasn’t been much to write home about, the recent trends noted above should provide at least some value to an offense that “broke” in the second half of 2018. Additionally, Descalso gives the Cubs a veteran presence in the clubhouse. As a former World Series Champion (with the Cardinals in 2011), Descalso knows what it takes to win on baseball’s biggest stage and will bring a drive of wanting another trophy before retirement to the north side of Chicago.
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