Pederson putting platoon label in past

Proactive offseason search lands slugger everyday opportunity in Chicago

February 27th, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- was on Field 1 at the Cubs' complex on Saturday morning, taking batting practice against one of Chicago's left-handed coaches. That will be a familiar scene in the coming weeks as the outfielder works to rewrite his reputation as a platoon player.

One of the reasons Pederson reached out to the Cubs at the start of February was because he saw the potential to prove he could be an everyday player. The North Siders had a vacancy in left field, as well as the means to sign the free agent, and Pederson lobbied for the chance to bet on himself.

"The conviction he had and the belief he had," Cubs manager David Ross said. "I think he wants to prove it to himself. I think he wants to prove it to us. I think he wants to prove it to a lot of people. I think that's a very powerful thing."

With the Cubs, Pederson will play every day in left, taking over for slugger Kyle Schwarber, who was non-tendered over the offseason before signing with the Nationals. Ross will work in days off, which will likely be against particularly tough lefties, but Pederson can expect to see his name in the lineup on a near-daily basis.

Pederson comes to Chicago from a Dodgers team that is deep in both financial resources and talent. The depth that existed on Los Angeles' roster during Pederson's time there made him a specific cog in a larger machine. He was used against right-handed pitching, and that was that.

"I was drafted by the Dodgers, came up through the Dodgers," Pederson said. "That's all I really know, and you don't really [question it]. You just kind of work there. That's your job. You do it and you show up with a good attitude and you're excited to be there."

Back in his first full season in 2015, Pederson received 129 plate appearances against lefty pitchers, but that number dropped to 77 in ‘16 and then hovered at 54 PAs on average across the ‘17-19 seasons. During last year's abbreviated campaign, Pederson had 138 PAs overall, with only 10 coming against left-handers.

There was, of course, reasoning behind how the Dodgers utilized Pederson's bat. Over his career, the lefty slugger has posted an .849 OPS with a 128 wRC+ against righties (2,132 PAs), compared to a .576 OPS and 59 wRC+ against lefties (385 PAs). His career walk rates (12.6 percent vs. RHP and 9.4 percent vs. LHP) and strikeout rates (23.4 percent vs. RHP and 28.8 percent vs. LHP) followed suit.

Understandably, that statistical profile made it challenging for Pederson to find an everyday opportunity on the open market this winter.

"I don't think I am respected as [an] everyday player," Pederson said. "It's why a lot of teams didn't want to pursue me as that. Like I've said, I'm excited for this opportunity. It's fun to come to the field every day, knowing that I'm getting another shot. I love it."

Pederson thought he was closing in on a regular role with a different team at one point, but the talks broke down and he found himself again being offered a platoon job. That is what prompted a late-night search on his phone, poring over rosters and payroll numbers, and leading him to the Cubs.

When it felt like it might be a match, Pederson called his agent, who reached out to the Cubs, and they had a contract sewn up in roughly 48 hours. Pederson chatted with new Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, and then had an open and honest discussion about his everyday opportunity with Ross.

"It was just basically saying, 'Hey, I'm going to pencil you in there every day,'" Pederson recalled. "'And if we come to July and you're not cutting it, and you're hitting .150 against lefties, we're still here to win ballgames.' And I said, 'Absolutely. I'm not looking for anything guaranteed. I want a real opportunity.'

It did not take long at that point for texts to start streaming in from Pederson's new Cubs teammates, who faced him plenty of times in recent postseasons. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo reached out. Bench coach Andy Green sent him a note. And then Pederson's phone rang.

"I got a random number from Chicago," Pederson said. "And I thought it was like a trainer or traveling secretary."

It was Jason Heyward.

"He's like, 'Yo, it's J-Hey. I just wanted to say congratulations,'" Pederson said. "I thought that was really pro."

In these early days of camp, Pederson said Heyward has also taken him under his wing, especially when it comes to working on defense. As things currently stand, the Cubs plan on having Ian Happ in center, flanked by Heyward in right and Pederson in left.

"It's going to be good for me," Pederson said. "I guess you could say I've got to prove some stuff, but I'm not out to prove it for anybody but myself. I know what I can do, and I'm not going to add pressure, like, 'I've got to do this for you or for them.' No, I know what type of player I am.

"To get the opportunity, it's going to be fun. It's going to be a fun year in Chicago, so I'm excited."