Hoerner 'without question' someone the Cubs want long term

August 27th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- As Nico Hoerner stood at his locker inside American Family Field's visitors' clubhouse on Friday afternoon, the TVs in the room aired a panel of baseball analysts breaking down the reported extension between the Mariners and star rookie Julio Rodríguez.

"We've seen a lot of deals lately around baseball," Hoerner said in the hours before the Cubs' 4-3, 10-inning win over the rival Brewers. "And I feel like they've been good for everybody involved."

As the Cubs continue to evaluate players and plan for the future, one thing has become clear this season: Hoerner looks very much like a player to build around. He has frustrated opposing pitchers, played elite defense at shortstop and has been described as an emerging leader behind the scenes.

That is a recipe for a potential contract extension. Unlike Rodríguez or Braves rookie Michael Harris II -- two recent examples of budding stars given long-term pacts -- Hoerner is not in his pre-arbitration years. This coming offseason, he will enter the arbitration system for the first time.

On Thursday morning at Wrigley Field, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer acknowledged that the front office will be weighing multiyear deals for players currently in the fold.

"Certainly, when you think about where we're spending money or building a team," Hoyer said, "we absolutely have people in-house we want to extend beyond where their arbitration years are. I think that's without question."

Hoyer was then asked about Hoerner, specifically.

The Cubs' front-office leader repeated the final line of his previous answer: "That's without question."

Hoerner's next game will mark his 112th of this season. That is as many as he played across 2019-21. He was an emergency late-season call-up in '19, endured ups and downs in the 60-game season in '20 and performed well in '21 (.302 average and .382 on-base percentage), but was limited to 44 games due to injury issues.

Beyond one fluke injury setback this year -- he missed two weeks in May after spraining an ankle in a collision with an umpire -- Hoerner has been a constant on the field, producing in all facets. Per Statcast, he headed into Friday ranked in the 99th percentile in outs above average (13), 98th in strikeout rate (11.2 percent), 95th in whiff percentage (14.5) and 91st in sprint speed (29.0 feet per second).

"Nico went out and has proven he's a really good player," Cubs manager David Ross said. "He's somebody we've always believed in. Now, it's just putting the numbers to the beliefs and seeing it. Let it pass the eye test. Let it pass the number test. Let it pass the Major League test of 162 [games]."

The business side of things is new territory for Hoerner, who preferred not to delve too deep into discussing the topic.

"I'm still kind of figuring out what all that means," he said.

Over the past two years, Hoerner watched former teammates Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo deal with trade rumors (and then being dealt) as extension talks stalled. He witnessed Willson Contreras and Ian Happ endure a similar situation this year, but without a trade coming to fruition for either player.

Happ, who belted a pair of go-ahead two-run homers on Friday night, still has one more season of contractual control through arbitration and has gone year-to-year in that process. Hoener said he is grateful to have Happ (who is also the Cubs' representative for the MLB Players Association) to lean on for advice and insight.

"For the players that have been offered extensions," Hoerner said, "and either have taken them or turned them down, that's obviously a great, tough decision to get to make, for those that have had that opportunity."

Happ was not sure what advice he would give Hoerner at this precise point in time, given that the idea of an extension for the shortstop exists only as a concept right now.

"Everybody has a different experience," said Happ, who won his arbitration case in 2021 and then avoided a hearing with a one-year settlement before this season. "And you can't always control how those things happen."

That said, Happ was asked if Hoerner is the type of player he thinks a team should invest in long-term?

"I'd like to have him for a long time, yeah," he said.

What Hoerner was willing to say was that, of course, he would be open to hearing what the Cubs had to offer if they felt compelled to come to him with an extension proposal. The rest of the equation is a big unknown.

"I love being here," Hoerner said. "And I think being here from rebuild to the next great team, or whatever you want to call it, would be one of the coolest things you can do in a career. It'd be incredibly satisfying. I love Chicago."