The Cubs' search for depth up the middle has led them to veteran utility man Daniel Descalso.
On Tuesday, the Cubs announced that they signed Descalso to a two-year contract that includes a team option for the 2021 season. Descalso checks off a number of boxes for Chicago -- including offering additional depth at second base while the team navigates through an April without shortstop Addison Russell.
Descalso will earn $1.5 million in 2019, followed by a $2.5 million salary in '20. The third-year option is valued at $3.5 million, but the Cubs also have a $1 million buyout, making the contract worth $5 million guaranteed.
Russell will be ineligible for activation from the restricted list until May 3 due to finishing a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. While Russell is out of the picture, the Cubs plan on having Javier Baez handle shortstop duties, leaving a vacancy at second base for the first month of next season.
Descalso adds to an internal group of alternatives that includes Benjamin Zobrist, David Bote and Ian Happ. The left-handed-hitting veteran has spent parts of nine years in the Majors with the Cardinals, Rockies and D-backs. Last year, Descalso split his time in Arizona between second base (52 games), third base (37), first (11) and the outfield (five).
Over his career, Descalso has appeared in 179 games at shortstop, but he has only logged one game at the position in the past two years.
Descalso has hit .240 with a .694 OPS in his career with relatively even splits against righties (.694 OPS) and lefties (.696 OPS), but he fared better against left-handers (.889 OPS and 134 wRC+ in 74 plate appearances) than right-handers (.767 OPS and 107 wRC+ in 349 PAs) last season. Overall in 2018, Descalso hit .238 with a career-high 13 homers to go along with 57 RBIs, a .789 OPS and a 111 wRC+ in 138 games.
The big change last year with Descalso was his improvement in getting pitches into the air. The 32-year-old produced a 46.3 percent flyball rate, which was up from 36.9 percent for his career. Along the same lines, his homer-to-fly ball ratio was 11.4 percent, compared to 6.9 for his career. Descalso also saw a rise in walk rate (15.1 percent in '18 vs. 10.4 in his career) and hard-hit rate (43.1 percent in 2018 vs. 29.7 percent in his career) last season.
After the Cubs traded Thomas La Stella to the Angels last month, the club was in the market for a lefty-hitting complement to the current crop of infielders. Descalso fits that mold, as well as giving Chicago a hitter with a more advanced style of offense. Descalso's improved air-ball approach could aid a lineup that had the highest ground-ball rate (47.8 percent) over the final two months last season.
Per Statcast™, Descalso also saw his launch angle jump to 19.1 degrees in 2018 -- up from 12.8 degrees in '17. That contributed to an increased average exit velocity (89 mph in '18 vs. 87 mph in '17) and a dramatic spike in Barrel rate (10.2 percent in '18 vs. 5.1 percent in '17).
Beyond infield depth, the Cubs have made it known that they are also hoping to inject some more veteran leadership into the clubhouse for 2019. It is worth noting then that Descalso has won a World Series (in 2011 with the Cardinals) and has 48 career postseason games in the big leagues under his belt.