CHICAGO -- The Cubs are giving slugger Franmil Reyes a two-month audition.
On Monday, Chicago claimed Reyes off waivers from the Guardians, who made the surprising move on Saturday to designate him for assignment. The outfielder is in the midst of a rough offensive showing this year, but has provided prodigious power in the past.
"He's shown huge power in the big leagues," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said on Monday. "Obviously, he's struggled this year, but we felt like it was a good opportunity to take a chance on him."
Let's break down this addition for the North Siders.
What does Reyes add to the Cubs?
It was not that long ago that the 27-year-old Reyes was a legitimate home-run threat, launching 30 blasts a year ago with Cleveland and 37 in 2019 between the Padres and Guardians. Even this year, Reyes ranks in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity (92.2 mph) and in the 88th percentile in hard-hit percentage (47.2), per Statcast.
"I think it makes a lot of sense," Cubs manager David Ross said. "He can put the ball in the seats. We don't have a lot of those guys."
Ross pointed out that the Cubs do not have a true designated hitter, so Reyes could get at-bats in that slot. Ross has cycled catcher Willson Contreras and other players (Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom, for example) in and out of that role. When he wasn't DHing for Cleveland, Reyes mostly played right field, but that is Seiya Suzuki's spot in Chicago's outfield rotation.
What's behind Reyes' struggles?
In 2021, Reyes hit .254/.324/.522 with a 125 wRC+, meaning he was 25 percent above average as a hitter. In 70 games this season, Reyes has hit .213 with nine homers, a .604 OPS and 104 strikeouts in 263 at-bats. Both his walk rate and strikeout rate have moved in the wrong direction two years in a row.
2020: 10 percent BB%, 28.6 percent K%
2021: 9.2 percent BB%, 32 percent K%
2022: 5 percent BB%, 37.1 percent K%
Within this year's showing, Reyes has chased more often, with a drop in contact rate on pitches outside the zone (46.3 percent in 2022 vs. 54.6 percent in 2021). Per Statcast, his production against breaking balls (.242 SLG and .204 wOBA) and offspeed pitches (.095 SLG and .137 wOBA), in particular, took a big hit this year.
"Looking at some of the video," Ross said, "he can be a real all-fields type hitter in a power body. He's got the ability to hit home runs. But I think him getting back to using all fields, driving the ball gap to gap, is where he's at his best. And then the homers show up."
How does Reyes fit in 2023 picture?
Reyes' age (27) and years of control (through 2024) make a lot of sense for a Cubs team in the middle of a rebuilding process. He is owed around $1.5 million of his $4.55 million salary for the rest of this season and will be eligible for arbitration before next season.
Perhaps it helps that there is familiarity around the Cubs for these final two months, too. Bench coach Andy Green was Reyes' manager with the Padres in 2018-19 and Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins was in Cleveland's front office in recent seasons.
If Reyes can look more like himself down the stretch, then the Cubs can weigh if he fits in the 2023 plans as a slugging option for DH and the outfield. It is a cost-effective, no-risk attempt to inject offensive power into the lineup, and helps Chicago focus its payroll resources elsewhere in the coming offseason.
"We have control for a couple years," Hoyer said. "It feels like we were lacking in the power department right now. For the whole year, we've done a decent job getting on base, but we've done a poor job of converting that into runs."