You’d be excused if you missed the biggest free-agent signing of the off-season in Daniel Descalso. Descalso signed a 2 year, $5 million deal, and hit .238/.353/.436 last year. Descalso brings walks to the table (15.1 BB% last year), but let strikeouts get away from himself a little bit (26.0 K% last year). He can play 2B and 3B, but doesn’t really do either all that well – FanGraphs rated him as a net-negative in every season since 2011. He has a long, established history of never being good at any position; last year was the first year he was even league-average with the bat and it brought his career wRC+ to a moribund 85. Descalso is a warm body that will see the field only if Russell ends up being released (and he’ll get some run in the time that Russell is suspended).
It’s my contention that the Cubs have somebody in their system that is already as useful as Descalso. Zack Short had a 15.6% walk rate and a 26.0% strikeout rate in AA last season. The walk rate is the best in his career (though it’s always been good), and the strikeout rate is the highest of his career (though that’s expected as you climb levels). Last season, they sported very similar power numbers (.190 ISO for Short, .198 for Descalso). Clearly, the translation from Tennessee to Chicago means that Zack’s numbers will come up…wanting. How much so is up for some debate. Steamer projects Short to have an 81 wRC+ if he was called up next year. Descalso projects to 94 wRC+ in the same metric. I’m not sure if the 13-point gap can be truly overcome by superior defense (Short figures to be a slightly below-average defensive shortstop or a slightly above-average second baseman), but I’m also not entirely convinced Steamer has the right figures for Short. The reason I say that is because Short is an extreme fly-ball hitter (and I mean extreme – he hits them at a 54% rate, which would be first among all hitters in professional baseball last year). Short is so bizarre a player that you just can’t find comps for him. Extreme fly-ball shortstops are unicorns – Trevor Story had the highest rate among MLB SS and he got there 43% of the time! I don’t know if flyballs are more easily, less easily, or about as translatable as any other batted-ball profile. I just know that it makes Short more interesting than other AA SS types.
Short’s big problem will be seeing if he can last in the majors with a strikeout rate similar to what he brought to AA. If he can do that, I think there’s every chance Short can not only be a major-league player, but a major-league regular. It’ll be interesting to see if Short can hit major-league righties, too: Short’s OPS last season against lefties was .963, and against righties it was .699 (nice). I hope Short gets a nice, long look in spring training. Descalso probably shuts the door on Short playing a lot in 2019, but it’s also not a big hurdle for Short to jump. 2/$5 doesn’t scream “guaranteed spot on the 25-man,” and it obviously shouldn’t. In any case, Russell’s suspension opens the door for Short to get some major-league experience for the first quarter of the season. Put it all together, and Short is certainly one of the more interesting non-roster invites of the 2019 season.