CHICAGO (AP)Nico Hoerner heard the same message from the Chicago Cubs over and over again. They liked him as a shortstop, and they also had confidence in him at second base.
When the Cubs landed Gold Glove shortstop Dansby Swanson in free agency, the matter was settled.
The athletic Hoerner is returning to second base after Swanson finalized a $177 million, seven-year contract with Chicago last month. Hoerner and Swanson should give the Cubs one of the majors’ best double-play combinations.
”It was a huge move for the direction of this team,” Hoerner said. ”You’re getting an impact player that literally played every single game last year. I think that’s really cool, and he comes with a really, really high reputation about who he is as a player. It’s going to be a big impact for us.”
The 25-year-old Hoerner, a first-round pick in the 2018 amateur draft out of Stanford, has played second base in 68 big league games, including 53 starts. But he spent all of last season at shortstop.
”It was always a dream of mine to play shortstop in the major leagues,” Hoerner said Friday on the first day of the team’s fan convention. ”Got to do it for a full season this year.
”But the needs of our team are very clear, and it’s not an issue moving forward at all.”
Swanson’s signing was part of an active winter for the Cubs after they went 74-88 last year for their second straight losing season. They also added right-hander Jameson Taillon, outfielder Cody Bellinger, first baseman Eric Hosmer, reliever Brad Boxberger and catcher Tucker Barnhart in free agency.
Hosmer’s $720,000, one-year contract was completed Friday, and right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. was designated for assignment. The 33-year-old Hosmer played for San Diego and Boston last season, batting .268 with eight homers and 44 RBIs in 104 games.
President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer said Hosmer likely will be the team’s starting first baseman.
”A chance to bring in a guy that’s had some really good years, had a really good career,” Hoyer said. ”There’s a change-in-scenery element I think to him. … I think that getting him into our environment, I think there’s good years left.”
Hosmer said the chance to play for the Cubs appealed to him on several levels.
”The city speaks for itself and the fan base and all that,” he said. ”But just a young, energetic group. Great coaching staff. … From the other side looking in, you see the talent, you see the guys that are on the way up.”
The Cubs also agreed to one-year contracts with Hoerner ($2,525,000), All-Star outfielder Ian Happ ($10.85 million), reliever Codi Heuer ($785,000) and infielder Nick Madrigal ($1,225,000), avoiding salary arbitration. Free-agent outfielder Mike Tauchman and right-hander Nick Neidert agreed to minor league deals that included invitations to spring training.
Hoyer said the team is interested in long-term deals with Hoerner and Happ, and has had conversations with their agents. But he declined to provide further details.
Hoerner is coming off a breakout season, batting .281 with a career-best 10 homers, 55 RBIs and 20 steals in 135 games. He played in a total of 112 games over his first three years in the majors.
”He wants to be better in all facets of his game,” manager David Ross said. ”He’s going to work his butt off to be the best second baseman in the game. He’s a guy that wants to win, and nothing else matters.”
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