The Cubs are currently hanging on to the edge of the playoff race at the All-Star break, so the next two weeks will decide if Jed Hoyer and the front office decide to buy or sell at the trade deadline. If they do add, and there is a strong case to do that even if they aren’t likely to get back in the race, one very intriguing candidate would be former organizational standout Jeimer Candelario.
You may or may not remember that Candelario began his major league career with the Cubs with a cup of coffee in 2016-17. After just 16 games on the North Side, the switch-hitting infielder was traded along with Isaac Paredes to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila.
Candelario slowly improved with increased playing time on the rebuilding Tigers before breaking out in 2021, hitting 16 home runs with a whopping 42 doubles to fuel a 120 wRC+ over 626 plate appearances. His numbers fell the following season, as did the rest of Detroit’s lineup for that matter, with his wRC+ dropping to 80 due to lower power and patience numbers.
The Candy Man entered free agency in 2023 after he was non-tendered by the Tigers and signed a one-year, $5 million prove-it contract with the tanking Nationals. That change of scenery must have helped because his numbers have bounced right back to their 2021 levels. Through 85 games, Candelario has 13 homers and 27 doubles with a 118 wRC+ while also playing solid defense at the hot corner.
The Nats are certain to trade him at the deadline and he is an ideal fit for the Cubs for three major reasons. The most important factor is Candelario’s ability to play both corners (he logged 510 innings at first in 2019-20 with the Tigers). The Cubs have had an incredibly difficult time getting production from those positions, with first basemen generating just a .677 OPS on the season and third basemen at a .691 so far. Candelario’s .815 OPS would constitute a massive upgrade at either or both positions.
The second perk of adding him to the squad is that he has crushed right-handed pitchers in 2023 with 11 home runs, 19 doubles, and an .871 OPS. That would be a big boost for a team that has lacked left-handed power for most of the season. Cubs hitters have just 27 homers from the left side of the plate in 2023, a total that ranks 29th in MLB.
Though it doesn’t necessarily help the team on the field, this hypothetical deal makes sense because the 29-year-old should have a low acquisition cost. Candelario’s cheap contract will have a negligible effect on the Cubs’ bottom line and it should not take a major prospect to land him as a rental. It really seems like a no-brainer for a player many people thought Chicago should have signed — that’s what should “of” is actually supposed to be, if you were wondering — before the season.
And hey, if he keeps producing down the stretch it probably wouldn’t be difficult to sign him for a couple more seasons to give the team much-needed depth on the infield. If they do finally opt to go back in the buying direction at the deadline, especially if it’s not with an all-in mentality, Candelario looks like an excellent target.