Cubs’ Nico Hoerner ready to prove value as long-term shortstop

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Hoerner seeks chance to answer Cubs’ shortstop question originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

MILWAUKEE — The Cubs are expected to get their shortstop back Saturday.

But for how long? Until the winter when the Cubs write a big check for a free agent? Until the next big thing from the farm system shows up?

Until somebody pries Nico Hoerner’s fingers from the job vacated by the deadline trade of All-Star Javy Báez several years from now?

“I could definitely see myself playing shortstop every day,” Hoerner said before heading out for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa he was expected to finish Friday night. “But I also know I can play other spots at a high level, and it’s just about constructing the best lineup you can.”

Specifically, Hoerner has played second base in the big leagues at an especially high level, earning a place among the three National League finalists for a 2020 Gold Glove award. But that position would seem to be reserved for newly acquired Nick Madrigal to open 2022.

“It’s wherever they need me,” said Hoerner, who also has started two big-league games in center field, another in left and six at third base. “I would love the chance to play shortstop. That’s where my head’s at right now for coming back for however much time I have left this year.”

For now, Hoerner — whose big-league debut came as an emergency replacement at short because of injuries the final month of 2019 — is expected to spend the final two weeks as the Cubs everyday shortstop. 

And until somebody tells him otherwise, he’ll work there during the offseason to prepare for the role next year, he said.

But not even team president Jed Hoyer can know how big he’ll spend in the upcoming free agent market until he sees the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, Hoyer said.

Which leaves Hoerner and most everyone else to only guess whether one of those All-Stars from the historic free agent class of shortstops shows up next spring on a long-term contract, whether a short-term free agent is handed the job or whether Hoerner is the short story for the Cubs until Luis Vazquez, Ed Howard, Cristian Hernandez or some other young hot-shot prospect from the organization is ready.

“I would love to have a full offseason to work on shortstop and get a chance to play there,” Hoerner said. “But there’s so much about what the roster even looks like next year that it’s hard to predict that one.”

Until July, Hoerner had enough on his mind continuing to make adjustments during what became a bounce-back season at the plate while dealing with injured-list moves from a collision in early May (forearm), a hamstring injury later that month and the oblique strain that has sidelined him since the end of July.

There certainly was no place to even imagine a shot at the everyday shortstop job long-term.

“Then the roster changes,” he said, “and your focus goes somewhere else.”

Whatever happens next, he figures to be prepared.

“Every offseason I’ve worked at shortstop, at second and taken fly balls as well,” he said. “Nothing’s really going to change too much with that.”

At least until Hoyer has a chance to check out that new CBA.

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