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MESA, Ariz. — Nico Hoerner did not consider Opening Day a hard deadline, but the second baseman hoped to avoid any distractions once the baseball season arrived. If an extension was going to happen, Spring Training was the time to put ink to paper.
“When I’m playing baseball, I like that to be where my head’s at,” Hoerner said near the start of camp. “It’s just more enjoyable that way, too. I want to have fun and be very present here.”
On Monday, a source told MLB.com that the Cubs and Hoerner reached an agreement on a three-year, $35 million extension. The team has not confirmed the deal, which was reported first by ESPN’s Jeff Passan as the bulk of the Major League team was in the air and en route to Chicago.
The Cubs will hold a workout at Wrigley Field on Wednesday in preparation of Thursday’s Opening Day tilt against the rival Brewers. Hoerner will be able to arrive to the Friendly Confines knowing he does not have to think about a contract for multiple years.
Hoerner avoided arbitration with a $2.525 million deal for 2023 over the offseason, and the extension now covers what would have been two more years in the arbitration process. The third year allows the Cubs to keep Hoerner at least one extra season, while giving him the opportunity to test free agency before his 30th birthday.
The extension is the first for the Cubs since signing pitcher Kyle Hendricks and utility man David Bote to multiyear deals at the start of the 2019 season. Over the years that followed, Chicago was unable to sign core stars Javier Báez, Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo to long-term extensions.
Hoerner arrived to the big leagues in ’19 — he was the first player drafted in 2018 to reach the Majors — and played with the last core under manager Joe Maddon. He then witnessed the drama of the contract talks behind the scenes, and the blockbuster trades that led to a rebuilding period in ’21-22.
As the Cubs now try to turn the page back to contending for the playoffs, Hoerner hoped to be part of the long-term vision.
“I’m excited to hopefully share a locker room with players for multiple years on end,” Hoerner said in February. “We’ve had so much turnover in the last couple of years that — even though we’ve had nothing but good people come through here — it is harder to build those relationships when people aren’t around for very long.”
For the next few years, Hoerner knows he will be partnered up the middle with shortstop Dansby Swanson, who signed a seven-year, $177 million contract with the Cubs over the winter. That duo should make up one of the best defensive double-play tandems in baseball.
Last year, Swanson led MLB shortstops with 21 Outs Above Average, helping him win the National League Gold Glove Award. Hoerner established himself as a more-than-capable everyday shortstop in ’22, posting 13 OAA, which tied Francisco Lindor for second in baseball behind Swanson.
Hoerner — a Gold Glove finalist at second base in 2020 — was open to moving back to second under the right circumstances. Signing Swanson fit the criteria for such a switch.
“Nico’s an impressive human,” Cubs manager David Ross said this spring. “He wants to win. And his mentality, I’ve never had to worry. He’s one of those easy ones. You don’t have to worry about where his headspace is. He’s all about winning and what’s best for the group.”
Selected out of Stanford with the 24th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Hoerner is establishing himself as an all-around player.
Ross announced this spring that Hoerner will start the season as the leadoff hitter, given his elite contact skills, gap-to-gap ability and speed on the bases. Last season, Hoerner turned in a .281/.327/.410 slash line to go with 10 homers, 22 doubles, 20 steals and 135 hits in 135 games.
“I feel like he’s going to line the ball up everywhere,” Swanson said. “Whether it’s struck down the right-field line and the left-field gap, you just never know where he’s going to go. It’s what makes him special. He’s got great bat-to-ball skills. He’s kind of always on go.”
And Hoerner — even at just 25 years old — is already growing into the kind of emerging leader on and off the field that the younger group of players follow.
“I think the best way to describe the Cubs in a player, it’s him,” Cubs top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong said earlier this spring. “That’s what Cubbie baseball should look like.”