May 8, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Joc Pederson leaves Dodgers to sign with Chicago Cubs

Another player at the center of the Dodgers’ recent success, culminating in their championship in October, will play elsewhere in 2021.

Joc Pederson has signed a one-year contract for $7 million with the Chicago Cubs, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The deal is pending a physical.

The outfielder is the fourth Dodgers free agent to sign with another organization. Pedro Báez (Houston Astros), Alex Wood (San Francisco Giants) and Kiké Hernández (Boston Red Sox) preceded Pederson’s departure.

Pederson, 28, leaves behind an impactful tenure in Los Angeles. He broke into the majors as a top prospect in 2014 and made the National League All-Star team as a rookie the next year. He established himself as a powerful slugger over the years, clubbing at least 25 home runs in four of his five full major-league seasons, and saved his best for the postseason — or, as it became known in the Dodgers clubhouse, Joctober.

Pederson hit .272 with nine home runs and a .852 OPS in 170 playoff plate appearances. He broke a scoreless tie with a solo home run off Washington’s Max Scherzer in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series in 2016. The Dodgers went on to win the elimination game 4-3. He initially wasn’t on the postseason roster in 2017, but was added for the National League Championship Series. He started five World Series games, produced an extra-base hit in five straight games, and three home runs in the World Series.

He finished the 2020 regular season with a .143 batting average and .681 OPS, but was again a force in the postseason, batting .382 with three home runs and a .991 OPS in 37 plate appearances.

Pederson didn’t become the all-around player some projected. His speed diminished over the years. The Dodgers moved him from center field to the corner outfield spots. They even tried him at first base during the 2019 season. The experiment failed miserably. At the plate, his struggles against left-handed pitchers were enough for the Dodgers to eventually decide to make him a platoon player.

Pederson’s time as a Dodger nearly ended last offseason. The Dodgers had a deal in place to trade him and Ross Stripling, but Angels owner Arte Moreno nixed the agreement in the 11th hour. Pederson and Stripling reported to spring training less than a week later. Stripling was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 31.

Another year in Los Angeles was never likely. The Dodgers, theoretically, could have re-signed Pederson at $7 million, but they would have kept limiting him to starts against right-handed pitchers. He wants to play every day. The lack of clarity regarding a designated hitter in the National League didn’t help.

The universal DH, which appears unlikely in 2021, would’ve boosted Pederson’s stock. He garnered interest from other clubs, including the Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, and Atlanta Braves, according to people with knowledge of the situation, but the demand for his services was icy.

Middle-class free agents, Pederson figured out, have been squeezed this offseason. His negotiations centered on a one-year deal. The huge contract he seemed destined to reach just a few years ago wasn’t there.

The White Sox offered Pederson a one-year contract worth at least $10 million, but he asked for more money and was turned down, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The club filled its hole with Adam Eaton. He signed a one-year, $7-million deal with a club option for 2022 last month.

On the other side of town, the Cubs had room in their outfield after non-tendering Kyle Schwarber and Albert Amora Jr. in December.

Pederson and Schwarber have similar offensive profiles. They’re both left-handed-hitting corner outfielders. They have the same career batting average (.230) and on-base-percentage (.336). Schwarber’s slugging percentage is 10 points higher (.480 to .470). Pederson’s OPS+ is three points better (116 to 113). Pederson is the better defender and a year older. Both are significantly better against right-handed pitchers than left-handers.

In the end, Schwarber collected more money this winter. He signed a one-year, $10-million contract with the Washington Nationals after projecting to receive around $8 million in arbitration.

Pederson’s 2021 salary will be less than the $7.75 million he was scheduled to earn in 2020 through arbitration before the pandemic-shortened season. But he’ll have the opportunity to play every day for a competitive team to boost his resumé for a better payday next winter.