Cubs News: Why is Pete Crow-Armstrong going down?
Dale Zanine - USA Today Sports

Cubs News: Why is Pete Crow-Armstrong going down?

by - Staff Writer -

Good news and bad news.

The good news is the Cubs have reportedly activated Dansby Swanson from the 10-day injured list as well as called up a top infield prospect from Triple-A in Luis Vazquez. Nico Hoerner should make his return to the lineup soon. Miles Mastrobuoni is being sent down to Triple-A as part of the corresponding moves.

The other? Pete Crow-Armstrong is joining Mastrobuoni in the minor leagues — that’s the bad news.

These two roster moves are puzzling, so let’s break them down.

The Cubs have been without Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson for quite some time now. Swanson was initially injured in late April and tried to play through his right knee sprain for a week or so. Swanson went 6-40 in the 12 games he played hurt and was finally placed on the injured list on May 8th. Hoerner has been out since May 14th with hamstring tightness. Hoerner was scratched before May 14th’s game with Atlanta and has sat on the bench for the last six games. The Cubs expect both to return to the lineup Tuesday.

Nico Hoerner was never placed on the injured list, so the Cubs were playing a man thin on the bench. Luis Vazquez made the most sense to call up, as he has a Gold Glove-type caliber defense and above-average offense for AAA Iowa (.262/.360/.397). However, since the Cubs never placed Hoerner on the injured list, they couldn’t call somebody up without demoting another player, which did not make sense for a team already playing thin.

Instead, the Cubs opted to start Miles Mastrobuoni at shortstop and Nick Madrigal at second base for six straight games. Madrigal hit 6-18 without an extra-base hit, and Mastrobuoni was 2-20 with only a pair of singles. Madrigal’s current average is .221, while Mastrobuoni’s has dipped to .125.

With the Cubs activating Swanson, expecting Hoerner back, and calling up Luis Vazquez — it seemed to hint at the fact that the Madrigal and Mastrobuoni’s future in Chicago was bleak. It turns out the Mastrobuoni aspect was correct, as he is being sent down to the minor leagues. Mastrobuoni had options left so that the Cubs could send him to Iowa. As for Madrigal, he has no minor league options left, so he would have to be designated for assignment if the Cubs did not want him on the roster. So, instead of pulling the plug on Madrigal, the Cubs sent Pete Crow-Armstrong back to the minor leagues.

On paper, sending PCA back down to the minor leagues makes sense. Crow-Armstrong is partially blocked from playing time in the outfield as the fifth outfielder. With Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger, and Sieya Suzuki in the outfield, plus Mike Tauchman either as DH or filling in in the field if one of the other outfielders is DHing — there weren’t a lot of avenues for PCA getting regular playing time. The reason that Cubs fans are having a hard time getting behind is that Nick Madrigal gets to stay on the big league roster, and Pete Crow-Armstrong doesn’t.

If you are trying to craft the 26 best players in the Cubs organization, PCA is one of them, so he should be in the big leagues.

Madrigal provides above-average defense at third and is an extra second baseman — a piece the Cubs no longer need with fellow right-handed hitting middle infielder Luis Vazquez being called up. Not to mention, Madrigal has not been a successful hitter at the plate and, despite being known for his contact, has struggled to get hits in 2024. Meanwhile, Pete Crow-Armstrong will give you Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, elite speed on the base paths, and a better hitter than Madrigal and Mastrobuoni.

But that’s not the only reason these moves are puzzling. You would imagine the Cubs’ rationale for demoting Pete Crow-Armstrong is so he can have regular at-bats to develop. If so, why would you bring a backup shortstop to the big leagues to sit behind a now-healthy Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner? Why wasn’t this move made a week ago when Swanson was on the IL and Hoerner first got hurt — he’d be almost done with his IL stint, and the Cubs wouldn’t have had to play shorthanded for nearly a week.

Either the Cubs truly believed Hoerner was day-to-day, or they don’t have faith in Vazquez at the big-league level yet. It’s entirely possible both can be true. But after the Cubs saw how bad the middle infield has looked over the week without Swanson and Hoerner, it appears the Cubs have had enough of Mastrobuoni and Madrigal. Mastrobuoni is sent down, and Madrigal’s role will decrease with Vazquez up. Still, this aspect of the move feels a week late.

The question isn’t why you are calling up Vazquez; why now?

Not to mention, Pete Crow-Armstrong — who I believe has done more than enough to prove he belongs at the big league level — is the big loser of it all. The Cubs will miss him, and I do not think he’ll be in AAA for long.

It also now might be time to start talking about Brennen Davis, who can’t stop crushing home runs in Iowa. He’s another player who would provide a better bat than the one Madrigal brings to the diamond every day.

Overall, it feels like the Chicago Cubs made a decision that does not prioritize winning. It’s hard to take the Cubs seriously as a contender if they are choosing to keep Nick Madrigal on a big-league roster instead of Pete Crow-Armstrong.

PCA has a 0.8 WAR in 23 games; Madrigal has a -0.4 WAR in 43.

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