Bryan LaHair made his season debut in the outfield yesterday, and, although Alfonso Soriano was DH’ing, LaHair played in right field, not left. David DeJesus shifted from his (now) natural right field to center, and Tony Campana shifted from his natural center field to left field. An awful lot of shifting to accommodate LaHair in right field, eh?
The reason for the shifting, of course, is because the Cubs are planning for top prospect Anthony Rizzo’s arrival, as soon as this weekend (the Cubs will have cemented their extra year of control by Saturday, though they might give it a day or two before calling him up). Rizzo is going to be a regular at first base, and, if the Cubs want LaHair in the lineup, too, he’ll have to play in the outfield. LaHair impressed in his first outing.
“After today, probably every day,” Dale Sveum told reporters, with a laugh, when asked how often he’d be playing LaHair in right and DeJesus in center. “Depending on what we do at first base, LaHair is going to be out there quite a bit, with DeJesus in center field, against right-handed pitchers.”
Sveum added that, indeed, the move is designed to ensure that the Cubs are ready for Rizzo’s imminent arrival.
“Obviously, LaHair playing right field is something that might eventually happen,” Sveum said. “There’s a day when Rizzo is going to be here, so this is getting him acclimated to the outfield, too.”
And Sveum is right. The Cubs have to be ready for the possibility that they’ll have to field a lineup with all of Soriano, LaHair and Rizzo.
Playing LaHair in right field prior to Rizzo’s arrival serves another purpose for the Cubs, though. It doesn’t merely prepare them in the event that they’ve got to find a spot for all three of LaHair, Rizzo, and Soriano – a situation the Cubs almost certainly would prefer to avoid (can you imagine how much ground DeJesus, who isn’t a natural center fielder, would have to cover?). It also protects them in any ongoing trade talks about Alfonso Soriano.
As I referenced yesterday when the lineup with LaHair in right field was announced, the Cubs have had a trade leverage problem for quite some time with Soriano. No, I’m not talking about the $18 million per year they owe him through 2014 (although that’s long been the most obvious problem). I’m talking about the fact that, ostensibly, the Cubs were facing a positional crunch that would force them to dump Soriano when Anthony Rizzo was ready. To the outside world, when Rizzo was ready, assuming the Cubs planned to keep LaHair, the Cubs were going to move LaHair to left field, and were going to do whatever it took to dump Soriano. First of all, left field is considerably easier to play, especially at Wrigley Field. Second, the Cubs probably weren’t going to want to clog up center field with David DeJesus if Brett Jackson was going to be coming up at some point later this year.
With that positional problem looming, any teams to whom the Cubs spoke about Soriano could balk at giving the Cubs so much as a penny on the dollar in trade. (“Why would we trade you anything of value or take on any salary when, in two weeks, you’re going to have to dump Soriano to make room for Rizzo?”) The Cubs could try and say they are comfortable with LaHair in right field, or that they might trade LaHair (they would never say that), but otherwise, they had no leverage.
So the Cubs took the wind out of those negotiating sails yesterday by demonstrating that they are fully capable of continuing to play – at least until Brett Jackson is ready, which could take months – with all of Soriano, LaHair, AND Rizzo in the lineup at the same time. Point Theo/Jed.
Let’s keep perspective here, though: despite Soriano’s crazy hot streak, he still doesn’t have much value in trade. The Cubs would still be lucky to save $10 million total by trading him. But $10 million is better than nothing, and by showing that LaHair can handle right field, the Cubs have preserved what tiny leverage they have left with respect to Soriano.
Then, if the Cubs are able to move Soriano at some point in the next month, LaHair can shift over to left field with relative ease. Or, the Cubs could deal LaHair. Or, the Cubs could deal DeJesus. The point? The Cubs are preserving their options. And the most attractive option is moving Soriano, without having to out-and-out release him.
Playing LaHair in right field right now helps them preserve that option, in particular.