The more I consider the Chicago Cubs’ near-term future, and even as I concede that reserving precious dollars for the pitching side of things does make sense, I can’t help but feel this is a team that still really needs to add at least one impact bat this offseason if it hopes to contend in 2015. Sure, it’s entirely possible that the Cubs could have an above-average offense on the strength of its youth, alone, but counting on that sure seems like an unwarranted risk (not to mention putting undue pressure on so many young players to carry the load).
Instead, it would be nice to add one sure-fire impact bat – which could mean a slugger, or a lead-off guy, or a balanced guy, whatever – to the mix. For all of our justified excitement about the Cubs’ offensive future, let’s not lose sight of the fact that, presently, the Cubs are the 9th worst OPS’ing team in baseball and have scored the 7th fewest runs.
But, as I consider the plausible options for adding an impact bat, two things become relatively clear: (1) the most realistic spot to add an impact bat is in the outfield, given the existing talent and emerging depth in other positions; and (2) the outfield market is weak, to say the least.
Accepting, for the moment, those two things – which I’m sure we’ll debate in the coming months – the Cubs may have to stretch a bit to add a bat in the outfield. That is to say, they may have to go with another youngster.
That’s where Cuban defector, and soon-to-be-free-agent Yasmani Tomas comes into play. You can read more on the 23-year-old slugging corner outfielder here, but the short version is that he is expected to sign this offseason (though he could conceivably reach free agency any day now), has had long-term success at a very young age in the highest league in Cuba, and has the potential to be an impact bat immediately in MLB (though that’s far from guaranteed).
Even viewing Tomas merely as an asset, the game affords you only so many opportunities to acquire 23-year-old huge upside talents – wherever they play – for money, only. The Cubs will have to consider Tomas seriously, even if they decide he cannot be the immediately impact outfield bat they might otherwise be seeking. (All of this, of course, is subject to the Cubs’ internal scouting takes on Tomas.)
After adding Tomas, you can dream on a post-April 2015 Cubs starting lineup that looks something like this:
C – Castillo
1B – Rizzo
2B – Baez
SS – Castro
3B – Bryant
LF – Tomas
CF – Alcantara
RF – Soler
And, then, in the medium term, you deal with guys like Addison Russell and Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber and Billy McKinney when they actually force the issue. Because, let’s be honest, the above lineup isn’t going to work out 100% as planned. And other young players won’t develop completely. And other young players will surprisingly emerge. And trade opportunities will pop up. So on and so forth.
This approach, however, is a conceivable strategy for maximizing the Cubs’ ability to get all of their top young players on the field at the same time, as soon as 2015/16, while still adding a potentially huge bat like Tomas. Yes, that’s a whole lot of youth on the team at the same time. But you can make up for some of the veteran vacuum with reserves, and, also, it has become increasingly reasonable to lean on Rizzo, Castro and Castillo as the leaders of the team. Further, if the Cubs can add impact pitching in the next 18 months as they’ve repeatedly stated they are planning to do, having quality pitching in place could also lessen the psychological burden the offensive players might feel.
As for the other reason you get veterans – actual production, so that you’re not “counting” on all the young guys – I can’t help much there. Yes, you’d love to have a sure-fire veteran bat in the middle of that lineup, but (1) that guy might not be available this offseason anyway, and (2) the Cubs’ overwhelming volume of upper-level positional talent might force the issue. I suppose I’d also reiterate that Tomas, while just 23, is an experienced player at the highest level of ball in Cuba.
The more I mull the subject, the more I feel like – pending the Cubs’ scouting evaluation and contract valuation – Tomas should be right up there with any other positional player the Cubs consider this offseason. Of course, there will be boat-loads of suitors for Tomas, so it won’t be easy.
Consider this: although the Cubs will have to weigh the best use of their resources this offseason and going forward, they were interested in Rusney Castillo, an outfielder nearly four years Tomas’s senior. Clearly, they’re considering their options out there, despite the emerging core of bats. For me, I think they’re right to be aggressive in this market, even as they should simultaneously be focusing on impact pitching. And, of course, it’s not like the two issues are entirely separate things: the more young assets you accumulate, the more currency you have to go get impact pitching if it’s not out there in free agency for you.