With yesterday’s trade of Justin Ruggiano to the Mariners, the Cubs are even more clearly in the market for an outfielder than they already were. Although the Cubs have a number of outfield options – Chris Coghlan, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Ryan Sweeney, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur, Mike Olt – there are question marks with every player in that group. The Cubs certainly can be competitive in 2015 with that group, and it remains possible that Kris Bryant winds up in that mix, too. But, all things equal, you’d sure like to see the Cubs add a significant bat out there.
First things first, though: a complementary bat seems like the most likely addition.
It remains the case that Jonny Gomes is an ostensible fit for the Cubs, being that his right-handed bat can replace Ruggiano, and he could platoon with Chris Coghlan in left field. I know some folks aren’t crazy about Gomes, but if he winds up being the guy the Cubs add, then you’ve got to believe that the front office (probably with some input from Joe Maddon) believes strongly in the impact he can have in the clubhouse and on the Cubs’ young players. On a team like the Cubs, in particular, that’s not a small thing.
As for his baseball impact, Gomes is coming off a down 2014 season, but he still posted a .334 wOBA/112 wRC+ against lefties. For his career, Gomes is at a .373 wOBA/133 wRC+ against lefties. If he comes on a reasonably small deal, I’m still plenty on board with the Cubs adding Gomes.
The related question is whether adding Gomes is all the Cubs plan to do in the outfield. As Theo Epstein said recently to Patrick Mooney, “Outfield is probably the one area where we’re most focused if we were going to add a significant or semi-significant piece the rest of the way. I don’t feel like we have the depth of quality outfielders that we have in certain other areas of the team, so you could see something there.” To me, that reads like the Cubs could be looking to add someone like Gomes and/or a full-time regular, if the right opportunity presents itself.
Further, Jed Hoyer was on MLBN Radio yesterday, and he, too, indicated that the Cubs could look to make multiple moves in the outfield the rest of the way. So, I think it’s fair to conclude that, even if the Cubs add Gomes – or someone like him – in the near future, that doesn’t necessarily foreclose the possibility that the Cubs could look to add a starting-caliber bat in the outfield. I would put that in the “unlikely” category, though, given the limited available free agent options, how tricky it can be to put together a trade, and the Cubs’ probably-approaching payroll ceiling.
But I believe the Cubs will continue to monitor the options out there. Given the trade activity around the game, you just don’t know what opportunities are going to pop up via a chain reaction. The Padres, for example are now overloaded with outfielders (assuming the Matt Kemp deal goes through), and maybe they’ll look to deal someone like Seth Smith. If you’re the Cubs, you’ve got to at least check in on a guy like that, yes? The acquisition price could be pretty high, though, given his recently-signed, team-friendly extension.
We’ll see if anything pops up on Smith down the line, or other theoretical trade candidates like Justin Upton, Dexter Fowler, Denard Span, Shane Victorino, and the non-Kemp Dodgers crew (my eye is still on Scott Van Slyke).
For now, though, I’d expect rumors on a guy like Gomes to start to pick up now that Ruggiano has been dealt.