Don’t strike me down for saying it, but I was thinking this morning, for no reason in particular: if the Chicago Cubs have injuries in their outfield early in the year, they could be in some serious trouble.
So, I thought maybe we should chat about that. Just a nice, casual, non-panic-driven, and non-panic-inducing conversation about a potential weak spot on the 2015 Cubs.
Up front, let me say that swapping Luis Valbuena for Dexter Fowler certainly helped the depth picture, and allayed some of the outfield-related worries that would have been building to a fever pitch at this point had the trade not been made. Obviously the deal wasn’t primarily about depth, but it has that byproduct.
However, if two of Fowler, Jorge Soler, and Chris Coghlan went down with injuries, there would likely be a significant downgrade in offensive production overall. Moreover, this is not an unfounded concern, given that all three of those guys have dealt with injury issues in the last few years.
To be sure, the Cubs have a large number of outfield options and versatility, but it feels like the drop-off from the nominal starting three (with Coghlan a platoon candidate) to the reserves is significant.
It would be nice to know that Mike Olt or Junior Lake was on the verge of a serious turnaround, and could pitch in with an average or better offensive contribution if necessary, given their theoretical (if unlikely) upside. Arismendy Alcantara, Ryan Sweeney, and Chris Denorfia are capable of offensive upside, too, especially Alcantara. And Maybe Matt Szczur’s bat turns a corner this year, because I do like the glove. And, you know, Mike Baxter and Adron Chambers are modestly interesting non-roster types. All right, clearly now I’m just trying to talk myself out of concern ….
I suppose, against that backdrop of worry, it’s only fair to point out that most teams would be in trouble if they lost two starting outfielders at the same time. Heck, maybe the Cubs are better positioned to handle it than most, given the club’s clear versatility.
It’s just that, with the top outfield prospects still at AA or lower*, the in-house replacement options – by which I mean a guy who can step in and start every day, rather than guys who can be shuffled in and out and around as bench pieces – are limited. I guess I once again say that it would make me feel a lot better if Olt and Lake hint in the Spring that their offensive turnarounds (late in the year for Olt (more on that soon), and in the DWL for Lake) weren’t entirely flukes.
We’ll see how things look in Spring Training. In addition to injuries, it’s also conceivable that Soler needs rookie adjustment time, and/or that Coghlan’s 2014 offensive explosion pulls back a fair bit. I am reminded of just how huge the Fowler acquisition was for the 2015 Cubs in so many ways.
*(Unless you’re pegging Kris Bryant for the outfield, which is not something the Cubs have offered any signals on just yet. For now, it looks like it’s full speed ahead for Bryant at third base, until and unless he shows he can’t do it.)