The cherry on top of Anthony Rizzo’s strong 2014 campaign was a 10th place finish in the NL MVP race.
There really isn’t any argument against Rizzo’s value. Even at first base, where big offensive numbers are plugged in without much second thought, the combination of last year’s stellar season and his projected contributions in 2014, Eno Sarris has pegged Rizzo on the cusp of being one of baseball’s most irreplaceable position players.
Using the Cubs depth chart and the updated Steamer 600 WAR projections — which pro-rates statistics and WAR numbers per 600 plate appearances for position players, and 450 for catchers (i.e., if they were essentially full-time starters), we have calculated which positional Cubs are projected to be the most invaluable.
Kris Bryant tops the list, with a pro-rated 4.9 WAR. That projection would put him in a third-place tie with Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre among third basemen. His projected 32 homers would place him in a six-way tie for the fifth most and his .498 slugging percentage would place him just outside of the top 10.
His potential replacement at third base, Mike Olt, projects to be a 0.0 WAR player over the course of 600 PA, despite a projected 24 homers and a respectable 8.8 percent walk rate.* In left field, Chris Coghlan doesn’t fare much better, at just 0.3 WAR.
That sound you heard was Scott Boras’ mind exploding.
So, whenever Bryant does get the call, it is safe to say the Cubs will be getting quite the upgrade, wherever he plays.
Unsurprisingly, Anthony Rizzo also checks in as being worth a minimum of 4-WAR more than his replacement, who again, is Olt.
Rough sledding for one of baseball’s former top prospects to be potentially stuck behind those two studs.
Rizzo’s 4.3 WAR projects as the fourth best among first basemen in all of baseball, behind only Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Abreu — and just ahead of Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman. Fine company to be among if you’re Rizzo.
Bryant and Rizzo are the only Cubs whose removal from the depth chart would result in a 4-WAR difference from starter to primary back-up.
The third most irreplaceable Cub is Jorge Soler, whose 2.4 WAR over a projected 600 plate appearances dwarfs back-up Ryan Sweeney and his 0.3 WAR. Soler’s projection ranks 13th among right fielders, and is tied with Ryan Braun — all while making $10.3 million less than Braun (whose salary jumps to $20 million next year, and is still owed $100 million dollars after 2015, when he’ll turn 32 – not necessarily on point here, but I couldn’t help but note it).
The Cubs’ catching conundrum is an interesting one. Miguel Montero’s expected 2.4 WAR leads the group, while No. 1 back-up David Ross’ 0.9 WAR puts him more than 1-WAR behind the starter. However, Welington Castillo, who looks destined to be the third option, has a projected 2.2 WAR over 600 PA. (Framing value is not included.)
Depth at this position could turn out to be useful for manager Joe Maddon, who could piece together a strong platoon with Montero and Castillo, depending on how the roster shakes out.
As for who would be perceived as the most replaceable Cubs, look no further than the middle of the diamond, which is highlighted by depth with some interchangeable parts.
Shortstop Starlin Castro’s projected 2.0 WAR over 600 PA is backed up by Javier Baez’s 1.5. Addison Russell makes an appearance on the Steamer 600 chart, also with a projected 1.5 WAR.
Over at second base, Baez is backed up by Arismendy Alcantara and his 1.0 WAR. Alcantara also serves as the primary back-up for Dexter Fowler, who was tabbed with a projected 1.3 WAR. Russell could conceivable factor into that equation, as well.
Alcantara has also seen time at shortstop and third base this spring, in what should be a preview of how he will be used in a super utility role.
So, for what the Cubs lack in depth at the corners, they make up for it up the middle with four middle infielders projected to contribute 1-WAR seasons or better if they got the playing time.
*(To be fair, the Steamer projection has Olt as a well below average defensive third baseman, something we expect is probably not accurate.)