Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

dexter fowler homer ballThe Chicago Cubs’ present offensive woes are both well-covered and legitimate, and I don’t want to belabor it here. Suffice it to say: lately, pretty much everyone’s been slumping.

But it’s one thing to note the offensive struggles as we head into July, and it’s an entirely separate thing to actively do something to correct them.

Consider the Cubs’ positional starters, and you very quickly see a mix of productive players, players you expect to be productive, and young players you wouldn’t want to displace because they’re supposed to be learning right now. Even if you wanted to improve the Cubs’ offense with a regular starter, where you make a move? Catcher (locked down), first base (locked down), second base (developing player with upside), third base (locked down), left field (Chris Coghlan has been the Cubs’ best bat for a month), right field (developing player with upside)?

Arguably, the only spots that jump out at you for an upgrade might be shortstop and center field, but each comes with a unique issue.

At shortstop, it’s very hard to see the Cubs replacing Starlin Castro mid-season, however deep his slumping might be. We know he’s been a very productive bat in the recent past, he’s just 25 years old, and he’s on a friendly deal (if he’s producing to his career averages). Currently, because of his ugly first half, Castro’s trade value might be as low as it’s ever been, which is yet another reason to think that moving him now is unlikely. And, then, of course, there’s the problem of actually finding a better bat out there that can play middle infield. And, then, of course redux, there’s the hope that Javier Baez and (to a lesser extent, in terms of a bat upgrade) Tommy La Stella will be back into the mix soon.

The most realistic outcome for which to hope right now is that Castro turns things around – as he often does – and plays at a high level through the rest of the year. That will help the Cubs not only in 2015, but also in the offseason if they do decide to make Castro available.

In center field, it’s similarly hard to see the Cubs replacing Dexter Fowler, despite his offensive woes after April. He’s been a consistently productive hitter throughout his career, seems to be suffering from some BABIP flukiness, and is a free agent after this season. I don’t think I’d be going too far to suggest that the Cubs would much rather see Fowler turn things around offensively than replace him or even platoon him, given that a productive Fowler can be made a qualifying offer after the season, and either return to the Cubs on a one-year deal or net them a draft pick.

I mention all of that as the backdrop to the latest from Jon Morosi at Fox Sports, who reports that the Cubs are looking for a left-handed-hitting outfield bat, possibly to play some in center field, allowing the Cubs to sit Fowler against some righties. For reasons discussed just north of this paragraph, I’m not sure I see the Cubs actively seeking a full-time or even strong-side-of-the-platoon bat for center field, but I could see them looking to add to their outfield mix. As we’ve discussed since before the season began, the Cubs are very thin in the outfield behind the three nominal starters, each of whom has had injury issues in his career (and Fowler and Jorge Soler have dealt with issues this year already), and having a near-starting-caliber fourth and fifth outfield would go a long way to helping the offense, in part because the outfielders could all be rotated more to keep them fresh. Chris Denorfia is a solid reserve outfielder, but the Cubs could use another.

The names Morosi says to keep an eye on, then, do make a whole lot of sense: Will Venable, 32, of the Padres and Gerardo Parra, 28, of the Brewers, each of whom is just about starting quality, but can play all over the outfield. Each player is a free agent after this year, and would make for an attractive rental for the Cubs.

Morosi also discusses Starlin Castro, speculating that the Cubs would prefer to move him out and bring in a veteran middle infielder to pair with Addison Russell. For the reasons discussed above, it’s very hard to see anything happening with Starlin Castro this year.

Barring some enormous, roster-shaking move – always possible – it seems much more likely that offensive upgrades for the Cubs are going to have to come, primarily, from within. And if the Cubs can add a quality, complementary bat in the outfield, I’d be pretty happy about that.

Speaking of deals …

The Trade Deadline is a little more than three weeks away – and if you want me to cover the deadline for 38 hours straight, make sure you check out the Make-A-Wish Blogathon fundraiser. It’s for a great cause, and will be a lot of fun. Full details here.

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