The Cubs added another-another outfielder yesterday in Shane Victorino, who comes on a minor league deal reportedly worth $1 million if he makes the big league team, plus another $1 million in incentives. So, then, it’s virtually no real risk to the Cubs to bring in the popular 35-year-old veteran, who can play all over the outfield, and compete for that extra outfielder position we’ve been talking about since December.
Of course, the situation changed considerably on that front just a day earlier, as Dexter Fowler re-joined the team, and Chris Coghlan was traded to the A’s. Did the series of moves make it more or less likely that a guy like Victorino could make the team? From a pure coverage standpoint, you’ve got to figure the answer is less, given that a big part of the reason the Cubs needed someone like Victorino is that they had no clear back-up for Jason Heyward in center field on the roster, and it was not clear that Matt Szczur was going to make the team. Now, with Fowler back in the fold, he’s the more regular center fielder, and Heyward can back him up. Plus, the Cubs still have a trio of guys who can play center field in a pinch – Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, and Ben Zobrist – so, again, from a pure coverage standpoint, a guy like Victorino seems less necessary.
If the Cubs carry eight relievers, as we suspect they may, there will be just four bench jobs available. Three of those will go to David Ross, Javy Baez, and Jorge Soler (not really a “bench” guy, but he counts there for our calculations here), assuming they’re healthy, leaving just one spot to be doled out among everyone else in camp. While that could go to a guy like Victorino, it seems more likely to go to someone like Tommy La Stella, whose fortunes may have changed dramatically with this week’s moves. Now that the Cubs have coverage in center field, and already have plenty of other guys who can help in the outfield, they may be able to carry a more limited (defensively) infielder like La Stella, whose extreme-contact bat you’d love to have with the big league team.
It’s notable that Jon Heyman reported that the Cubs had their deal with Victorino in place before Fowler’s deal came through, but they decided to still honor it. That seems to suggest having another outfielder on the roster at this point is probably not a priority.
Even if the Cubs do carry another outfielder – say, if they decide to have just seven relievers and keep five position players on the bench – it’s not entirely clear that Victorino would be the guy over Szczur, who offers as much defensive value (maybe more, depending on whether Victorino’s recent apparent defensive decline is real) and at least as much value on the basepaths. Plus, Szczur is out of minor league options, so, if the Cubs try to send him to the minors at the end of camp, he’ll first be exposed to waivers, and it seems like any number of rebuilding teams would love to have him for free.
But if Victorino’s struggles the last couple years were mostly health-related, and if he’s healthy now, it’s not at all inconceivable that he could still be sufficiently good that the Cubs will want to figure out a way to carry him on the bench no matter what. That’s just what they’ll have to figure out this spring in the coming weeks, and then figure out how to make it all work, depending on who else is looking good, and who else is healthy.