Unless the Chicago Cubs decide to non-tender Addison Russell today – or pull off a surprising trade – we’re probably still not going to know a ton about how the team will proceed on the positional side in free agency. Were Russell gone, it would suddenly be very easy to see them going after a starting second baseman, with Javy Baez moving permanently to shortstop and Ben Zobrist remaining in a utility role.
But if Russell stays today, the Cubs’ plans will remain a little inscrutable. Are they going to focus on adding an impact bat in the outfield? Are they still going to go after an impact bat in the infield and then figure out the rest later? Or are they going to do this:
Cubs looking to add another infielder with versatility to play multiple spots . Free agent list likely place to find one .
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) November 29, 2018
With so many questions remaining about how the Cubs are going to line things up next year, it certainly makes sense to go after someone who is versatile. It makes even more sense, I should note, if the expectation is that Russell is going to be gone, but keep in mind that even if he stays, he’s going to miss the first month of the season on suspension. That’s a lot of time to fill.
Previously, we discussed the fit of versatile free agents like Marwin Gonzalez and Jed Lowrie, each of whom could primarily handle second base while remaining of use in other positions as needs arise. (Manny Machado is also, strictly speaking, a free agent infielder who can play multiple positions, but I think it’s safe to say he’s in a category of his own. To date, we do not have an indication that the Cubs will seriously pursue Machado.)
Like I said last night with the Tommy La Stella trade, there is so much that can happen with the roster this offseason that will change the story of how we think about what the Cubs did and didn’t accomplish. Moreover, looking back at the whole will tell us a lot about what the money situation really looked like. Right now, it’s just about impossible to truly know what’s what.
So, then, I’ll set aside that broader context for now and say, yeah, sure, I love me some versatile players, especially if they are otherwise starting-caliber at a spot like second base. That’s a perfect fit for a Cubs team that might not know what it’s going to need in that spot in 2019, has an older guy like Zobrist winding things down, has a younger guy like David Bote who is not established, and doesn’t have a lot of impact offensive talent in the upper ranks of the farm system.
Heck, even if the Cubs didn’t have a looming potential need at second base, just think back to when they signed Zobrist a few years ago. He was brought in to be the primary second baseman, and yet he wound up doing a lot of what he’d always done: play in the outfield, too, and bring a quality bat. Guys like Zobrist – or Gonzalez or Lowrie – can fit on just about any team at just about any time because they allow you to work out the details later, and adjust throughout a season. Maybe the Cubs just want to get another guy like that in place regardless of what else happens in the infield.