The Chicago Cubs are dealing with a multitude of injuries at the moment, with hamstring soreness affecting each of Jorge Soler, Tommy La Stella, and Dexter Fowler.
As you well know by now, Jorge Soler hit the disabled list on June 7 and Tommy La Stella followed him up two days later, but the jury on a possible DL stint remains out on Dexter Fowler.
The Cubs’ center fielder was injured running to first base in the first inning of Saturday’s 4-3 victory over the Pirates, but the current plan of action is let’s wait and see. On Sunday afternoon, an MRI was performed on Fowler’s hamstring, and manager Joe Maddon told the Tribune he has not ruled out the possibility of a brief stint on the disabled list. Still, before any decisions are made, Maddon wants to discuss the options with team doctors, as well as President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer. Fowler, the Cubs’ leadoff man, is an utterly crucial component of the team (which goes double when much of the rest of the outfield – Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler – is out), so a hasty recovery is highly hoped for, as you can imagine.
For his part, Maddon isn’t looking forward to a lineup not featuring Dexter Fowler leading off, given that Fowler has been an especially valuable offensive contributor so far in 2016. He’s posted a .398 OBP, with 7 home runs, and nearly as much WAR already (3.0) as he accumulated all of last season (3.2).
But Maddon seems to be genuinely unsure about what’s going to happen next. The only thing he’s certain of, is that as of yesterday, Fowler was still quite sore. “We’re still trying to evaluate length regarding whether he’s gotta be DL-able or not,” Maddon said on Sunday, per CSN. “I don’t have a final answer … I really don’t know the overall plan yet … of course, if he has to be DL’d, we want to get somebody else in here.”
Whether a DL stint is required or just a few days off, somebody else will show up for the Cubs, both in the outfield and in the leadoff spot. Who? Well, Chris Coghlan can provide power and patience from the left side of the plate at the top of the lineup. Matt Szczur has provided a spark with his good speed and surprising power early on from the right side. Then, of course, there’s Albert Almora Jr., the 22-year-old rookie with gold glove calibre defense from any three of the outfield spots. Jason Heyward – whose bat has been coming around quite nicely of late – can also shift into center field, given that each of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist are capable of playing a corner outfield spot when necessary. So even though the Cubs are hurting, the team’s versatility can carry them through this rough patch, even if Fowler has to miss a couple weeks, or at least until one of Jorge Soler or Tommy La Stella returns.
As I said earlier, Jorge Soler (June 7) hit the DL just before Tommy La Stella (June 9) did, but it’s the lefty infielder La Stella who is further along in his rehabilitation process. There is still no timeline on Soler’s return.
According to Joe Maddon, via Cody Stavenhagen (MLB.com), La Stella is actually ahead of Soler in his recovery, and reportedly felt fine on Sunday, as each took grounders at third base before the game:
— Mark Grote (@markgrotesports) June 19, 2016
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) June 19, 2016
[Brett: And, no, this is not about increasing Soler’s versatility to include third base – it’s just part of the field work.]
La Stella is technically eligible to return to the team this Thursday – the beginning of a road trip in Miami – but it might not be that simple. Instead of immediately rejoining the team, La Stella is likely to complete a Minor League rehab assignment before returning to the Cubs. With Chris Coghlan back in the fold and each of Albert Almora and Willson Contreras making their debuts, the roster is in a bit of flux right now. It is at least conceivable, however, that the news at the top about Dexter Fowler is directly related to the updates at the bottom about La Stella and Soler.
Consider the possibility that the Cubs are waiting to DL Fowler, if it comes to that, so that they can immediately replace him on the roster with Tommy La Stella after a brief rehab stint. That’s entirely speculation, but La Stella’s left-handed, patient approach would be the yin to Javy Baez’s yang in the infield, much like Matt Szczur/Albert Almora counter balance Chris Coghlan in the outfield. And, in this way, the Cubs would avoid an extra roster move.
Again, none of that has even been mentioned, but it could be the slight, but reasonable hold-up in the decision on Fowler. There’s not a ton of certainty in the Cubs’ immediate future, but there are a few things we do know. The Cubs are beginning a three-game set against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field today, and they will most likely be without Dexter Fowler for some or all of it. Disabled list stint or not, the Cubs will have to keep winning with what they have.