It’s not the sexiest or most stat-filling-ly-est job on the roster, but as we unquestionably saw in 2015 and 2016 with the Cubs, having veteran leadership, especially with a young core, can be a key component for a team’s success. At that time, the Cubs had a number of players who’d been in a league a long time and were transitioning into leadership roles, but many were still very young (consider that Anthony Rizzo played most of the 2015 season at age 25 … basically two years YOUNGER than Kris Bryant is now).
So, bringing in a guy like Ben Zobrist in 2016 was huge, not only for what he contributed on the field, but for what he showed the young guys off of it. But, when you think about bringing in a veteran leader, around whom the clubhouse rallied, from whom the young players learned, and who became the glue that held so much of it together, it’s catcher David Ross who is going to get that credit.
Since Ross retired after the World Series win in 2016, it’s been evident that the Cubs have looked for guys like that to bring in. But, a couple years later, it’s still an ongoing process on the positional side.
To that end, Ken Rosenthal reports that – sigh – the Cubs were in on Brian McCann to be that type of guy (and a quality receiver with a lefty bat (did I mention sigh?)), but he decided he wanted to return to Atlanta. McCann was seen as a perfect fit, according to Rosenthal, not only because he is likable, but is also “edgy and demanding,” which can help draw out the best in his teammates. Consider the things the front office said after the World Series win – wanting to get the “edge” back – and especially after the disappointment to conclude 2018. This is a rumor I very much buy.
So, then, where do the Cubs go from here? Where can they import that kind of likable, demanding, veteran leadership? In a role that still contributes?
I won’t pretend to know players around the league intimately, of course, but Andrew McCutchen has always seemed like the kind of magnetic, likable, leader in the clubhouse (and the dude can still hit!). Rosenthal mentions Adam Jones, who is definitely that type of guy, too, but I’m not sure how much playing time he’d get on the Cubs, given the 33-year-old’s steep and rapid declines in the field and at the plate. (Then again, is he going to find a team that offers him more than a pure bench role at this point?)
Ideally, in my view, the Cubs could find that guy in a back-up catcher, since that’s something they need anyway. If it’s not McCann, though, I’m not sure who qualifies. Martin Maldonado might be the best out there, but I have no knowledge of his leadership-type qualities, and he hasn’t been connected to the Cubs. Moreover, he’s been closer to a starter than a back-up the last two years with the Angels.
This kind of get-the-edge-in-the-clubhouse consider won’t entirely dictate a free agent or trade pursuit for the Cubs, but it is going to be something to consider at the periphery whenever it comes time for the Cubs to, you know, actually make a positional move.