We could go round and round about when the right time to send Albert Almora back to AAA Iowa would have been, and I very much agree with those who say the Cubs waited way too long to pull the trigger.
But the past is past, and the move has now finally been made. The questions going forward are whether it will make any difference in his production, whether there are specific changes needed, and when Almora will be back up.
And on those fronts, it seems as though the Cubs’ thinking here, unlike when Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber were sent down at varying points after seeing success in the big leagues, is that Almora doesn’t necessarily need a fundamental change in his work at the plate at this time.
Instead, he needs a breather.
“[W]e were real clear that the option wasn’t punitive at all; it wasn’t reactive to anything,” Theo Epstein told the Sun-Times of sending Almora down. “It was purely that we felt he would benefit from some everyday at-bats to get locked in because we know how much he can help us when he’s feeling good at the plate. I thought it was an important statement for him to get [to Iowa] really quick. He knows he’ll be back up Sept. 1.”
In other words, the Cubs wanted to give Almora an opportunity to start every day in August without negatively impacting the big league club in the process, but they expect he’ll be right back up when rosters expand to the full 40-man in two weeks. That would clearly not be enough time to make any kind of real changes to his swing and his approach, which, frankly, wasn’t going to happen this year anyway. It’s going to take an offseason, and then potentially starting the season at AAA next year, a la Happ, to make any of those kinds of significant changes.
So, I would expect to see Almora chill at Iowa for a couple weeks, and then come back in September as part of the outfield/bench mix. He could be joined at that point by Ben Zobrist and Daniel Descalso, and if Happ has cemented himself as something of an outfield regular, starts will be a rarity for Almora. That’s probably how it should be in September: he can be a better-than-a-pitcher pinch hitter, and a late-game defensive replacement. He does help the Cubs’ bench in that regard, especially on an expanded roster.
Then, the offseason arrives, and the work can begin anew.
On the year, Almora is hitting just .243/.275/.396 with a 69 wRC+. To his credit, as soon as he was optioned, he got to Iowa immediately, and put up a 2-4 night atop the I-Cubs order. He isn’t messing around.