Everywhere that you see a “hole” on the Cubs’ roster, you could certainly make an argument that there’s a guy or guys already on the roster who could fill it. If necessary. So we aren’t talking about black holes here.
But the thing is, there are only so many spots on a roster where you can make clear upgrades, and in those spots where there is a “yeah, maybe this guy could be the starter” situation, that’s where you’re going to start your search.
To that end, I don’t want it to seem like a slight to Ian Happ that we frequently refer to center field as perhaps the most obvious spot for the Cubs to make an addition, but the realities are: Happ is extremely promising but not established, Happ has the kind of contact struggles the Cubs are explicitly trying to diversify against this offseason, and it’s still not a lock that Happ will be at his best defensively in center field, as opposed to the corners. So yeah, Happ *could* be the guy in center field. But if other options present themselves, particularly if they have leadoff chops, the Cubs have to explore. And heck, even if they add someone to play center field and lead off, it might not be an everyday kind of thing anyway.
Thus all the Shogo Akiyama rumors. The Japanese center fielder could theoretically be a near everyday starter in center field and at the top of the order. It’s an obvious fit for this roster.
But Akiyama is not the only obvious fit in center field out there on the market for the Cubs to explore. There’s also at least one trade piece for whom you could make a lot of arguments, and he comes up a lot in speculative connection to the Cubs.
I’m talking about Starling Marte, and the latest connection comes right out of Pittsburgh, where the Cubs are listed as one of three fits:
— John Perrotto (@JPerrotto) November 30, 2019
Marte, 31, comes up in speculative connection to the Cubs because (1) he plays center field, (2) he’s a high-contact hitter who went .295/.342/.503 last year (119 wRC+), and (3) he’s a short-term guy ($11.5 million in 2020, $12.5 million team option in 2021).
There are rubs there with all of those, though.
Although Marte plays center field, he actually rated quite poorly there last year. A blip, or the start of a physical decline in his 30s?
Although Marte is a high-contact bat whose strikeout rate keeps dropping, he also doesn’t take any walks and is highly-dependent on BABIP for his on-base percentage. He also had the 11th highest groundball rate in baseball last year – if that speed dips at all, his BABIP is going to slide (to say nothing of what happens if and when his bat speed diminishes).
And finally, although he’s just a one or two-year guy with the flexibility of that 2021 option, that definitely inflates his price tag in trade – which is a lot when you could sign a guy like Akiyama for much less on an annual basis and not give up prospects. Less certainty? Absolutely. But is anyone keen to see the Cubs give up one of the top four prospects for a one or two-year guy who could see his core skills erode quickly?
To that end, the speculated package on a Marte deal, at least from John Perrotto? Albert Almora as a flyer (since Marte is replacing him anyway), Adbert Alzolay (because he’s big league ready with upside), *AND* Miguel Amaya (obvious reasons). I really have a hard time seeing the Cubs giving up Amaya in a deal for a one or two-year outfielder, and it’s certainly not something I’d endorse. I like Marte, and I like the way he could really impact the Cubs’ lineup. But I’m not interested in a deal like that, especially not if the Cubs are disinclined to really “push in” for 2020.
We’ll see if there are more mentions of the Cubs and Pirates dealing in the month ahead as the new GM gets his feet under him. Ben Cherington is likely to reshape the organization considerably this offseason, and it’s worth noting that he has quite a bit of experience working with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer from their Boston days. I’m sure there will be conversations.