Although I mentioned Ian Happ sliding to left field in the Bullets this morning, I didn’t mean to imply that was the only route for the Cubs to go this offseason. I was saying only that *IF* the Cubs somehow found the right center fielder out there in free agency or trade, then being able to move Happ to left field would effectuate two defensive upgrades in one move.
It’s far more likely, when you survey the free agent landscape, that the Cubs will instead add a corner outfielder to the mix, and/or some reserve types who can move all over (Haruki Nishikawa sure is intriguing as that reserve/move type). That perfect center field option isn’t really out there unless you pull off a surprising trade.
So, then, let’s take a look at the corner outfield free agent market and think about who the Cubs might target to add the mere two outfielders currently on the roster.
The Cubs aren’t expected to spend big there after non-tendering Kyle Schwarber, but I’m not sure many of the available corners will definitely be out of their price range besides maybe Michael Brantley and Marcell Ozuna, depending on how the other chips fall. That’s partly a product of the market not including any super elite types, and partly a product of the market including a whole lot of “ok, that’s interesting” types. It’s a robust market, even if not thrilling.
Among the available options, besides Schwarber:
Joc Pederson – You know him well, and he’d be kind of an odd fit for the Cubs. The 28-year-old lefty rakes against righties, but is pretty much unplayable against lefties. He doesn’t strike out quite as much as Schwarber, but also doesn’t take as many walks or hit for as much power. Pederson is a better defender than Schwarber, though, and is capable of playing pretty well in either corner outfield spot. Expected to see a similar price tag as Schwarber will see, if the Cubs were swapping out, it’d be for only a slight reduction in strikeout rate and notably improved defense. In exchange, they’d be giving up more upside in Schwarber, and also the possibility of an everyday guy rather than a platoon-only guy like Pederson. I wouldn’t hate it, and I can see the ways that you might want to take a chance on Pederson over Schwarber, but I’m just saying it’s not necessarily obvious.
Adam Duvall – Having reinvented himself the last two years with the Braves as an exxtreeeeeeeme fly ball guy with exxtreeeeeeeme splits, Duvall, 32, looks to be a guy who could absolutely obliterate lefties for you in a corner outfield spot. He also puts up enough power against righties to produce, but it’ll come with 35+% strikeouts. In his younger days, Duvall was an excellent defensive left fielder. Lately, he’s rated as merely average.
Eddie Rosario – Also non-tendered, Rosario could be the best-available change-of-pace type in left field for the Cubs. That is to say, if your goal was to swap out Schwarber for a similarly-price left fielder who changes the look of the offense (low-strikeout, low-walk, ball-in-play, less-power) that you were getting out of the spot, well, Rosario is probably your guy. The 29-year-old is all over the map in the defensive metrics in left field, but the overall picture is that he’s probably no worse than Schwarber, and maybe slightly better. Overall offensively, he’s consistently a 110-115 wRC+ type with traditional splits (though he won’t kill you against lefties, obviously). Might be the best bet on the list to put up that level of offensive performance in 2021 if asked to start every day.
Robbie Grossman – The only question on Grossman, 31, is whether his huge (but brief) 2020 season with the A’s is going to get him way overpaid. The switch-hitter emerged in his late 20s as a solid, nearly-everyday outfielder, capable of posting a slightly-above-average overall slash line thanks to a great line drive approach, few strikeouts, and a ton of walks. Again, 2020 looks like an aberration on the power side, but an OBP in the .350 range along with solid corner outfield play? From a switch-hitter who can play every day? Yes please. Grossman is an obvious fit for the Cubs. If everybody on this list were getting the same dollar amount, Grossman might be my favorite.
Hunter Renfroe – We like Renfroe, 29 next year, as a complementary option in the Cubs’ very-lefty outfield, but I don’t want to imply that the Cubs should look at him as an everyday replacement in left field. Dig him for the overall mix, though, yes. Much more on him here. UPDATE: That was fast. Soon after publishing, the Red Sox announced that they’d signed Renfroe.
Josh Reddick – If you go back to his youngest days in the big leagues, Reddick has a history with Jed Hoyer back in Boston. Reddick has since spent years in Oakland and Houston, and will play next season at age 34. He’s a mostly split-neutral lefty, which is nice, but he’s also been a slightly below average bat overall for each of the past three seasons. He’s not terrible or anything, but he also doesn’t offer you a lot at the plate for a guy who also rates below average in a corner outfield spot.
Yoenis Cespedes – I had to mention him because he’s Yoenis Cespedes, but I don’t know that anyone knows what to make of the now 35-year-old who has undergone multiple surgeries and has played just 127 games over the past four seasons (wow, that’s grim). When he was healthy, obviously younger, Cespedes could play very good defense and knock the crap out of the ball. But what is he now? What can you realistically offer him beyond a chance to win a job if he’s healthy? And does he want that opportunity, or does he want more of a commitment? And is he actually just a DH at this point?
Jay Bruce – It’s not clear to me that the soon-to-be 34-year-old can still hit well enough to justify even a platoon role, and his defense in the corners has often made the wrong kinds of highlight reels. I don’t see a regular corner outfielder here for the Cubs.
Enrique Hernandez – More of a utility man than a corner outfielder, and more of a lefty-masher than an everyday type, Kiké Hernandez is a guy you’d love to have on your roster as part of the mix. I could actually see the 29-year-old being really sought-after as a top bench option. He’s not necessarily a “replacement” for Schwarber, but, sure, I’d love to see the Cubs add him to the mix.
I could go on and discuss guys like Nomar Mazara, Jake Marisnick, Danny Santana, Brian Goodwin, Ben Gamel, Brett Gardner, and more, but then you’re really starting to get into guys who are either unlikely fits, unlikely every-day starters, and/or unlikely to come (Gardner). But all are interesting in their own way, and the Cubs are likely to be creative in the outfield this offseason. I wouldn’t rule too many guys out, especially where the Cubs might coordinate multiple less-expensive pieces.