The Cubs Can Offer a Bounce-Back Job, Happ's Defense, and Other Cubs Bullets

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The Cubs Can Offer a Bounce-Back Job, Happ’s Defense, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

The last few days, I’ve forgotten to bring a new bar of soap with me into the shower, and I just went ahead and washed myself with shampoo. On a scale of 1 to skin falling off, what kind of trouble am I in?

•   You have to be careful not to fake your way into making a PURE positive out of something that is, on the net, probably a negative. However, I appreciated this write-up from Sahadev Sharma, not just for the always-interesting specifics in it, but even just more generally for the reminder that the Cubs rotation obviously has big-time needs, but the one upside there is that it does provide opportunity:

•   Conceptually, we’ve talked about this before – recently with the Cubs rotation, but going back a couple years in the bullpen – and it’s the idea that you can find breakout guys only where you actually have the opportunity to give them innings. The Rays are CONSTANTLY turning out big-time relievers, and that’s mostly a credited to their talent acquisition and development system, but it’s also partly just a credit to the fact that they CONSTANTLY have openings in their bullpen to fill. They give guys a shot – you can’t break out if you don’t actually get 10+ innings to start that process.

•   The last two years now, we’ve seen it with the Cubs, and it’s worked. They are finding more impactful bullpen pieces both because they’ve gotten really good at identifying and developing those types, but also because they aren’t otherwise filling up the bullpen with “set” guys. In the rotation, by contrast, things have been pretty darn “set” by the time we get to Spring Training for the last six+ seasons. Sure, there were often a competition for the fifth starter spot, but it was a competition between two (or more) guys who’d pretty much already established themselves as starting pitchers in the big leagues. The Cubs had a good reason to operate that way, of course. They were in a very, very win-now window, and were almost entirely bereft of the kind of near-big-league-ready starting pitching prospects you’d want to see get a shot. Now, arguably, neither of those things is quite the same.

•   As Jed Hoyer puts it in The Athletic article:

“Sometimes opportunity allows you to give guys a shot,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “As an example, if we had been really good, we might not have been able to give Jake Arrieta the shot that he was able to get. You can (trade for) a guy that has (a 7.00-plus ERA), put him in the minors and then bring him up and let him take some starts.

“We’ve talked about that a lot. The challenge of competing but also having available innings and available at-bats for people to take those opportunities. Sometimes, when you’re competing at the highest level, you have every position locked up, every rotation spot locked up. You don’t have a chance to take a flier on a guy who you think might perform. Having opportunity allows us to unearth some diamonds in the rough. That’s really important.”

•   To that end, yes, that’ll mean guys like Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills will enter the Spring as presumptive rotation members, and it means guys like Tyson Miller, Colin Rea, Cory Abbott, Keagan Thompson, and Justin Steele could have very real shots to win a rotation job in the Spring. But it will also mean the Cubs are now in a spot externally that they haven’t been in a long time: a good team with an open rotation slot that can be offered to a guy who wants to find his best place to bounce back.

•   It’s been a while since the Cubs could offer a very clear path to a guy like that, and now, since they can, I’d like to hope they’d be very in on – for one example – a guy like Corey Kluber. The former ace, now 34, has been beset by injuries the last two years, and has managed just 36.2 innings total (just 1.0 in 2020). Most contenders aren’t going to be able to offer him a rotation job, and almost no competitive team is going to have an obviously open rotation job that he could see himself easily winning if he’s healthy. The Cubs? They are now in that spot. Why not take a swing?

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•   A random Ian-Happ-in-left highlight, which was not necessarily intended as a reminder that he could be really good out there as a regular, but, yeah, he could:

•   For whatever it’s worth by the advanced metrics, over his 1175.1 innings in center field, Happ has been at -5 total DRS and 0.2 UZR/150, which both sounds about right (perfectly playable, not overly impressive). Over his 493.2 innings in left field, Happ has been at 2 DRS and 10.6 UZR/150. He also rates much better in left than center by Inside Edge. Obviously left field is easier and “less valuable” than center, but it’s important to note that some guys are merely playable in center, but can grow into being truly impactful in a corner. In limited time, Happ has shown he’s really good in left. Put him there full-time, and why couldn’t he become really, really good?

•   Also, for whatever it’s worth, if the Cubs could find an above-average defender in center to add to their outfield mix this offseason, then suddenly they’d be looking at significant defensive upgrades in two spots by way of just one addition.

•   History lesson:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.