How's This for a Guess at the Cubs Opening Day Lineup as Things Stand Today?

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How’s This for a Guess at the Cubs Opening Day Lineup as Things Stand Today?

Chicago Cubs

I was thinking about doing a lineup post yesterday, what with the flip of the calendar to February, but didn’t feel a particular rush to get to it. Then the league sent the union a proposal, it was rejected, there was no counter, and the league said Okay, fine! We’ll see you in two weeks! 

Aside from the immediate implications (a full season starting April 1st, no universal DH, pre-2020 on-field rules, etc.), that also likely means we’re going to see an already accelerating offseason shift into an even higher gear. For the Cubs, that could mean a resolution on a few loose trade ends one way or another, and that could certainly make any discussion about their lineup moot. But with that news coming, I wanted to take a look at things as of today; Kris Bryant is on the Cubs, Willson Contreras is on the Cubs, Nico Hoerner is probably the in-house starting second baseman, and so on.

So with that in mind, and with Spring Training quickly approaching, let’s discuss what the Cubs’ lineup might look like this year.

Here’s a guess against most righties.

1. Ian Happ, CF (S)
2. Willson Contreras, C (R)
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (L)
4. Kris Bryant, 3B (R)
5. Joc Pederson, LF (L)
6. Javy Baez, SS (R)
7. Jason Heyward, RF, (L)
8. Nico Hoerner, 2B (R)
9. Pitcher

Right away, this lineup accomplishes a lot of what I’d be looking for out of the Cubs against righties.

•   The switch-hitting, relatively speedy Ian Happ leads off after a successful stint as the Cubs leadoff hitter in 2020. We’ll have to keep a close eye on his strikeout rate and make sure he continues to draw his walks and get on base, but the Cubs would be silly not to try him out to start the year given how well he handled the role in 2020. And if he can run with it once again, the Cubs may have finally settled a four-year problem with a long-term solution.

•   Alternating lefties and righties throughout. That’s not really necessary, but it is nice, because remember: the three-batter minimum *is* in effect for 2021 (that change pre-dated, and had nothing to do with, the pandemic).

•   Inserting Joc Pederson into the Kyle Schwarber role.

•   Starting Javy Baez off in a low-pressure lineup spot after a down 2020. I’m sure he could work his way back up, but I think this is the way to start.

•   Keeping Jason Heyward in the seventh spot, where he’s slashed .270/.353/.425 (106 wRC+) with an 11.4 BB% and 19.4 K% from 2019-2020.

•   Batting Nico Hoerner near the bottom of the lineup until he gets his big league offensive legs underneath him (though I still think the Cubs would be better served signing a second baseman and allowing Hoerner to hone his game at Triple-A, where he never played a single game).

NOTE: I could very easily see calls to swap Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras, but remember, Bryant has mentioned before that he doesn’t like having to “rush in and get yourself on deck” while batting second. He prefers batting lower and the Cubs should accommodate that if the goal is to maximize his performance. Plus, it’s not like having Contreras’s bat in the two-hole is a bad thing.

As for a lineup against left-handers, how about something like this?

1. Ian Happ, CF (S)
2. Willson Contreras, C (R)
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (L)
4. Kris Bryant, LF (R)
5. Javy Baez, SS (R)
6. Jason Heyward, RF (L)
7. David Bote, 3B (R)
8. Nico Hoerner, 2B (R)
9. Pitcher

This structure inserts an extra righty (David Bote) into the lineup at third base, pushing Kris Bryant out to left field in place of Joc Pederson who’s struggled against lefties for most of his career. It also bumps Javy Baez up a spot, and provides Ian Happ a chance to improve on his weaker switch side, while still giving him a chance to prove that he is *THE* Cubs leadoff hitter moving forward.

One alternative here, obviously, could be a righty like Phillip Ervin starting in left field against lefties, with Bryant staying at third, and Bote working in at other times. (We don’t think his reverse split is necessarily real, though.)

Ultimately, I’m not married to any of this – and, of course, (1) pitcher matchups, (2) regular days off, (3) injuries, and (4) the back-up catcher involvement will change the structure from day-to-day – but I think this accomplishes most of what the Cubs should be trying to do. And, hey, absent any fundamental changes to the roster over the next two weeks, that lineup is not half bad.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami