Chicago Cubs fans figure to be at least passingly acquainted with outgoing Cincinnati Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen, known as much for his occasional forays into the outfield and his massive biceps as he is for his pitching success. That’s not to say he hasn’t had some success as a pitcher, it’s just that, when a pitcher hits a bit, that stands out. And the arms, well, I’m sorry. They’re huge. They just are.
Anyway, Lorenzen, 29, is a free agent now, and he’s apparently looking for an opportunity not only to resume starting, but also to play in the outfield:
RHP Michael Lorenzen not only wants a shot at being a starting pitcher in 2022, but also wants the opportunity to get regular at-bats as an outfielder. Wants to get on the Ohtani routine. The Rangers, Pirates, Cubs and Giants are all believed to have inquired.
— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) November 28, 2021
The Cubs make plenty of sense from Lorenzen’s perspective, given that they could have starts available in both the rotation and in the outfield, depending on how things shake out. But how attractive is Lorenzen as a target for the Cubs?
First, as a possible starting pitcher, it’s pretty hard to evaluate. Not only has Lorenzen not started consistently since his rookie season back in 2015, he is also coming off a year shortened by a shoulder injury. He has had some success in the bullpen, but it’s been intermittent:
I’d imagine the Cubs do like the high-90s fastball, and the chance to be the first non-Reds org to work with him. Even if he isn’t able to transition into being a full-time starter with the Cubs, there could be some swing value there – the Cubs may wind up with a non-traditional rotation as it is, and a whole lot of middle innings to bridge. Guys like Lorenzen could be particularly useful to a team like that.
In the abstract, as a pitcher, I’d have no problem with the Cubs pursuing Lorenzen. He’s likely to be a useful pitcher in some role, even if not necessarily a huge impact guy.
… but then there’s that other thing. The outfielder thing. On that front, it’s even harder to know what Lorenzen could be.
Consider that, for his career, Lorenzen has amassed 147 plate appearances, in which he’s hit .233/.282/.429 (84 wRC+). On first blush, that doesn’t look all that impressive, but you have to remember that the vast majority have come either in a pinch-hitting role or as a middle/late-inning reliever. That’s a much tougher role to have consistent success, because not only are often facing a match-up reliever, but you’ve had no previous at bats in which to settle in a bit. There’s a reason the average pinch hitter line last year was just .212/.303/.350 with an 80 wRC+. In his role – while also pitching – Lorenzen has been better than the average hitter. There is reason, then, to argue he could be an above-average hitter overall if he were given actual positional starts.
Defensively, Lorenzen simply hasn’t been given enough starts in the outfield for me to speak intelligently on his ability out there. If he’s passable, that’s another big plus, and he could also DH if the bat comes along.
You put the whole package together and what you get is probably something like a decent chance that he’s at least a useful pitcher and very occasional bat off of your bench (i.e., what he’s been with the Reds), and a very low probability chance that he’s a better than average pitcher AND a better than average hitter in something like half of your games. It’s low probability, but man that’s a super valuable player if he can pull it off – having two guys like that in a single roster spot is just huge.
For the Cubs in 2022, why not take a chance on that low probability outcome? See what happens? You’re already going to be coordinating outfield starts among a variety of players (even if the Cubs add a sure-fire starter, the other two spots aren’t necessarily going to feature every-day starters), and you’ll likely have the addition of the DH for further rotation. And maybe Lorenzen does take to a new organization’s techniques, and he improves on the pitching side, too.
I have no idea what kind of contract Lorenzen could command, but it seems likely it’ll be a pretty reasonable short-term deal, of the kind the Cubs should be targeting anyway. Within reason, I say what the heck, go for it.
Also, part of this whole thing is entertainment, right? I would like to see a guy try this out! I don’t even want to mention Shohei Ohtani because NO ONE is going to be him in the near future. But even a much lesser version could be pretty fun to watch.
UPDATE: I guess he was taking the Ohtani thing extremely seriously:
Free-agent pitcher Michael Lorenzen and the Los Angeles Angels are in agreement on a one-year deal worth around $7 million, pending physical, according to sources familiar with the situation. Lorenzen is going to be in the Angels’ rotation.
— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) November 29, 2021
I didn’t think Lorenzen was gonna change the fortunes of the Cubs or anything, but I wanted the fun at least. Tonight has been A BLAST.