After a wild day of speculation where Theo Epstein met with Albert Pujols' agent and the number of suitors for Prince Fielder seemed to dwindle down even further, after all is said and done, the Cubs' first baseman in 2012 may be a guy who's already on the 40 man roster.
Bryan LaHair met with Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer and seemed to come away in good spirits, talking about how fun it was to HR off of Carlos Zambrano.
The reason for his good mood?
LaHair also said this,
“They didn’t make any promises. They want to give me an opportunity. It’s something I’m excited about.”
They want to give him an opportunity. No promises, of course, in case a friendly deal for a big name free agent unexpectedly falls in their lap, but otherwise it sounds like LaHair is getting first crack at the first base job while providing power from the left-hand side. LaHair's excitement after the meeting indicates the talk was positive in nature.
Epstein's impression of LaHair has been positive from the beginning,
“I have a soft spot for guys who hit everywhere they’ve ever been — hit, hit, hit and continue to hit. There’s this myth about the 4-A hitter. Guys who perform all the way up the minor leagues, dominate Triple-A, get a cup of coffee, they hit a buck-fifty in the big leagues, and everybody labels them a 4-A hitter.
“The reality is, I’m not so sure there is something called a 4-A hitter. It’s just (a) pretty good Major League hitter who never got an opportunity… We’re looking for assets. We’re going to scratch and claw and do everything in our power- in the draft, internationally, small trades, waiver claims... We need to build assets because we don’t have enough of them. We’re not going to look past one that might be sitting right there in our organization.”
LaHair is coming off a season where he was the PCL MVP, hitting .331 with 38 HRs, then hit .288 with 2 HRs. More importantly, perhaps, LaHair fits Epstein's philosophy as a hitter. LaHair was a patient hitter, walking 11.5% of the time, resulting in a .405 OBP. That patience continued in his brief September stint where he walked 13% of the time and put up a .377 OBP.
LaHair seems to be aware that he fits in,
“I think I proved I can grind out at-bats, get good pitches to hit it hard, and then just let everything else take over. I think I got a really good opportunity in September.”
LaHair gets it. And that may mean the 29 year old first baseman may finally get his opportunity next season. With the Cubs building toward the future and saving assets for a few years down the road, LaHair may be just the guy to bridge the gap for the Cubs over the next couple of seasons.