Up until now, we've all assumed Joe Mather was competing for a spot with Tony Campana, but with Wrigley Field playing as a big ballpark early in the season, Campana's speed off the bench could be an asset for a team that may have to scratch for every run this season.
Yet, Mather has clearly been the better player. He's hit .467/.529/.933 this spring with one HR and 3 SBs while playing all over the field. Campana, meanwhile, hasn't shown enough either last year or this spring to prove he's more than just a one tool player, so if you had to keep one, Mather would seem to be the guy. Yet, Campana's one tool is a great one and it can be a tremendous weapon for the Cubs, especially early in the season.
Is there a way to keep both?
Yes. And the answer lies with veteran Jeff Baker. Mather has played 3B the last 2 days and has held his own. He's had limited chances (and no difficult ones), but he's made the plays. Could he make Baker expendable this spring?
It's obvious manager Dale Sveum would like a RH bat off the bench to occasionally spell lefties David DeJesus, Bryan LaHair, Ian Stewart, and eventually Brett Jackson. Right now, Baker would seem to be that guy but Mather has several advantages over the veteran...He's cheaper, he's cost-controlled, has more raw power and speed, and he can play CF in addition to the 4 corners. He also fits the Cubs new philosophy better as a more disciplined hitter than Baker.
Baker is eligible to be a free agent after this season and he will likely not be a priority for a team that seeks to rebuild with younger players. As valuable as Baker has been, they probably don't want to use payroll space on a veteran bench bat. Mather can fill that role for the short term and is cost-controlled for what would probably be the entire time he'd spend with the Cubs. In a financial sense it's a no-brainer.
There has also been interest in Baker from several teams, most notably the Boston Red Sox. They are in need of a part-time RH hitting outfielder and Baker can fill that role for them. For the Cubs a deal can not only bring in a younger asset for the organization, but potentially open up a roster spot for them they can use for Mather, who should slide seamlessly into Baker's role.
Mather's skill set is too versatile to just be a 5th outfielder. His offensive versatility as a power/speed guy combined with his ability to play 5 positions make him a unique asset off the bench. As such, maybe the guy he should be replacing isn't Tony Campana, but Jeff Baker.