When the Cubs acquired Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner, the thought was that things would work themselves out eventually between him and LaHair, who was promised the first base job in the offseason. One or the other would step to the forefront and make the decision easy for the Cubs. The other scenario would be that they both would do well but that would be a nice problem to have.
Well, the Cubs have a nice problem on their hands. Here's what the two are doing this year..
The biggest difference between the two is that Rizzo has 7 HRs while LaHair has hit just 2. In fact, Rizzo has out-homered the entire Cubs team 7-5. Rizzo is also a better defensive player than LaHair.
At the same time, LaHair isn't the problem. He has arguably been the Cubs best all-around hitter in the early going. He grinds out just about every AB, making sure that every trip to the plate is a quality one. He's doing what the Cubs front office wants their hitters to do. You can't just replace him.
So what are the options?
- You move LaHair to LF and replace Soriano. Of course that's easier said than done. Getting rid of Soriano at this point would likely entail waiving him and paying his entire remaining salary. But it does have some on the field implications.. While Soriano is slumping with a .277 OBP and .250 slugging percentage, he's still the team's best power hitter. It's two weeks into April and it's premature to think that Soriano has suddenly lost all his power. Even when he hasn't played well in the past, he's supplied much needed slugging. Looking up and down this lineup, the Cubs can't afford to lose much in terms of HR production. You'd gain some with Rizzo, but you'd lose a lot by dumping Soriano.
- You move LaHair to RF, DeJesus to CF, and dump Byrd. This would be easier to accomplish logistically, as Byrd is still more marketable than Soriano based on his much smaller contract and his ability to play CF. But this is where we run into all kinds of defensive issues. While DeJesus is a very good corner OF'er, he's below average in CF. We already know about Soriano's defense in LF, despite some improvement this year, it's a stretch to even call him just average. LaHair is a below average outfielder with very little range when he's healthy, but lingering back problems have limited his mobility. For all intents and purposes, you might as well put the Billy Williams statue out there.
- You trade LaHair. This seems like the most likely scenario but it doesn't make much sense to do it right now. LaHair has been one of their better hitters, so the gain wouldn't be so much in production as it would be in MLB development time for Rizzo, which I'll get to in a bit. At this point, there isn't much value to LaHair since he's still unproven. So like the other scenarios, you'd be dumping a potential asset for basically no return. Impatience to see prospects promoted aside, the Cubs have nothing to gain by dumping assets.
The best argument I see for calling up Rizzo is for his own development. AAA pitchers are unable to exploit his weaknesses inside as MLB pitchers have, so you have to wonder if there's any benefit to having Rizzo mash in AAA. Perhaps it's better for him to take his lumps at the MLB level and begin to adjust to the way that more advanced/talented pitchers are approaching him.
Additionally, according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, Rizzo appears to have fixed the flaws in his swing, shortening up and using all fields at times. That would even lend more credence to the idea of bringing him up. But not so fast, Goldstein says. The reasoning he uses is similar to what we just talked about above.
There is the much-talked about financial side as well. The downside is that you speed up Rizzo's clock up by a year by bringing him to Chicago now. If the Cubs wait until the end of the year to promote Rizzo, they delay his arbitration/free agency years and save a year on the back side, when he'll be in his prime and the Cubs should be contending rather than using up a year now while they have little chance to compete for the NL Central title. Personally, I don't think this is a major issue for a bigger market club, but it does have some bearing.
It's simply not an easy decision. How would you handle it?