The Rizzo-LaHair connundrum

The Rizzo-LaHair connundrum
Anthony Rizzo and Bryan LaHair

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..

LaHair: .357/.455/.679

Rizzo: .393/.433/.786

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

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  • Lahair had a grand slam, but I would keep Rizzo and Jackson down until June 1 and eventually try to trade Soriano, Byrd, and Lahair and see who you can get the most assets for.

  • In reply to cubsfan4life:

    Thanks, I fixed it. It was an editing error on my part. At first I was going to mention the Cubs recent HR drought in that sentence, then changed my mind to write about LaHair specifically...and it all got jumbled up ;)

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    What's the rush? There is no need to bring Rizzo up for any reason this season other than to appease fans. At this rate we get the #1 draft choice for 2013. We let LaHair build some possible trade value. If we trade Byrd, we bring up Campana to replace him.

    I say stick to the long term plan and hope for a run in 2 years.....

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Agreed bocabobby. There really isn't a compelling reason to bring Rizzo up unless you think he'd develop better in the majors.

    I'm a big picture kind of guy, and as much as I want to see Rizzo in Chicago, I'm not sure that's what's best for the organization as a whole.

  • Rizzo and Jackson need the experience in AAA until June?
    Don't want, or need, to start their "service time" to soon.

  • John, aren't you going to tell us how you voted?

    Personally, I voted to bring up Rizzo in June. It's another piece of rotten luck that our best minor league hitter plays the same position as one of our best major league hitters, but that's the 2012 Cubs for you.

    As you point out, LaHair's back problems don't bode well for a trip to a corner OF position. The entire pitching staff would be victimized by that move. Maybe the American League would let us spend the rest of the season there, so we can make LaHair the DH?

    I've got a feeling that some major league team is going to get real lucky by dealing for LaHair. Ugh, it's not quite as upsetting as Raphael Palmeiro, but it still stinks.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Eventually, but I want to see how the vote shakes out first. It's too bad the NL doesn't have a DH!

    The Palmeiro deal still irks me, partially because it was made necessary by trading Lee Smith the year before. The 89 Cubs could have had a lineup with Dawson, Sandberg, Grace, and Palmeiro...not to mention Moyer in the rotation. But if I get started on Jim Frey as a GM, I can go on all day.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Say what you will about the Cubs farm system through the years, you have to give them credit for picking Jamie Moyer in the 4th Round of the 1984 draft and then bringing him up through the minor leagues till his 1986 debut, at age 23. What are the chances a guy like that would still be winning games in the majors at 49 years old??

    Come to think of it, wouldn't that be a nice story if the Rockies traded Moyer to us, so that he could close out his career with the team he came up with? (Also, he's got a 2.55 ERA, so he could be our No. 2 starter -- God knows we could use one.)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The DH is an abomination. 9 men hit. 9 men field. That's baseball, something the American League hasn't played since the early 70's.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Looks like the voting has stabilized somewhat. I voted same as you...keep Rizzo down until June. If he keeps hitting like this, it's going to be hard to keep him down until September, even though they'd draw some financial benefit from that.

  • It's a nice problem to have for sure, but I don't think Rizzo is quite ready just yet. I want to see him go through a slump or 2, then work his way out of them. By that time hopefully Soriano is hitting, and maybe they can move him & save a few mil.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    That's a good point. It might be beneficial for Rizzo to slump in Iowa and work his way out of it there, rather than against MLB pitchers.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    I agree. He might be doing some great things at the moment, but how does he handle a slump mentally? If he goes through one or 2, and is able to work his mind out of them and adjust and continue to be a wrecking ball, then bring him up in Sept. June looks good if you plan on moving pieces around. Right now, the only 2 pieces you want to trade are slumping bad. I was hoping for a much better start from Soto at this point, but I'm beginning to think that maybe his offensive production is going to be a in the .220-.250 range from here on out. He's not a great defensive catcher and he really is sub-par at handling the pitching staff. It's been a tough 13 games to watch, but I believe it will begin to get better soon. When you have Baltimore in 1st in the AL East, you know it's still early and teams will begin to settle into form and start popping off a few win streaks. I think it will happen with the Cubs. Stay the course and leave the kids in AAA or AA until they are ready to start trading away pieces.

  • I would wait until Soriano gets on a hot streak deal him, picking up the difference between his contract and what LaHair is making. LaHair is probably no worse on defense than Soriano, and likely to out-perform Soriano offensively over the remainder of Soriano's contract. I think if we picked up Soriano's entire contract minus a half-million or a million per year, we could get a useful piece in return, and it would be a net gain for the Cubs.

    Soriano is a good clubhouse guy and has looked a lot better defensively this year--it seems like he's making a difficult catch every other game. He has always been a streaky hitter, and when he's hot, he looks great. I'm sure he has at least one of those streaks the first half of this season, and the time to trade him is 1-2 weeks into one of those streaks.

    If we picked up his entire contract minus 2-3 million, surely someone would be interested, and we wouldn't miss him with LaHair out there.

    I don't like the idea of dealing Byrd right now, or sticking Dejesus in CF. As painful as it is to watch Byrd, we need to continue to give him at-bats. It's hard to believe that he's completely lost his ability to hit--more likely that he's just mired in a terrible slump and is pressing. In the meantime, at least he's playing good defense in CF.

    We're not so talented a team that we can afford to simply dump Byrd without getting some talent in return, unless he really is finished. But I'm holding out hope.

  • In reply to SVAZCUB:

    I hope you're right on that, Svaz. Sori will be tough to deal and I do think they'll have to pay just about everything to do it. The other tricky part is getting him to waive his NTC.

    Byrd hit the ball better today, hopefully it's a sign that he's ready to break out. If he can even hit .270 with 7-8 dingers, that makes him marketable, imo.

    Amen to that last paragraph. No reason to sell low. Worst case scenario is he's still in a slump and you have to dump him in June...but even then you're just losing a couple of months.

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    I have issues with this poll. You didn't give me the option of dumping both Soriano and Byrd, calling up both Jackson and Rizzo and moving LaHair to LF.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I think it's hard enough to dump one in the short term. I just don't think they can - or will- dump both guys to bring up two rookies. I suppose I could have made this a multiple answer poll -- that would almost work.

  • John, when does the clock start ticking? That is, if Rizzo or Jackson are called up in June, do the Cubs then still get that extra year of service?

  • In reply to mosconml:

    I believe they'd have to wait until September to prevent him from accumulating a year total. It's either wait until then or just call him up whenever they think he's ready.

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    I think they're going to run into a dilemma if they decide to shop LaHair, whether it's in a month or two or this offseason. Even if he continues to hit, which I expect he will, he's going to be 30-31 with only 1 full year in the majors to look at for a track record. I know he will have a market, but I doubt anyone offers that much for him because of his age. I wonder if Rizzo could theoretically move to a corner OF spot to keep both of their bats in the lineup?

    This reminds me of the Palmiero-Grace dilemma, and Andre Dawson's spring training comments after the Texas trade that "we traded the wrong first baseman." lol. Of course there were all the rumors that Palmiero was one of the players that allegedly had been overly friendly with Sandberg's wife. Who knows the truth.

    Point is: Rizzo is a far better athlete than LaHair, he could probably play the OF.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Best thing going for LaHair's value is he's cost controlled. He's a low risk investment (financially, anyway). Scouts are beginning to believe in him, so I think someone maybe takes a chance.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm sure teams will make offers for him if/when he's shopped, but I wouldn't be surprised if nobody makes a very strong offer. It's not like LaHair is going to bring a package of top prospects, or even one top/very good prospect. If that's the case, it's kind of silly to trade him. He's a good asset, almost certainly worth more to the Cubs than to other teams. That's why I have to think TheOyer will ponder every possible solution, including wondering if Rizzo could play a passable corner OF. I know if Tony LaRussa were managing the team he would get them both in the lineup somewhere. That's a guy who played a catcher in CF. Haha.

    BTW, I was at the game where Eli Marrero was playing CF and broke his ankle going after a fly out on a rainy, windy day. The game was eventually rained out. That has to really get under the skin of a player who gets seriously hurt in a game that never happened.

  • I was with the previous poster John, I replace Soriano and Byrd right now. Soto not far behind. And I don't want to hear about a small sample size, it's not, it is a 2 year sample size. It is what it is, Failure. Watching the ball game in Florida the other night, it just really struck me. Our outfield had a 36 year old, a 35 year old and a 35 year old on the field, each one of them who has been consistently on the decline for years and are near the end of their careers. It is lunacy for a team that is obviously going to lose 90 and maybe 100 games even with them.
    I can't stress this point enough. The biggest advantage a team who has no chance of contending has, is the ability to play young players who have upside. A 22 year old player like Jackson and Rizzo, who have shown the ability to compete and at times excel in AA and now AAA are ready to develop in the bigs. Think Andrew McCutcheon and BJ Upton. And this clock thing is insignificant, a team with a 150 mil. plus payroll is going to lock these players up long before it would make any difference if they pan out. See Starlin.
    I love our new management, but I get the feeling they are kind of in shock just how bad things actually are. Like they had an idea, but holy crap, some of these guys are just horrible. The Cubs should have the youngest team on the field in baseball much sooner than later if the long term is truly their priority. Sorry to be long winded, I am really frustrated.

  • But they'll lose 90 with them or without why the rush? Aren't you better off playing these guys and betting on them to return to their career averages...then getting something for them?

    If there's any chance you can turn these players into long term assets, you take it. You can't afford to miss out on an opportunity to add to your team. If you dump or bench them, the value is gone permanently. And for what? To bring up rookies and watch them lose 90-100 games instead?

    I understand the desire to bring up these rookies and see what they can do, but I think they lose more than they gain in the long term by doing that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree with belleville here. Byrd and Soriano are not assets and their future value does not have much upside. They are sunk costs. Even playing guys like Campana and Mather in their place has value, because there's a non-zero chance that one of the quad-A guys proves their worth as a future bench player. When the Cubs hold open tryouts, they'll laugh a 35 y.o. player off the field, but they'll give a chance to a guy with some tools or projectability in his 20s. This year is a tryout camp and a developmental project, so they should treat it as such.

  • In reply to h vaughn:

    I know for certain that other teams have interest in Byrd, so that is value. If he shows he can still play and a team has a need, somebody may give up one of those young players with projectability -- guys the Cubs don't have enough of right now. You don't bench him just to see how good a bench player Joe Mather can be. Then you've gained nothing. Guys like Mather are readily replaceable. There's nothing to be gained by playing them full time.

    This is a process and the first step is evaluating what you have and acquiring assets, not dumping the few you have to the curb just so you can play easily replaceable players.

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    I think you make some good points here cubbierironville, the clock thing is probably not that big of a deal. I think the main issue is readiness. Rizzo is looking more ready all the time. and I would like to see them figure out a way to keep both rizzo and lahair as lahair is probably going to be worth more to us than other teams, but you never know, I guess.

  • In reply to Gary Kueper:

    I agree that the clock is overstated. I don't think the Cubs are running their team in some sort of rigid, color by numbers sort of format, where they are bound to the service time clock regardless of what else happens.

    We do know that Hoyer called up Rizzo when the Padres were 11-12 games under .500 instead of waiting until the end of the year or even 2013. There was obviously more into the decision than delaying his clock back then, so I'm not going to assume service time will be the only factor this year.

    It's interesting to hear everyone's take, because I can understand why people would do things one way or another. We all have our opinions but impossible to say for certain what the best decision will be in the end.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The payroll free falls over the next couple of seasons. This is a big market team and the cost controlled aspect should not be a determining factor. It is all about player development.; if Rizzo is ready to challenge at the big league level then you do it.

  • In reply to JeremyR:

    The payroll free falls this offseason.

    After 2012 the only long term deals remaining are Soriano's 2 years and DeJesus & Marmols final year. That is unless they extend Garza and Castro but I don't see them extending Castro until next year.

    Demp, Zambrano, Byrd. That's $37 million right there.

    Add is Soto and Kerry Wood and that's $45 million off the books in 5 months...

  • The only intelligent move at this point would be to simply sell the team.

  • Count me as firmly in the camp of those in favor of finding a taker for Soriano and planting LaHair in left field. Now, as far as that taker for Soriano goes? Simple solution from your (suffering) kansasblackhawks fan!

    What dysfunctional team in the cellar of the Americal League East could use the influence of a good clubhouse presence along with a, ahem, left fielder? Bingo. We all know what's going on over there: Youk is toast, injuries to outfielders, etc. etc. So, in the voice of Ross Perot, "here's the deal:"

    We take Bowden off their hands, pay 95% of the freight of Soriano's contract as an additional "compensation gift" to Larry Lucchino, and allow the Red Sox to move Big Papi to first base and DH Soriano, or... better yet!... put him in left field and let him play the Green Monster for sheer entertainment value!!! In either case, you just know he's going to pop a few over that Monster in the years ahead. I'm choking on my chowder just thinking about this dandy solution.

  • In reply to kansasblackhawk:

    Haha! I like it. Sori to the Red Sox!

  • Can someone explain to me why Randy Wells couldn't crack this rotation?

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Wells is doing worse than all of these guys down in Iowa.

  • No connundrum...

    In the near future two of the current no-stick scrubs currently starting in the OF for the Cubs will be either gone or benched and replaced by LaHair and BJax.

    Rizzo will take over at first and then we will see what happens.

  • Thanks for starting the discussion, John. It's obviously a nice problem to have TWO up-and-coming good hitters.

    I saw Brian Lehair play 2 or 3 games in right field last fall and he didn't look a liability (At least, no more than the Brewer's RF Hart). Remember last September when all were clamoring for Mike Quade to give Campano and Lehair more playing time (over Johnson, Byrd, and Pena)? If that had happened, the Cubs would KNOW whether Lehair could play RF and Brian could have learned how to deal with some of Wrigley's RF challenges. So, another lost opportunity for the Cubs, sigh!! Hope the new regime doesn't make the same mistakes.

    Have a good one ...

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    It really is. And the discussion is interesting. There's a wide range of opinion, as you would expect.

    Never understood why Corey Hart isn't a better OF'er. He's a pretty good athlete.

    Cubs just called up Campana...looks like Byrd may be on his way out.

  • I definitely wouldn't trade LaHair. You'd be trading a young(ish) 1b who so far has raked at the major league level so you can let a younger one play who hasn't hit the Mendoza line there. Let the league adjust to LaHair and then you'll see if he's the real deal or not.

    In the meantime, let Soriano play everyday to hopefully build some value, trade him down the road, and if LaHair turns out to be the goods by then, move him to left and call up Rizzo in June or September.

    Moving DeJesus to center is only a band-aid solution since Brett Jackson's going to be there soon. Though I guess it could work since I expect DeJesus to be dealt by the deadline if his OBP stays as high as it has. Good year for him so far.

  • the reason i say rizzo should play some outfield in AAA is because it give the cubs more options. san diego was contemplating him in the outfield at one point too. honestly, lahair is 3-4 inches taller and longer than rizzo and his reach at first could be useful and it seems that rizzo can lay out for dives in the outfield probably a little easier than lahair. so to keep both guys in the lineup full time it would make sense to train both to play both alternatively to keep both of these highly quality bats in our future lineup. to just play rizzo in AAA at first and not take advantage of getting him some time in the outfield is not smart in my opinion. it also gives rizzo a better chance of getting here sooner if he can play both. lahair is too good and has proven he's made the adjustment into a quality first baseman. he's already made some highly remarkable plays at the 3 spot and the future looks good for both these guys if they both play in or out.

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