In the absence of sufficient everyday players, Cubs should go with versatile roster to utilize matchups and maximize strengths early in the season

In the absence of sufficient everyday players, Cubs should go with versatile roster to utilize matchups and maximize strengths early in the season
Bonifacio and Kalish could add a spark to the Cubs lineup

As the days dwindle down to a precious few before Opening Day, the Cubs roster is somewhat in flux -- but not so much because there are great mysteries as to who will make the team, but because the possibility of a late spring trade is more real this year than in past seasons.

Even with that possibility increased, however, it's still not particularly likely.  The Cubs still have too many question marks and may not yet be able to afford parting with some of their new found depth (or you can say alternatives if you prefer to think that depth only applies to teams with too much talent).

So, I'm going to assume the Cubs won't make a trade before Opening Day for the purposes of this article.  In the absence of sure thing everyday players, I'd rotate players in and out according to matchups early in the season with the hope that a) it maximizes each player's strengths and, therefore, their production and/or b) a player(s) emerges and proves they needs to be in the lineup everyday.

I'm not going to suggest match-up or how/when the players should rotate in and out of the lineup.  I'll leave those specifics up to the Cubs computers, but here's a general outline of what I would do...

Everyday players:

  • Welington Castillo 
  • Anthony Rizzo
  • Starlin Castro
  • Mike Olt (assuming he's healthy)

Role Players:

  • Darwin Barney would be the primary starter but not an everyday player at 2B.  He's done enough to keep the starter's job.
  • I would rotate Emilio Bonifacio into the lineup as much as possible, most often between 2B and the OF, though I'd sneak in some ABs at SS and 3B as well.  The goal is to get him in the lineup and in the leadoff spot at least 4 times a week.
  • Ryan Kalish makes the roster and leads off on the days when Bonifacio is on the bench.  Kalish hasn't shown much power but he's hit the ball well and shown a good approach at the plate.  If he can continue to mix in hits with walks to put up a decent OBP -- and then adds some speed on the bases, I'd keep him around to rotate with Bonifacio at the top of the order.  I would like to see the Cubs have a leadoff man with a consistent OBP presence and some speed to utilize once they get on.
  • I'd rotate Luis Valbuena in at 3B and 2B against some of the tougher breaking ball RHPs.
  • Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, Ryan Kalish, Emilio Bonifacio and Justin Ruggiano would all rotate in and out depending on matchups and weather conditions early in the season.
  • With Kalish taking OF at-bats, I'd send Junior Lake to AAA to get everyday reps and decide between Donnie Murphy, Darnell McDonald, Chris Coghlan, and Ryan Roberts for that 25th man spot.  Murphy is the favorite based on last year's performance and the ability to fill in at SS, but I also like McDonald's approach and clubhouse presence in a situation where there won't be a lot of ABs, though Roberts has also shown a nice approach and has greater defensive versatility.  It pains me to send Lake to AAA but he just hasn't looked good this spring.  It's not an unlucky spring.  He's been every bit as bad as his .375 OPS suggests.

In other words, keep the lineup fluid and try to maximize player's strengths as much as is possible.  Maybe that's easier said than done.

That's just me, though.  I can easily see the Valbuena/Murphy platoon return at 3B with Kalish and Olt easing back at Iowa ( in Olt's case rotating between 3B, 1B, and DH to save his arm) and the Cubs sinking or swimming with Lake as an everyday MLB OF'er to start the season.

Anyway, we'll see what happens.  In the meantime, here is the Cubs lineup today vs. the White Sox.  It's an intriguing one where we may just see the first 8 players in an occasional regular season lineup -- at least by midseason.

  1. Bonifacio, 2B
  2. Lake, CF
  3. Rizzo, 1B
  4. Olt, DH
  5. Ruggiano, LF
  6. Baez, SS
  7. Kalish, RF
  8. Valbuena, 3B
  9. Baker, C

SP: Rusin

 

 

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  • You and I are of one mind. This is the exact roster I put together in my head about a week ago. Doesn't really matter who the 25th guy is, any of the 3 are fine and none of them would figure to be on the roster the whole year so I'm not sure there is a wrong choice there. Lake is just not ready, and he needs to play everyday, so it has to be in Iowa as far as I'm concerned.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Yep, that 25th guy is just a temporary spot as far as I'm concerned. I think the staff is pretty much set so didn't talk about that at all.

  • I think that the match-up version of the lineup has a lot of merit - and we'll also get to see how good a manager Renteria is as he juggles lineups (and egos) among the guys. Agreed about Lake as well - he's not doing what he needs to do at the plate to secure an everyday spot - and IF the goal is to get him at bats so he can work on his offense and regular field time to refine his OF defense - it makes sense to move him t Iowa as he's got option years, AND needs the regular work.

    On a slightly different note - I gotta say I am underwhelmed by the options at the #5 spot in the rotation so far in absence of Arietta. If it comes down to a competition between Rusin, Villanueva, and McDonald (if he's healthy) - I would just as soon have Hendricks giving it a go in the #5 slot.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    And of course I make that derogatory statement about Rusin,.... and he looks fantastic through 3 innings today.

  • Yeah I'd run with this and give the last spot to Murphy. He's on a MLB contract so they gotta pay him anyways unless someone claims him. I'd like to keep Roberts in AAA if we can.

    Junior looked bad the last 3-4 weeks of the season last year. Then is lights out in winter ball. He's struggled all spring, but when they sent him to minor league games to get AB's, he rakes... but then stinks in MLB ST games... I'm really starting to worry about his jekyl & hyde hit tool. I think (hope) he'll be fine. But he needs to play (everyday) through this and the place to do that and get his confidence back is Iowa.

    I think we got a keeper in Kalish. before his injury, he was projected to have 20+ HR potential. So for those wanting speed, and LH power bat at the top of our "Future" line-up that can play all 3 OF spots... He's one to watch

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    If Murphy is anything like the post all-star break Murphy, he will find himself in the lineup somewhere.

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    I like the lineup at midseason, with some minor changes. Castro hitting second at short. Lake in Iowa with Bonifacio in center. (Not the best defensive outfield, but some actual offensive value all around.) Baez at second hitting eighth. Castillo hitting 6th.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    No way would I ever hit Baez 8th unless he was really struggling. We don't want teams pitching around him to get to the pitcher spot, we want him doing damage. Flip him and Castillo.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    That's actually a large part of the reason I want him there. Experience early on with teams pitching around him and waiting for his pitch. It's going to happen. A lot. So being able to recognize it and deal with it is a skill he's going to need.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I guess, but you also want to put him in a spot to have early success too. You hit him 8th and you basically guarantee he doesn't see a fastball with a guy on base. Ever.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    That's fair. I could see moving him up for that reason. He's the one guy I wouldn't worry about having early success because he's so self-confident he'll pull through. My hope, in the words of John Sickels over the offseason, is that he says “fuck this shit,” makes an adjustment, and takes it out on the pitcher.

    I do give Theo and Jed -- and also you and Hoosier -- credit for understanding how to develop talent better than me, though.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Baez needs to be in the 3-5 spot.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Agreed-you dont waste that kind of power potential at # 8.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Eventually, yes. I don't think you start him there this season. He's going to have a ton of pressure on him because of who he is. Don't put him in the heavy pressure lineup slot, on top of that. I'm okay with sixth or seventh so people don't pitch around him, but 3-5 seems too high.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Javier is the type that relishes the spotlight. He wants to be the guy. I'm not saying plug him into the three hole immediately when he comes up. But he should never be in the 8 spot.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Mike, I only agree if Olt or Alcantera have success this year then Bonafacio will be in CF (if Lake falters) So I think our lineup in June could be:

    CF Bonafacio
    SS Castro
    1B Rizzo
    2B Baez
    LF Schierholtz
    3B Olt
    RF Kalish
    C Castillo

  • If Lake,Kalish and Olt are not going to get enough work and AB's send them to AAA. Sooner or late they will be needed.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Agreed, they have to play at least a few times a week.

  • I can't argue with any part of your scenario but fear Bonifacio will not hit enough to stay in the role you suggest. Hope I am wrong.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    Very possible he doesn't, but I think he'll get on base more than most Cubs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Lord knows that would make him as good a lead-off hitter as we have had for quite some time.

  • I was really pulling for Lake. I like his style of play and the excitement he brings. Homer in one at-bat, bunt single in the next. He did struggle the last 3 weeks or so of last season and I was hoping he'd prove the naysayers wrong.

    But, alas, John is right. He needs to go down to AAA for more seasoning and ABs. I hope Kalish sticks and replaces the athleticism and excitement we lose with Lake going down. Kalish can be one of the great comeback stories. He's been through so much. Gotta root for that kid.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Add Olt along with Kalish as well as Vizcaino and if they all succeed that will make for some great come back stories this year. Start thinking now of the nick names we can call this group.

  • Unfortunately this is what the Cubs will need to do this year. The draw back to me not having the same players day in and day out could effect their on field continuity. On the upside using the right matches could bring out the best it what appears to be replacement level players

  • I would have to say, I prefer Roberts to Barney. Maybe Barney plays well enough early in the year that Detroit gives us something decent in return, but I would think that Digi or Franklin would be a more attractive option for them. It is pretty disheartening to think that his upside is just above the bottom of league.

  • Another positive on having Olt on the roster is that he can move over to 1B when Cubs are facing a real tough LH. Gives Rizzo a day off and you still maintain a quality glove at 1B.

  • That headline is a mouthful! Lol

    Nice read and I agree with your thoughts. Seems to me Lake needs to go down to AAA after this poor showing. You have to play the guys who have done well or you lose some credibility.

    Cheers!

  • I wonder if we add AA in August to take over Boni's role and Bryant plays RF? Here's to hoping for competition!

  • Continuity is not an issue. Talent is. Its the whole "chemistry" argument. The A's and Rays have plenty of success with only a handful of everyday guys surrounded by platoons and moving guys around on a daily basis. The difference is, the everyday players (and the role players too) are better than what the Cubs currently have. There are exceptions to every scenario, but "chemistry" and "continuity" generally align with talent.

  • sorry, my shift key isn't working. anyway, i would go with these infielders...rizzo, barney, castro, olt as starters and bonifacio and murphy as reserves. i'd play olt at 1st when rizzo needs a day off/vs. tougher lefties and play murphy at 3rd when olt plays 1st. we would retain some pop in the lineup with rizzo's absence. i like valbuena's verstility and esp his on base percentage, but i'd rather have murphy's versatility and pop.

    as far as outfielders....i would go with lake, sweeneyi l, schierholtz, kalish and ruggiano. i know lake has been very inconsistent, but i like having his speed and bunting ability. i'd also like to see lake play more against lefties. i like kalish for his speed as well, and his obp potential. i guess i am rambling now, but i'd like to see more speed on the basepaths with the 2014 cubs, and with bonifacio, lake and kalish being the best we have in that department, i'd go with those guys.

    if it were me, i'd trade valbuena to clear up the clog. tough decisions though....and just my humble opinion.

  • In reply to MikeWadle:

    Love having these tough decisons and multiple options. Long way to go but it's progress.

  • I think the 13 position players are set. Your not going to base your decision about Lake on 30 spring training at bats. If Barney is traded then Kalish makes the team otherwise he isnt on the 40 man roster and goes to AAA.

    The pitchers are still in flux:
    1. If Rusin is the 5th starter then the final bullpen spot comes down to Parker or Rondon or Grimm (I think Cabrera makes the team).
    2. If Villanueva is the 5th starter then pick two of Parker,Rondon or Grimm.

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    Lake's performance last year earned him a roster spot. I'm as cynical about his long-term prospects of being a everyday player as anyone, but I think he's at least earned that. We've seen time and time again -- hot and cold streaks in spring don't usually carry over to the regular season.

  • In reply to Jason Pellettiere:

    It's not the spring results that matter. Its the approach. He still can't hit a breaking ball from a righty (or recognize one) and despite improvements in his OF play, he is still shaky there as well. If Lake had any kind of track record of success in the majors, I'd be fine giving him hte benifit of the doubt, but he doesn't. He only played about 40 games in AAA and then got called up to the majors because of injuries. There are still holes in his game that need refining and AAA is where he should be doing it.

  • And Valbuena hits HR #3 of the ST,.... nice hitting overall by the Cubs that inning. Beaz's K aside anyway.

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    Olt was the main guy I was watching this Spring. It looks like he has locked up a starting spot at 3B. And many folks think Baez would be the next guy in line to be called up and slip into the 2B job sometime after the Super 2 date has passed.

    But here's something to chew on. What's up with Alcantara? We know he's headed to Iowa. But what if he is tearing up AAA? A line of something like .301/.372/.415 with 9HR's and 84 RBI's....

    Those #'s are attainable, imo. Does Alcantara get a starting job with the Cubs as our leadoff hitter?

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Barring injuries or other unforseen performances at the MLB club, I doubt that Alcantara is called up before September regardless of his performance at Iowa.

  • Great article John, I love the flexability the cubs currently have. I find myself wondering if the Iowa outfield is becoming too crowded. We could potentially have Lake, Jackson, Szczur, Ha, Jackson, Silva, Vitters, Kalish...not to mention filler guys like McDonald. Are they planning on fielding two teams?

  • Valbuena does not want to let go of his 3rd base job... gotta love the competition

  • Surely, White Sox fans collectively use the mute button more than any other group of people on the planet.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Couldn't agree more.

    Though Hawk is the ultimate unprofessional homer, so maybe they like it, I don't know...

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    In reply to Quedub:

    Trust me. They don't like it either. At all....

    Source: born and raised on the south side.

  • Baez injury is what? Hamstring?

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Heal bruise. He's still scheduled to play tomorrow.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    his body couldnt contain his awesomeness eh?

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Nothing can contain his awesomeness :)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think I might give him a day off.

  • That was a nice at bat by Lake. Gives me hope for him as I'm one who thinks he's not quite ready and last year's numbers were a bit misleading.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    His last two ABs were very encouraging.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Agreed. It might be too little too late, we'll see. I personally want him to start in AAA, but if he keeps making adjustments like that, going to other way and getting the job done, you never know...

  • In reply to Quedub:

    He had a nice day overall at the plate.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I liked what I saw. It was encouraging to see him make adjustments pitch-to-pitch and go the other way. If he can continue to do that consistently over the next week, that would be a great sign.

  • Why do we think Bonafacio,Sweeney,Ruggioni,or Kalish are going to have better success than Lake? His AB's are ugly but he does square up the ball. Lets let him fail first before we send him to Iowa

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Two reasons.

    One, Lake has a bunch of talent but his ability to read breaking balls and adjust pitch-to-pitch isn't very good yet. His numbers likely belie his approach. HIs K/BB rate is likely more predictive of his major league readiness than the hot start he got off to last July. He'll develop more quickly if he's getting at bats on a regular basis. He'll see plenty of breaking balls in AAA and can work on making adjustments without the added pressure of failing at the major league level. Plus, he's still new to the outfield. Added time learning that position not in the pressure cooker of the majors wouldn't hurt either. His confidence is still a consideration. He's still just 23 (will turn 24 in a week).

    Two, the Cubs have some depth on their bench at the moment. Sending Lake to AAA allows players like Bonifacio (29 in a month) and Kalish (26 in a week) who's approach is more major league ready and don't need to develop in the same way a chance to contribute to the big league club. There's a good chance they will provide the same, if not better, production at the major league level than Lake would have due to their more mature approaches. With the decent OF depth (though lacking any outstanding talent) the Cubs have, they have the necessary players to allow Lake work on the things he needs to in a much more conducive environment for learning than the major leagues. And the presence of those other decent players might limit the playing time that Lake might get in the majors.

    All of this is based on my opinion that Lake still has things to work on and would benefit from more time in AAA. But that's just an opinion. If the Cubs front office thinks otherwise, then he should obviously go north.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Lake has hit and made significant adjustments in his second season at every level. Wasnt he the MVP of the winter league? He out hit any Cubs down there. Yes he is very weak on the breaking ball but most free swingers are (and many free swingers are still good hitters). I think he was the starter he is the starter if he is hitting under .240 by mid june then Baez will be up and Bonafacio or Kalish will be in CF.

    Lake was a higher prospect than Castro was when they joined the Cubs.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Who was judged the "higher" prospect when they signed as teenagers in 2007 is completely irrelevant. What matters now is whether Lake is ready to succeed at the major league level.

    I believe the evidence shows that Lake still has some development to do. If that's accurate, his career and the Cubs would be best served allowing him to develop in an environment best suited for learning. If the front office thinks he can outperform the other OFers on the roster right now and will start every game at the major league level, then he should break with the team.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Who was judged a "higher" prospect when there were signed in 2007 is irrelevant. What matters now is whether Lake is ready to succeed at the major league level.

    I believe his K/BB and approach show room for improvement and the best place to improve for him is AAA. I certainly could be wrong, though. If the front office feels he's ready to succeed right now and will start every game then he should obviously break with the team.

  • If Kalish or Bonafacio can take over the leadoff spot and we have
    Castro,Rizzo,Castillo,Schierholtz,Lake & Olt (who looks really good). Then except for Barney (hopefully he gets traded) no one on this team will be an easy out.

  • call me crazy but I start Kalish in LF,,Lake in CF and platoon Ruggs/Nate in RF . Olt at 3B and platoon Barney/ Vlabuena at 2B , best lineup Cubs can field until the unicorn and friends come up. Bonafacio super sub .

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    In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Where does that leave Sweeney?

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    4th/ 5th OF I like Sweeney but He shouldn't be an everyday player , hell I guess you could say that about the whole OF tho .

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I like Sweeney better than Nate. Love to trade Barney and Nate. Cubs are much better than last year for sure.

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    What hasn't yet been discussed to my knowledge with regards to a these two (Kalish & Bonafacio), more athletic and versatile players, is not just there potential for platoon starts, but mid to late inning double switches. Their ability to play 3 positions, get on base, and speed make them ideal for such situations. I don't expect anyone on the staff to get more than 210 innings and most of the staff, is prone to needing early relief help. Especially early in the season, with pitching counts down, any replacement could easily get 2+ at bats per game to add to their current apparent value. That said we are basing all the current hype on these two with a SSS and burying Lake for poor results on the same SSS. I am not necessarily in disagreement but sometimes the winds change quickly. Lord knows I am ready for some summer winds. Cheers!

  • In reply to cubsben:

    I'm basing my concern with Lake not on any short sample size this spring but more on his approach. His slash line success in July and August last year and his poor finish and his performance this spring are all small sample sizes.

    I believe his K/BB numbers and other stats along with his evident approach are more predictive than his slash lines. I think he's the most talented of any of the Cubs current major league OFers, but his best chance to get the most out of his talent is to improve his batting eye and plate approach. The best environment in which to do that is not the major leagues.

  • If kalish, bonafacio, and olt make this team, then this team could drive up pitch counts on starters. Higher pitch counts mean more mistakes.

    Kalish, olt, ruggiano, valbuena, castillo, rizzo, and bonafacio are all guys that can draw walks and raise pitch counts. Also 3 of those players are threats on the basepaths, if castro back in shape he is also a threat.

    You can potentially field a quick team with on base skills. Then mashers like olt and rizzo to drive them in. Ruggiano also has sneaky power.

    Commence the koolaid drinking.

  • Olt and junior not going anywhere, but on the big club.
    The odd man out is really Barney. Mix and match with boni and valbuena, Murphy is your bench guy. Can see Darwin has lost his swagger.

  • Thinking out loud Lake batting 8th would be interesting (if Barney is gone). He would see a lot of breaking balls he would sink or swim but it might force him to be patient.

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    In reply to bleachercreature:

    Wouldn't you rather put a guy like that with his skill set ina position where he'd thrive? Somewhere where he'd see more fb's and more pitches in the strike zone over all.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    ya Mike probably a bad idea

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Per Mooney its sounds like its a done deal Lake is the CF for this season. So we can stop with the AAA stuff. The question is where to bat him in the lineup? 8th was a bad idea, so here is how I see it: If Bonafacio gets the leadoff spot then Lake bats 6th and Olt bats 8th. Castillo is 4th and Kalish or Sweeney bats 7th,

  • Today showed me that it's still too early to dismiss Valbuena and Lake. Let's give it a couple more weeks. As John stated we're likely going to mix and match with few exceptions. I would just like to be careful with development and injuries. Until it's proven otherwise it is most likely the last really terrible building year.

  • I agree with the article. I believe the mix and match philosophy is our best chance to compete this year. I would like to see Wellington, Castro, olt, and rizzo play every day with an occasional day off. I want rizzo in the line up against tough lefties too. How else is rizzo gonna learn how to hit lefties. If he is are future 3 hitter then he needs to learn to hit tough lefties. U don't see mlb 3 hitters not in line up do to being over match but yes he will need a day off.

  • Olt is not batting 8th. he will bat 4th if in the lineup. if anyone is batting 8th. its gonna be Lake or Castillo imo

  • John, dues Olt have any issues., like Baez, with the clock starting and the Cubs loosing arbitration rights(years)?

  • Obviously not John, but I don't think service time will really matter in regards to Olt since he is 25 already. In addition to that, we already have several solid 3B prospects right now which further limits Olt's service time as an issue. If he would go down to Iowa he would be splitting time at 3B with Villanueva which isn't desirable.

  • In reply to Mike:

    Agreed.

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