"It just goes to show you, it's always something. If it's not one thing, it's another."
-- Rosanne Roseannadanna
We wouldn't be Cubs fans if we weren't looking ahead. After all, this is the franchise that has made the phrase, "Wait 'til Next Year" its mantra. The rebuilding years have put a new spin on that. Now we aren't looking ahead in some vague, idealistic hope that everything will somehow fall into place in the future. Now we are looking forward to the tangible fruition of what has been a 3 year plan to produce their own talent. We are looking forward to seeing specific players added to what is already becoming a team worth watching.
The Kris Bryant promotion has shadowed the Cubs since he incorporated hitting HRs into his everyday routine this past spring. He left little doubt he was ready to hit at the MLB level. The service time issue, however, made his call-up to start the season a poor decision for the long term. And this front office doesn't make poor decisions regarding the long term.
There are still defensible baseball reasons to send him down, primarily his defense, as we talked about here and here. Gordon Wittenmeyer, never one to defend the Cubs front office, has even admitted this in an article for Baseball America (subscription required). Wittenmeyer writes that the Cubs have legitimate concerns about Bryant's defensive home and want him to play some LF at Iowa. We have heard the same from scouts and it seems that even the ones who believe he can stick at 3B feel he is better off in LF, especially in the long term.
But I don't need to convince anyone about keeping Bryant down at this point. Even the hardliners have acquiesced. None of us like it, but it is the right thing to do for the sake of the long term health of the organization. That the Cubs have held their own without Bryant has made it easier and now, with the light at the end of the tunnel in sight -- Bryant can come up as soon as Friday -- there is nobody suggesting the Cubs call up Bryant any sooner than that.
The Cubs solid start makes it easier to wait even longer if necessary. The front office may want a buffer period to at least attempt to make it look that this is about baseball and not service time. Without a legitimate baseball reason to call him up specifically on Friday, it will only add fuel to the fire. That legitimate baseball reason may still come, however. Mike Olt has recently been hit in the hand by a pitch, his status is day-to-day and Tommy LaStella is dealing with a strain on his side. Suddenly the Cubs are short on infielders and have had to start 25th man Jonathan Herrera at 3B. They have Welington Castillo taking reps at 3B (he was actually signed as a 3B). If the Cubs have to DL either Olt or LaStella this week, who can argue that the 3B who most deserves a call-up is Kris Bryant?
But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Whatever happens, Bryant will be up soon. It is only a matter of how soon. The time on the Bryant watch is nearing happy hour.
So then Cubs fans can relax and enjoy their team on the field, right?
Well, not exactly.
Addison Russell has played extremely well at Iowa and though Starlin Castro has had a direct hand in two of the Cubs 3 victories, it seems he will never do enough to make some fans happy. We've seen Russell at SS and he is the better defender, though I think exactly how much better is often exaggerated. It is becoming apparent, however, that he is (or at least will be) the best middle infielder in the entire organization, regardless of where he plays. And who can blame us for wanting to see the Cubs field the best team possible?
Arismendy Alcantara has struggled at the plate, Tommy LaStella is hurt, and Javier Baez is out for personal reasons. Even when Baez is ready to take the field again, he will need time in AAA -- so nobody has a firm hold on 2B at this point. Theoretically, the Castro/Russell conundrum can be put on hold, at least for 2015. The Cubs can slide Russell to 2B for now, much as they did with Baez in 2014. They can figure out 2016 later. For now, the Cubs best team would seem to involve both Russell and Castro in the infield.
All of that said, the overwhelming sentiment is that the Cubs won't consider that move right now. It is still early. Alcantara could find his groove, LaStella could get healthy, and it could click for Baez. The Cubs owe themselves the opportunity to find out. There is no need to rush Russell to the big leagues. None at all. The Cubs, as we know well, like their prospects to get a full season at AAA and Russell has played just a few games at that level but elite players like Russell don't follow pre-set rules. They set their own timetables. Still, it will take an extraordinary set of circumstances for us to see Russell up in the next month or two -- continued great performance from Russell as the league adjusts, injuries to the MLB infielders, and subpar play from the Cubs current trio of 2B candidates would all have to be part of the equation.
But that is not going to stop the Russell watch from starting immediately after the Bryant watch stops. Whatever happens, it is likely we'll be seeing Russell by 2016...at the latest. And right now, it is looking like we won't even have to wait that long.
And then we can start the Kyle Schwarber watch. Of course.
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