On April 30, the Cubs' outfield situation looked absolutely depressing.
Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney were each among the worst hitters in Major League Baseball. Ryan Kalish had put up a -0.2 fWAR (for the non-statheads, that's bad). Emilio Bonifacio had a hot start, but after about 7 games he reverted to being a .250/.250/.250 hitter. Junior Lake led the league in swings and misses. Even Justin Ruggiano started cold.
Since then, Kalish has been moved to Iowa. Bonifacio, Sweeney, and Ruggiano have each served extended time on the DL. Nate Schierholtz has as of yet failed to relocate his ability to hit a baseball.
But lately, FINALLY, a few Cubs outfielders have stepped up.
In the last 30 days, the Cubs two best hitters have been Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. But their third- and fourth-best hitters have been outfielders. Justin Ruggiano is on absolute fire (.333/.391/.526), and former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan is, frankly, not that far behind (.296/.356/.506). We're talking about a sample size of about 90 plate appearances for each, which is somewhere between "too small" and "actually vaguely interesting." But those are great numbers.
Unfortunately, that's as far as it goes: Schierholtz, Sweeney, and Junior Lake have each hit miserably over the past month. But two out of three ain't bad, right?
Now I know what you're thinking. These outfielders aren't prospects, and they're hitting well right now, so, let's sell high! And the Cubs may be thinking that too. But the last thing I'll point out is that Ruggiano and Coghlan are different players from, say, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
Hammel will be a free agent next year. Samardzija is already a well-paid player, and he's a free agent in 2016. In contrast, Justin Ruggiano makes just $2 million this year, and has two years of arbitration left before hitting free agency in 2017. Coghlan is on the same free agency schedule, and makes about a quarter of what Ruggiano does this season.
The counterargument to keeping these guys around is that neither player is a spring chicken: Ruggiano is already 32 years old, and Coghlan turned 29 last month. But that's not terribly old either.
Finally, after nearly three months of suck, the Cubs have some outfield bats with potentially positive trade value. Or the front office could choose to keep these guys around another year. It'll be interesting to see what happens over the next two weeks.
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