I imagine Joe Maddon must be pretty excited with all the pieces the Cubs have given him this offseason. If there is anyone who can best utilize the Cubs mix of players and get the most out of their strengths, Maddon would seem to be it. You wonder if the Cubs would have made the same moves with the less experienced Rick Renteria,
The Cubs could play Dexter Fowler in CF or they could move him to LF and start Arismendy Alcantara in the middle. The acquisition of Fowler reduces some of the pressure on Alcantara to be a top of the order type hitter at this stage of his career.
It gives the Cubs some insurance for Chris Coghlan, who to me is a tough player to project. Did he have a fluke season or is it a breakthrough? Projections have him regressing, but those systems assume that it was not a breakthrough and base their calculation in part on some injury-riddled seasons. Whatever the case, he is something of an unknown for 2015 and one thing we know about this front office is that they don’t like counting on unknowns.
The Cubs have multiple players now with a chance to win playing time this spring, from Javier Baez to Arismendy Alcantara to Mike Olt to Tommy La Stella. Some of the vying for playing time may well extend into the season as Maddon mixes and matches to find the best combinations early in the season.
One thing seems certain and that is that Dexter Fowler will lead off. His .366 career OBP is better than anyone else’s on the roster.
Will he start Mike Olt at 3B with Valbuena gone? Will the Cubs give Javier Baez or Tommy La Stella a look there? It seems Baez would be unlikely as the Cubs probably don’t want to add more adjustments to his plate, especially since Kris Bryant may soon be up to take the position anyway.
And what happens to 2B? Javier Baez is not guaranteed a spot there but the acquisition of a LH OBP bat seems to reduce the need to have La Stella in the lineup. Here is a look…
If Fowler is in CF…
That means the Cubs have faith in a Chris Coghlan repeat of 2014 and it gives them two top of the order hitters. It bodes well for Javier Baez to win the job at 2B, though he may get some competition from Arismendy Alcantara if the Cubs decide to play him there. Alcantara more likely becomes a supersub in this scenario and La Stella’s LH OBP bat becomes less of a pressing need, so he may move to a utility role if he can play 3B and/or LF or too Iowa if he cannot.
If Fowler plays LF…
This bodes well for Alcantara to get regular playing time in CF. The switch-hitter can hit lower in the lineup and it gives him a better chance to develop at a more appropriate pace. It means Coghlan and Denorfia are the 4th and 5th OFers, which raises the question of who replaces Valbuena’s LH OBP skills if it is not Coghlan. This might be an opportunity for La Stella to get some regular playing time at 2B, especially if the Cubs think Baez needs more time in Iowa.
Who plays 2B?
This depends a lot on where Fowler plays. As mentioned, if Coghlan’s LH bat is bumped from the lineup, then La Stella may have an opportunity. If Fowler plays CF, then it seems more likely that Baez or Alcantara take that 2B spot.
Who plays 3B?
It seems that Mike Olt is the leading candidate to man 3B until Kris Bryant is ready, but the Cubs currently lack a player who can back him up and maybe give him a breather against certain RHPs. The Cubs have said they would like to try to move La Stella around, so he becomes a candidate. It is possible Alcantara could get some looks there as well.
The uncertainty can be made into a strength under Maddon’s guidance. The Cubs have the kind of roster flexibility they have lacked for pretty much the entire time I have been a Cubs fan — and it helps that they have the ideal manager to utilize this. We could see various combinations of the scenarios mentioned above depending on who is pitching, who is seeing the ball well, who fits best in whatever ballpark they’re playing, etc.
This spring, both in Arizona and in the early part of the season once they head north, promises to be an interesting challenge for Maddon. He has a lot of pieces to play with now, it is up to him to find the best combinations for the right situations.
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