Fowler deal gives Joe Maddon all kinds of options for lineup, roster

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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  • Great article. I hope Olt builds on his success after late season call up now that he is healthy. Love his power and he gives us depth at corners once Bryant gets the call. Fowler at age 28 gives us a switch hitting CF and allows Alcantara flexibility in the lineup for Maddon. Now let's hope winter ball changes helps Baez be the player we all hope he can be.

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    In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    I am having a wet dream on a lineup of

    Fowler
    AA
    Rizzo
    Bryant
    Soler
    Castro
    Baez
    Montero

    That has speed and OBP at the top and serious firepower to follow. It will take time to all start firing on all cylinders, but oh the potential.

  • Really great stuff, John! My initial disappointment in losing Valbuena was muted in realizing that Fowler is a switch hitter with wonderful OBP and leadoff capabilities. Gotta be a fun season as we see what Maddon does with the roster!!!

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Fowler is also only 28.

  • In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    I've been mulling that over as well, Roe. Interesting to see if the brass might intend to keep him for longer than a year...

  • Good analysis John, When I looked at Fowler's numbers, I was happily surprised at really how high he maintains the OBP season after season. A bit disappointed in how his SB's are decreasing, but I seem to recall some leg injuries in recent seasons??

  • I would love to find a trade partner for Castillo and one of our pitchers like EJ or Wood and add a better arm to rotation, if a trade were available. Your thoughts John? Another top starter in the rotation would be huge.

  • In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    It would be great, but don't see the Cubs getting an affordable mid rotation guy for that kind of package. Cubs biggest hope for a substantial upgrade in the rotation might be a breakout year by Jacob Turner.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I am with you on Turner. Still hope Wood can return to his better season form. Wada was very good pitcher(John Tudor?) during his late season starts at his age.

  • In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    I'd love to see him turn into a John Tudor. Tudor was a helluva a pitcher once he stopped tipping his pitch with his stride.

  • I can't wait to see what Maddon does with this roster. so so so so much flexibility with this roster that it definitely will be a fluid lineup which I think can benefit this young team. Part of me wonders if the Cubs just absolutely loved Alcantara's defense at 2B last year and wanna see him there more. We can deal with La Stella's below average arm from 3rd when we have our flyball pitcher's going and then maybe Olt and Alcantara at 3rd and 2nd for better defense. I also think this shows just how highly they value Maddon's ability to mix an match.

  • In reply to Cubswin2015:

    Well put. Before these roster moves, the only "fluid lineup" at Wrigley was in front of the urinals.

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    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Well done :)

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    I really hope Alcantara gets a shot at regular playing time. Correct me if I am wrong but my memory seems to remember him struggling initially in AA and AAA but made adjustments and after larger sample sizes his numbers were very respectable. I really would like him to get that same chance in the big leagues before he is just relegated to super sub.

  • In reply to Brandon Halford:

    You shouldn't think of Alcantara being called a "Super Sub" as a bad thing (see: Zobrist). Nobody is really talking about him being a bench player, just a versatile player that can Start at multiple positions throughout the season. He could get starts at 2B (where he is excellent defensively, and could easily be a full time starter if his bat comes along), and makes starts at CF, LF, SS, 3B throughout the season depending on the matchups, lineup, and what Maddon is trying to do that game it only makes him more valuable. If Alcantara is playing well, then Maddon will get him 550+ at bats, and play him everywhere. In fact, that could give Alcantara a better chance to start every day.

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    In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Fair enough! I can see your logic and I like it!

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    My concern with the whole ‘super sub’ idea with AA is what affect playing potentially multiple positions a week will have on his offense. It would be different if he were already an established player like Zobrist, but he is still trying to make his way in the majors. I’d prefer to see AA stick with 2B and CF for most of the season.

  • In reply to Ed Vajcner:

    I agree, Ed. Any major leaguer, especially a young guy, need some stability and routine. There are enough other players who can be utilized without using AA at more than CF and 2B. He may be a guy who can do it successfully and that would be great, but I personally feel it best if he can focus on 1 or 2 positions.

  • In reply to Cphil:

    Zobrist played a lot of positions in his very first year. His bat came along as it would anywhere else.

    I think we shouldn't generalize that all players need the same thing. Just like in any other field of work, some are simply more adaptable than others and Alcantara has shown a lot of indication that he is that type of person and player.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I must reiterate my point...there is a reason Zobrist-type players are rare. It is not easy for players to adjust to playing multiple positions on a regular basis. Alcantara as never done this...he has been steady at a particular position at every level (moving from SS to 2B when Baez came up to AA , playing mostly CF for the Cubs except when Castro was injured).

    I think it is just blind optimism to say that "Alcantara has previously had steady playing time at multiple positions, therefore we could put him at a different position every day and he will be fine." We have no evidence that this is the case unless I am wrong and (all evidence to the contrary aside) any player who could play multiple positions on a steady basis could also be a "super-sub".

    If that is the case, why do we not do the same with Castro (who can play 2B and 3B), Baez (who can do the same), Bryant (who can play LF, RF, 3B and 1B), Soler (who played CF for a period of time for Cuba)? You don't do it with your best players because most players like to settle into a comfort level at a position; you want them to maximize their potential at a particular position while not having stress over defense hurt their offense. Unless you don't think Alcantara is a potential starter (and someone who was on pace for 20 HR and 20 SB as a rookie is someone I think could be a starter), I believe it is much too risky to not give AA steady work at one position -- perhaps he gets some work at different spots, but 70% or more of his work should come from one main position.

    I have raised this point before and I am certain I must be missing something, as the entire board has jumped on the super-sub; the rationale appears to be that Maddon had Zobrist, who was a rare commodity due to his value as a super-sub, therefore Alcantara will easily fill the same role as Zobrist during his first full major league season. Somehow this doesn't add up to me, so I am certain I am missing something.

    .

  • In reply to springs:

    Zobrist isn't that unique. Off the top of my head, Bip Roberts, Jose Oquendo and the Cubs own Jose Hernandez were playing multiple positions at a similar age and level of experience -- and before they became established at any one position.

    It really depends on the player. You look for a) instincts, b) mental makeup and c) baseball related athleticism. All those players had that and so does Alcantara. The way Alcantara took so quickly to both 2B and CF speaks volumes as to his aptitude and ability to adapt. Baez wasn't nearly as good when he switched to 2B and Kevin Gallo will tell you Bryant will need some time to adapt to the OF. The fact that Alcantara not only made a seamless transition but was able to retain his skills at his old positions says a lot about his instincts and makeup. It takes a special player, I agree there, but I don't agree you need to see a player develop and settle in at one position first. Some players appear to be able to adapt quickly and early and Alcantara already appears to be one of them.

    It has also been mentioned by Epstein that he wouldn't mind seeing Alcantara play multiple positions and Joe Maddon is already said to be excited about how he is going to use Alcantara.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Wow. (like i am a known knowledgeable regular contributor...NOT!) This is a PERFECT example why this blog IS THE BEST! You have Brandon Halford (I'm sorry, who?) makes me smart and brings me on to his very reasonable thoughts. Then (regular) Ghost Dawg brings me around and sounds just right! Then Ed Vajcner (who?) and Cphill counters that argument PERFECTLY. Then springs comes in with WELL THOUGHT OUT ideas on the same thoughts and then Jon, well, being JOHN comes in with a 1-2-3 ninth. Joe Maddon will always have a closer!

    A perfect example of where at CUBS DEN everyone came come and have civil arguments and come out SO MUCH better a fan. Simply Amazing John (and everyone) THANK YOU!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thank you John -- that is the perfect answer to my question. Your analysis on the aptitude and the three factors you mentioned (instincts, mental makeup and baseball related athleticism) is an exceptional analysis; there is no question that having a strong lineup where Alcantara plays regularly and fills multiple roles/positions would be ideal (particularly if it was indicative that we filled all other positions with someone as good as or better than AA).

    My concern is that Jose Oquendo and Jose Hernandez were not the All-Star caliber players that Zobrist was and, if he were to reach his potential, Alcantara.

    Bip Roberts was though...he was a first round pick and top player. I have linked below an article on Roberts from that time, describing the uniqueness (in 1991) of the Roberts role. A few quotes definitely are indicative of your statement about the mental makeup:

    (Quoting Bip Roberts) "I remember Andy Van Slyke played a lot of positions," he said, "and no one knew what one he was good at. It always killed him. They found one for him in center field and now he's a great one. I'm not saying I would be a great center fielder, but it's easier being in one place." "I'm the only guy in baseball," he said, "who leads off every day and plays multiple positions. That wears on your mind. You get tired, but you get tired mentally more than physically."

    It reminds me of the criticism managers get for moving people around the lineup and not letting them get comfortable, but to an even more strenuous degree. I do hope AA can handle the role (and let's face it, AA, Theo and you, John, due to your knowledge and connections, all have a better understanding of whether this makes sense for AA or not).

    But if my fears are valid, I worry that the goal to use AA in multiple positions might be helpful in the short term but come at the expense of the long-term development of AA and possibly hinder his chances at reaching his potential. Such potential limitation wouldn't concern with Oquendo, someone who really was capped at being a utility player value hitter, but would (if the concern is valid) bother me with someone with as high of a ceiling as Alcantara.

    http://articles.latimes.com/1991-06-29/sports/sp-1207_1_bip-roberts

  • In reply to springs:

    It isn't an easy role to play and it is possible Alcantara settles in somewhere (as I wrote in today's article, by coincidence). The irony about Roberts is that as he settled into fewer and few positions he became less valuable and playing more 2B, it took a toll on him physically. Maybe I was wrong about him being able to handle that role from a mental standpoint. He doesn't seem happy with that role, which may be why, unlike Zobrist he went from team to team. Alcantara from what I know about him, can handle this role mentally and physically

  • In reply to Brandon Halford:

    AA was a SS most of his minor league career. Most of his defensive struggles had to do with poor footwork. He should have to arm to play 3b occasionally.

  • I said a similar thing in the other thread but what I think is the most important thing Fowler does for Maddon is it gives him a better chance to score first. He places great value on being able to score first and cited a statistic the other day that the team scoring first wins 70% of the time.

    It's now much easier for the Cubs to backup the Rizzo guarantee today than it was yesterday, and we compromised none of our future to do it. Awesome trade by Theo and Jed!

  • I hope they can pickup a good player for the 40th spot on their roster

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    In reply to emartinezjr:

    I wouldn't be surprised if they leave a spot on the 40-man roster so that when they need to add Bryant they will not need to make any other roster moves.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Might depend on who they can get for Castillo, if a trade goes down.

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    Great stuff, John....Good meeting you last weekend!

  • In reply to Bob from Salem:

    Thanks and great meeting you too, Bob.

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    Good analysis, as always. I tend to envision a pretty consistent Coghlan-Denorfia platoon in LF, which I think will be solid. I think you're right that this move could make La Stella less needed. But Hoyer and Maddon made it clear over the weekend that roles will need to be earned. So I think it is hard to say right now where it all ends up. But man: I love that Fowler OBP!

  • I, as many are, am sad to see valbuena go in this trade, but I am excited to grab fowler. It does appear to be an overpay, but it speaks to how much they want fowler. Mallee must really like him.

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    I hope Mallee works magic with young Baez, Olt, and some others. Ballena had career year last season and is best in reserve role rather than everyday player, plus is year I'll older than Fowler. Straily didn't show much, traded again when we still need pitching in our rotation? I think Bosio would have some input? I think we got the best of this deal, an everyday CF. But value the solid play Valbuena provided last season...

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    I really would have liked Valbuena and Fowler in the same lineup. That would be a nice OBP combination, but I guess his loss will be mitigated soon enough by the number of in house options the Cubs have.

    I think I will really like this move, but my initial feelings are more mixed. It almost seems like they traded Valby and Straily for a bit more athletic version of Valby, albeit at a position of greater need.

  • Did anyone see Montero give that kid at the convention dating advice? That guy is absolutely HILARIOUS.

  • I think the only downside here is a bit worse defense, but if Fowler is in LF and Alacantra improves I would be happy. I think La Strella should get a chance to play 3rd if he's going to be the rover after Bryant comes up.

    Baez has too much talent to rush, if he needs to make adjustments in Iowa so be it. He's going to be winning games for a long time and patience will be rewarded. That said, maybe Alcantara plays more 2nd early on if Baez is adjusting.

    Sorry to lose Valbuena but I guess it's an upgrade in OBP.

  • Does LaStella have the arm to play 3rd? Would be great if he did.

  • John, do you think Valbuena's exit seals Bryant at 3B? What about Bryant in LF and Russell at 3B when they are ready, or am I looking too far down the road?

  • In reply to lblegacy:

    Too far down the road. If they keep all of the big four and Castro the only way to fit them is with one in LF, but until all of them prove they can play in the majors there isn't a logjam. Lets see how Baez and Russell progress this year.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Thanks, mjvz. I'd love to be able to see Baez stick at 2B. Way too early to right him off, but I think they were sending him a bit of a message this weekend that they weren't just going to hand him the job. Boy, Rizzo, Baez, Castro and Russell sound great with Bryant in LF. Admittedly not a big Castro fan but I know a lot of folks are. If we need to keep Bryant at 3B and move Castro to have Russell at SS, I'm all for that. Again, as you say, seeing how Baez and particularly Russell progress this year. I don't see Russell up in 2015. This is Bryant's year.

  • In reply to lblegacy:

    I agree with most everything you said, particularly about Russell. He is young and is a very good prospect but not someone that we should rush as he has things to work on and there is not a need at the MLB level.

  • JL, your last statement sums it up what this trade was all about--"...traded Valby and Straily for... a position of greater need."

    Let's face it, Valbuena, come late April, was going to be a back-up at 2B and 3B, and a LH pinch-hitter of the bench, and his $4M salary is really too much for that. As others have mentioned, his OBP skills are covered by LaStella, and his power can be covered by Olt. This, in reality for the Cubs, is trading a reserve infielder and AAAA starting pitcher for an every-day CF and lead-off man. Nice trade by Theo, and nice trade by the Astros as Fowler was not going to be needed with their young OF bats ready to play.

  • Interesting article, and it hints at an interesting season next year. It should be great fun for the fans and for Maddon as he adjusts to the elder league, which should afford him more options for switches.

    Fun ahead!

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Yep...and this spring should be fun too. Can't wait to catch a glimpse of what Maddon has in mind.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Are you going to be there this year? I'm going for the first time.

  • In reply to Phil James:

    Going early to AZ for non-baseball reasons but hope to get back before ST ends.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    3/8,3/9 tickets in hand here.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Nice. Not sure when or if I will make it this year. Kind of an odd thing for us this year because we have to go to AZ for completely different reasons on Feb. 3rd. Maybe I'll miss the plane and stay for awhile :)

  • I hate to see Valbuena go, but it is amazing to see what the FO has done this off season. Very excited for spring.

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    As much as I'd love for the Cubs to get Zimmerman (because I'm greedy). I gotta believe trading Castillo for a prospect is about the last thing we see. This upcoming season should be a fun one and the excitement is just starting!

    31 days before Cubs Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training! #CubsWay

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    In looking at potential lineups, I came up with this idea-based on Maddon's cub convention comments:

    Fowler cf
    Coghlan lf
    Rizzo 1b
    Soler rf
    Bryant 3b
    Montero c
    Castro ss
    Pitcher
    Alcantara 2b

    If we can essentially have 2 lead-off men-I think it leans toward using Alcantara or even LaStella. Bryant of course is likely to be in Iowa until May, so Castro would likely move up. I think Baez will start the year in AAA but that's just a guess.

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    I guess the only thing left to debate amongst ourselves is the Opening Day lineup....

    Fowler CF
    Coghlan LF
    Rizzo 1B
    Soler RF
    Castro SS
    Olt 3B
    Montero C
    Alcantara 2B

    *I have Baez starting the year at Iowa.

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    But that power. Tough to pass up on Baez. I'd rather start Baez at 3B than Olt.

  • In reply to Phil James:

    Chicks dig the long ball still, huh? But those K's!

  • In reply to NotAnotherOne:

    Olt Kd a lot last year also. Yardbirds likely will be starting Wainwright. Might be best to start AA or LaStella at 3b, providing they can play there defensively.

  • In reply to Phil James:

    Olt and Baez both have power. Both need better obp. Would like to see both blossom...

  • In reply to Phil James:

    Phil; I agree. Olt is a strikeout king waiting to happen. I hope pin hopes on him.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I could see that but flip Olt and Montero.

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    I desperately hope Fowler isn't going to be the regular center fielder. Even taking the defensive numbers with a huge grain of salt, he was one of the worst regular fielders last year, and for his career he's been below average.

  • In reply to Nathan King:

    When a fan mentioned that Lou Brock was poor defensively, an old coach responded that when you get to more balls than others in the outfield, you have more opportunities to fail? Hope Fowler gets to a lot of balls in center and is 100% healthy to get his stolen bases up.

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    In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    I suspect that rangier CFs do have a higher variance in performance than an "equally skilled" CF whose skill is in converting more balls in a smaller range, because they'll make closer to 100% of the plays in their range. But the numbers I'm referencing take that into account, and they suggest that even so, Fowler was one of the worst liabilities in the majors last year, somehow amassing -20 defensive runs in only 116 games.

  • In reply to Nathan King:

    I just wonder how much of Fowler’s poor defensive numbers come from playing two huge centerfields in Colorado and Houston. Wrigley has it’s challenges but he won’t have near the room to try to cover.

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    In reply to Ed Vajcner:

    It's theoretically possible, especially if it's the arm that's the problem, and he can't make the deep throws consistently, but research I've seen suggests that outfield size has no real impact on defensive range, because even the smallest major league outfields are big enough to contain most of the borderline balls.

  • In reply to Nathan King:

    But anyone who has played the OF knows it is a whole lot easier to come in on flyballs than go back. And if you are playing shallow in a big park, then those borderline balls become further away. Further away + the relative challenge of going back on balls makes those deep flyballs have a higher degree of difficulty. And if you are playing too shallow, you also share some of those short flyballs with your infielders, so I don't think he can make up as many borderline flyballs coming in than he misses going back.

    I don't think Fowler is going to win a GG, but I think this defensive rating last year should be questioned rather than taken on faith. If Fowler plays CF (there is still the possibility that Alcantara is better regardless) and Maddon/Martinez don't position him differently, I am going to be very very surprised.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And if we were going to go by previous metrics, we should look at David DeJesus, who had awful UZR ratings in CF. worse than Fowler's but was actually above average as a Cub.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Remember Jim Edmunds and how very shallow he played. Of course he was probably one of the best ever in going back, but I think I remember his reasoning being that many more line drives fall in front of the center fielder than behind and he was trying to take that away. I guess I'm just saying there is some rationale for playing more shallow than average.

  • In reply to Ed Vajcner:

    In general I wonder why so much faith is put in defensive metrics when they themselves vary from year to year. They are constantly being tweaked. I think Fowler's biggest negative was his arm, which caused him to play much more shallow. Unfortunately, in those big parks, you aren't going to make up as much on shallow flies. Few CF'ers had to break back on the ball as much as Fowler did. I think only Denard Span and Ben Revere had to go back on the ball more. With Fowler playing in such big parks he had a lot more ground to cover going back. I don't think it is any coincidence that some of the worst CF'ers by UZR were CF'ers who played shallow: Fowler, Revere, Rasmus, Jones, DeJesus, and Saunders were among those who played the most shallow.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    From just a realistic standpoint the defensive metrics are a huge problem. Simple example: how do you judge a center fielder playing with Andrelton Simmons at short vs. the same guy with Derek Jeter at short? How do you judge a shortstop with Mark Grace at first vs. Adam Dunn? With Grace, you know if it's anywhere near the bag he'll catch it and so you make off-balance throws. With Dunn, you may hold it if you can't get a good footing. The other players in a lineup make the burdens on the same position significantly different.

    I love the defensive metrics and I think they bring a lot to the table -- it wouldn't surprise me if Alex Gordon's defense really is with 3 wins or so on its own -- but it is still working through some real growing pains. In that sense, it's worth looking at the tools as much as the numbers when trying to decide how someone will play on a specific team.

    Looking at the team as a whole, Fowler actually does have some issues, since Soler is still learning a very tough right field, Castro is an average defender at short -- though he does show decent range into the outfield -- and Coghlan is, how do I say this, limited defensively in left. That puts a lot on the center fielder's shoulders and is the kind of setup that could expose Fowler's weaknesses.

    Now, if we replace Coghlan with Alcantara in left, that makes his life a lot easier but my question is, if you're going to do that, why not just flip-flop Alcantara and Fowler.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Late in games we might move Denorfia into LF, most metrics actually suggest hes the best corner OF we have right now.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Thanks for your input on this Mike. Very well stated and insightful.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That's a good point, and arm is a stealthy way a lot of CFs lose points on defense. Trout is a somewhat notorious example of a guy who can clearly play the CF range-wise but has enough questions about his arm that he's lately been evaluated as sub-par.

    But let's be clear, I'm not putting huge amounts of faith in defensive numbers at all, and frankly, I would absolutely take your word on scouting stuff over anything I've seen, because I haven't seen him much and even if I had I wouldn't know what to look for. When it comes down to it though, the defensive metrics are an (admittedly flawed) way to look retrospectively at what's happened, and they have pretty consistently disliked Fowler. He's only had one terrible season by the numbers, but he's had a few lesser clunkers, and these things start to become more worrisome as they become a trend. After all, whatever the externalities, the defensive metrics are in their essence just another way of measuring how many balls a player made a play on, which is definitely something to pay attention to.

    I see the defensive metrics as sort of the defensive version of batting average. Serious flaws, but better than nothing, and you can get a decent if imperfect picture of how someone performed over a relatively large period of time.

  • In reply to Nathan King:

    I am just trying to keep an open mind. I don't think there is a lot of hope to make him a plus or maybe an even average defender. I think the hope is he doesn't hurt you too much, maybe more like the years leading up to last season or a bit better.

    Even if we use stats and lets leave out Fowlers last season as an outlier, he had an average of a -8.3 UZR/150. Not good, but certainly not as bad as last year. And DDJ had a -20.7 UZR/150 in CF in 4 seasons (750 innings) leading up to his time with the Cubs. He had a 0.6 rating in CF between 2012 and 2013 in about 950 innings.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    DDJ was a guy I never really figured out. Let's hope Fowler can baffle me the same way, but without the ridiculous waiver wire stuff!

  • If the cubs could move wood castillo and wada or half of jackson's salary that would be 13mil that would be a good chunk of a top starters salary.

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    Love this deal for the Cubs. Next stop: Dillon Gee. (or Shields on a big-ol' pillow deal).

  • Great article Mr. Arguello. I learn so much more from your site than any other I have clicked on over the years. You are a wealth of knowledge and great at reading between the lines and educating the public on the "why" these moves are made. Do you think Blackmon is still in play? He would be a huge upgrade over Sweeney.

  • In reply to cub since 89′:

    Thanks '89. Blackmon was an alternative to Fowler, but they won't get both. Sweeney may be the odd man out though. I expect a few more minor moves.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks for the feedback. The time was going to come where the FO was put faith in the rookies. They pushed all in on Bryant today. Sounds like the same on Soler and to certain extent a vote of confidence in Olt. He proved to me last year that he is a team guy. Took demotion in stride and accepted his role. I think he has a great shot at excelling in a sub role.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I wouldn't be surprised to see Castillo, Wood and Sweeney all traded in separate deals for some prospects, probably not Top-100, and some flyers and roster/salary space. Maybe a couple of guys that would be Top-20 for us, similar in ability to someone like Caratini, maybe catch lightning in a bottle with a McKinney type. The 40-man roster spots and salary room can be valuable late in the off-season because then we can add guys "off the scrap heap" and not have to make roster moves.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Great point. Off topic but I was reading up on Fowler the other day and I saw one of his stats that caught my eye. P/PA. He was in the top ten. The redsox made a living on demoralizing teams for over 10 years with this stat. Sure you may not win the game that way but you win the war. If they play that stat line up against divisional foes they could easily out last everyone in the division. The goal is to tire the competition out. With the influx of youth, depth, and versatility they have as good a chance as any.

  • In reply to cub since 89′:

    See. Mallee tweet about Fowler. "He can really put an at bat on ya!" and Hoyer comment about adding to a grinding offense.

    One of the many games within the game, but one that I feel this FO is looking to employ are guys that make pitchers work the hardest for their outs. It is a team game after all.

  • In reply to cub since 89′:

    I highly doubt it. He's a good fielder, but I believe his #s away from Coors aren't too flattering on Offense. I looked at Fowler's #s & he kept up the same good hitting w/Houston as he did the previous years with Colorado. I think Fowler came at a better price of Luis V. & Straily v. what Colorado may have wanted for Blackmon. They picked up about $9mil in salary (depending on arb hearing/settling) w/Fowler, but got rid of Luis' $4.? salary, instead of giving up prospects.

    I said it in the other thread & will say it again here, I love this trade. Works for both teams. Cubs got a leadoff guy & filled CF. I'm ecstatic for this season more now than when Lester was signed.

  • I wouldn't get too hyper about the defense. I believe it was Coghlan that commented at the convention that center at Wrigley was actually easier than the corners due to the brick walls inches foul and the bullpen mounds. Gaps are not as tough in center, certainly vs. the juice box or Coors, so Fowler should be fine.

  • This article should come with a flow chart. The flexibility and possibilities are endless. Leo the Lip is flipping in his resting spot. When you combine NL rules, Maddon, and this much roster flexibility (Wood will see some plays in left field before the season is out on some lefty/righty/lefty move), the score cards are going to be insane. This is going to be fun.

  • Haha!That would have been a good idea.

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    i like the idea of Fowler and La Stella at the top of the lineup. TLS's ability to make contact will let Maddon play hit-and-run and otherwise get the most out of his new toy. Having said that, this move does seem to take away at bats from TLS. He's gonna have to legit win the second base job -- which also involves Javy losing it -- to get significant ABs.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    He may get a shot at a 3B platoon with Olt. His OBP skills could be more useful early at Wrigley when power is hard to come by.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hey John, any chance Junior Lake's stock goes up for his versatility and ability to back up at 3B?

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I agree. According to Steamer projections, a lineup with La Stella and Bryant would have an average OBP of .336. Castro is projected to have the lowest with a conservative .320 OBP.

    2014 team OBP was .300. Great upgrades by the front office.

  • In reply to OregonCubs1:

    Interesting point. And there would still be a lot of power with Rizzo, Soler, Bryant and maybe double digit HRs from Castro, Alcantara, Montero, not to mention Baez if he gets the call. Olt is another guy who could provide power and even Coghlan came close to double digits last year. Should be an interesting mix.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Definitely fun to project!

    Thanks John for all of your great work this offseason. Best site in the business.

  • In reply to OregonCubs1:

    Thanks for the kind words!

  • In reply to OregonCubs1:

    Cubs last year scored 614 runs with that terrible OBP(13th in the NL) . OK, lets go with Steamers projections, the increase in OBP to a team ,336 would translate into what 35-40 more runs, which would likely win you about 10-15 more games.

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    In reply to mutant beast:

    Great point. To expand on John's point, I think there is a good chance this team has a better SLG to go with the improved OBP.

    Add in the improved culture, and Maddon making decisions.... This could be fun.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Mutant, a general rule of thumb is that 10 runs = 1 win, so that would be a 3-4 win up tick. That said if their OB does in fact come in that much better than last year they will see a bigger run boost because of the power they have. Power translates more singles and walks to runs.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think La Stella starts at 2B and Javy in Iowa along with Bryant on opening day. Fowler/TLS/Castro/Coghlan are real good table setters for Rizzo, Soler, and soon Bryant. And the rest of the order with Montero and Denorfia makes it nice to transition the young talent like Baez, Mendy, and Olt.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I am still high on La Stella. He makes contact and draws walks. I think if you put him at the top of the order with Fowler getting on base Rizzo will have a lot of situations where he bats with RISP, or at least runners on base. Something that didn't happen enough last year.

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I like La Stella too. And Alcantara. I think that decision will be the most interesting one.

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    It is not impossible that they complement eachother. Maybe Alcantara plays 2B against a tough lefty (if Baez isn't on the team). Maybe sometimes Alcantara moves to OF if Maddon wants both bats in the line-up. There are a lot of things that can be done.

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    Good points, and one thing I am sure of: We will not have Ian Stewart at 3B, Marlon Byrd in CF, Darwin Barney at 2B, and Alfonso Soriano in LF. Fun times!

  • In reply to Zonk:

    That is the best news. I'm not dumping on Soriano.

  • Can Lake still play 3B? Maybe he gets a shot there for that first month as well.

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    In reply to IThrewSomeRocks:

    I am sure he will be in the mix. I think Maddon will simply play the guys that give him the best chance at the beginning of the year rather than insist on a "stable line-up." I could see Lake making the team as a "25th man" or as a starter at 2B or 3B depending on how ST goes. If nothing else, I think he has an option left.

  • In reply to IThrewSomeRocks:

    That's right, ITSRs. I had forgotten that Lake was ONLY an infielder while in the minors from 2007-12 and that he might probably still have infielder skills. In Olt's behalf, I hope they are done with that (3b) experiment.

  • Hey John,
    Trying to get into the Maddon hype but how do we dismiss the fact that TB was always known to be poor offensively, potentially no-hit against the top pitchers every time? I definitely think he is an upgrade but how do we let that go?

  • In reply to Winitb4Idieplease:

    He has never had the talent to do much. He has consistently outperformed expectations based on his players projections and statistical value. We'll have to see what he does when he can get talent and keep it.

  • I was going to be pissed if the Cubs opened up the season with Cogs, Mendy, Solar, Sweeney, Denorfrio. This helps

  • WE NOW HAVE A REAL LEAD-OFF MAN!

    As you all know, My primary commenting on this site has been "getting of to a good start"

    Now with a bonafied leadoff man + last years leadoff guy(Cogs)+ a great manager, we have a chance to play some small ball, steal a few games early, and accomplish my dream start of 15-13.

    Add in that IF we can do 15-13 and then add
    a-Bryant
    b-Baez (if he start in the minors too)

    We can start month 2 in the hunt.

    Now.., get us something for Castillo and let the ST roster fights begin.

    P.S. Does anybody besides me hope that Wood gets a chance with our new catchers and land that 5th starter spot???

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    I'm with you on all fronts. Love Fowler and Coghlan batting 1, 2 vs. RHP ahead of Soler, Rizzo and, a few weeks in, Bryant.

    And I too am pulling for Wood to get that 5th spot. I like his attitude and style. He strikes me as a no nonsense "grinder" type and it hard not to pull for a guy like that. But if it aint him, I am also excited to see if Turner can turn the corner and become the stud pitcher he was projected to be just two years ago. As for Wada? Meh!

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    personally, i'm more interested in seeing ejax with the new catchers than wood.

  • What will it take to get hamels?

    He would make us one of the favorites for the next 4 years.

    Could wood castillo grimm and then a couple top prospects?

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    In reply to bleachercreature:

    Sure, Wood, Castillo, Grimm, plus Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber should get it done.

    Apparently, that's the kind of return the Phillies want....no thanks.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    It may be more than we would like to pay, but I don't think you can really blame Amaro for his asking price. Hamel on the open market would be probably around $27.5mil/year so you are saving 4mil per each of his remaining 4+ years. I think 2 top prospects is a fair starting point from his stand point, but unfortunately for him everyone values their prospects way too much these days.

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    I think this comes down to "lengthening the roster" as Hoyer spoke about this off-season. I think they made a conscious choice and said, "We are more comfortable with our infield situation than our outfield situation." In other words, having a guy that can play multiple outfield positions is more valuable to this team than a guy who can play multiple infield positions. Put on top of that that Fowler is a switch-hitter and there are lots of options.

    What stands out to me this offseason is how much stronger our position is. With the possible exception of 3B (Olt?) and LF (will we get adequate production from Alcantara/Coughlan/Fowler/Denorfia?) we are much deeper than last year. Remember, last year we went into the year with some trepidation about whether Rizzo/Castro would bounce back. They both did. We had a lot less established production from the offense last year. Last year Hammel was a reclamation/retread project. Hendricks might be able to be a legitimate #4. Arrieta might be a legitimate #2. It isn't guaranteed but the roster last year was based a lot more on "hope" than the roster this year. With that many reasonable options I think we can't help but be a good deal better.

  • Only current negative is the amount of dead money on the team right now. EJax at $11M, Beef $2.1M, Sweeney $2M, and even Wood $5.8M seem to be expensive insurance given the other options on the roster.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Jackson is the only guy beyond this year though, and his is only for one more year. The payroll is actually in really great shape.

  • It is just so exciting, thrilling really, to see this FO make moves in this 2nd phase of the rebuild. It's no longer merely looking for excess value or guys off the scrap heap or picking up someone to flip in July. It's now about playing winning baseball, but developing the team with a plan that fits with the overall rebuild through these stud prospects. Every move they've made this winter seems so smart -- perfect, actually. I gotta just tip my hat to Jed and Theo and be very thankful that Cubs finally have a true brain trust we can really count on.

    I can't wait for Opening Day!

    Er, Opening Night!

  • Anyone calling the deal an overpay keep in mind fowler is essentially a lock for a qualifying offer next offseason. Unless we sign him to an extension (unlikely) he's got a pretty good chance to net at least a 3/4 year deal north of 40m. So we really acquired fowler, opened up a roster spot(which has significant value) and a sandwich pick in the 2016 draft. I think given our needs and philosophy that we actually came out a little bit ahead.

  • In reply to northside disciple:

    About 15.5 million in 2016?

  • The risk, sure, is us paying him 15.5 for a year, perhaps before almora or mckinny is ready. He'll be looking for a multiyear deal, as long as he's healthy and consistent with his career line there will almost certainly be a market for the affordable switch hitting outfielder with some speed and obp skills and he turns 30 just before the season starts. Just trying to offer a silver lining.

  • In reply to northside disciple:

    No way do they QO him. Fowler at 16M is a terrible contract. He is barely worth the 9M he will get this year. He either signs a multiyear at around ten or they let him walk.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Don't be so certain about that. Cuddyer turn down a QO this year for a 2/$21M contract with the Mets. With a 2 WAR season the Cubs will issue the QO and Fowler will not accept it.

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    correct me if im wrong but doesnt Coghlan have 3rd base eligibilty? just an interesting thought that he could get some time at 3rd and we still have flexibility with Alcantara, Fowler, and Denorfia

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    In reply to Ian McDevitt:

    Coghlan? He has played exactly 11 games total at 3B since 2009. And he's not a good OF, he must be a worse infielder considering he was moved out of there.

    With the number of 3B candidates we have, no reason to try this

  • In reply to Zonk:

    yeah, he came up as a 3b. certainly another wrinkle in the roster, though not sure how viable it would be.

  • In reply to RizzowiththeStick:

    Coghlan and Lake are atrocious IF. There is no reason to play them there. Coghlan might play some 1B if Olt isn't on the roster, but that is it.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    i never said he was the first option or even the best option. i just think it adds an interesting dynamic for Maddon to play with.....i am personally just ready for the Bryant era to begin at 3rd.....we will just have to wait for late April early May

  • In reply to Ian McDevitt:

    Tore up his 3B card, eh? The twoayeuts are just TOO funny!

  • In reply to Ian McDevitt:

    Nope, no more 3rd base eligibility; he had to burn his 3rd base redshirt back in 2012...

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    In reply to Ian McDevitt:

    He's a brutal third baseman.

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    Great article. Did notice fowler has k's over 100 times in every full season in the bigs

  • In reply to Melancubby:

    Yes, that is one of his downfalls but he does walk a lot, so even if the Ks may keep his average from ever being too high, he more than makes up for that by drawing lots of walks to increase his OBP.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Couldn't the same be said for Valbueno? I really like the switch hitting of Fowler.

  • i think this was a very good move. sure, he strikes out more than you'd like from your leadoff man, he doesn't steal a lot of bases, and he has legitimate health concerns, but his addition now allows some fluidity to the outfield that wasn't there before. fowler and alcantara can now play left or center field; sweeney and denorfia can play all three outfield positions; coghlan can play left; and soler plays right. with this addition, the cubs don't need coghlan to reproduce his 2014 season - if he struggles, there are other legitimate options.

    it should allow the team to break camp with 12 pitchers also - which means the team should be able to keep four of turner/doubront/wood/ejax/wada/motte. and remember, this opens up a spot on the 40 man roster, and they didn't have to trade any of their prospects away. caps off what i would call a very successful offseason.

  • In reply to RizzowiththeStick:

    I think they were always going with 12 pitchers, that is pretty much SOP around baseball these days. Cubs actually carried 13 much of last year.

  • One of my favorite moves of the offseason. There really hasn't been a move I disliked they have made.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    Agreed.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    I agree, my 2nd favorite move after Lester. Montero 3rd. My least favorite has to be the Ross signing. But that said, I am not really against it, it's just my least favorite of all their moves.

  • It took me a long time to like Valbuena, but he won me over. I remember some really timely walks and hits, and a few great plays at third. I'll miss him, but I knew that Bryant was coming so was already used to the idea that he would be going soon. It sounds like he is headed for a decent team, or at least one that is rebuilding . I wish him the best.

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    I like this trade. Valbuena did a fine job last year, but you have to give up quality to get quality. This should be a deal that helps both teams.

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    Here's something of note about Fowler. He's been incredibly consistent in two very important areas.
    ............BB's...OBP
    2009....67.......363
    2010....57.......347
    2011....68.......363
    2012....68.......389
    2013....65.......369
    2014....66.......375

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    That right there is why they picked him up.

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    From the Astros SBN blog :

    Does anyone else find it ironic that we have a black hole at 3B and were now taking the Cubs 3B so they can make room for the now #1 prospect that we passed on? (Kris Bryant)

  • In reply to SKMD:

    LoL!! Good find. But like us, they'll be looking to upgrade 3B from Luis V. eventually as well. But when they trade Luis, will they get a return like Fowler? I don't think so....

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    In reply to SKMD:

    I always love to find reaction from the other side. Nice!

    To be fair, Theo and Co. are taking Appel if he falls to #2....

  • In reply to Zonk:

    And Bryant is not there.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Please send the Astoes my kind regards for passing on Bryant!

  • The fascinating thing about this is the obvious flexibility it gives Joe Maddon.....and it adds even more to the likely fan complaints over his daily lineups.

    In my view:

    A. Fowler will probably get around 120-130 starts, splitting those around 80 in CF and around 40-50 in LF.

    B. Alcantara is still a big key to this team in my opinion, as I love the kid. I see him as a more powerful and dynamic Bip Roberts.
    I think he starts around 80 games in CF and around 40 or so at 2B. Plus, I see many games with the Cubs leading that he comes in to play CF and the Cubs moving Fowler to left.

    C. Baez and LaStella will have quite a battle in spring training. My guess is that Baez will start off in Iowa unless he clearly wins the job, both for developmental reasons and for financial and roster management purposes. Baez will be up I hope by June 1 I feel if not before, and we really need him to take that 2B job for us to roll into the 2nd half with a chance to make noise.

    D. Coughlan will lose some playing time in LF some with this move. I think the Cubs will at least 25%-30% time start Alcantara in CF and Fowler in LF, relegating Coughlan to the bench. Coughlan I think will be gone in 2016.

    E. I think Kris Bryant will likely start in Iowa for financial reasons, but I suspect he will be up by May 1. I think Bryant is our primary 3B in 2015, but our every day left fielder in 2016.

    F. I suspect Ryan Sweeney is dealt away in spring training or put on waivers eventually.

    G. I believe the Cubs will end up retaining Fowler in 2016, either by him accepting a QO (unlikely) or by reaching an agreement to stay here long term.

    H. Therefore, our projected lineup in 2016 in my opinion is.....

    CF Fowler
    3B Russell
    RF Soler
    1B Rizzo
    LF Bryant
    SS Castro
    2B Baez
    C Montero
    with Alcantara subbing in CF, LF, 2B, and SS once a week or so.

  • I am concerned that we are overlooking the loss of Valbuena's masterful bat flip. I haven't done an extensive review of Folwer's flip, but I imagine it is hard to gain consistency with all of the walks. Are there any internal candidates that can makeup for the loss in bat-flipping awesomeness?

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    May have to resort to special effects for the TV audience.

  • So the next questions are: How bad will our defense be next year? Will we be average? Or are we looking at below average? Certainly the outfield will be below average. And how many games will this cost us? Will stolen bases hurt us a lot next year?

  • "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."

    Very logical!

  • heard rumors of J Lake possibly getting some time at 3B maybe

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Lake was terrible at 3B. I don't think that will happen. Picking up Fowler makes it very hard for Lake to make the team. I think he ends up in Iowa.

  • Hey John (and others),

    If Olt wins the 3B job coming out of Spring and is adequate to more-than-adequate both offensively and defensively in the first month of the season would there be any consideration to keeping him at 3B and moving Bryant to LF immediately? Assuming Olt's contact rate improves, exactly what type of traditional state line (AVG/OB/SLG) do you think Olt would have to put up to stay at 3B for 2015 and possibly beyond (assuming Russell is up in 2016)?

    This may be hopeful thinking but if Olt could up his contact rate could he basically be the Pedro Alvarez of 2012/2013 - 230/310/450 with around 30 homers & 200 strikeouts? I realize that's probably his ceiling but not impossible right?

    I can't imagine what the lineup would look like if he came close to that stat line. An embarrassment of riches.

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    It looks like the Cubs are going to use a platoon of Coghlan and Denorfia in left field, starting Coghlan against right handed pitching and Denorfia against left, and using Alcantara as a super utility man.

  • The pressure is now on Alcantara to hit consistently. If he does, Maddon will see that he gets a lot of playing time. If he doesn't hit, the Cubs don't have Valbuena to take the super-sub role. Maddon will figure something out, but it'll be a lot easier if Alcantara gets to ST tearing up the plate...

  • Gents,
    The Cubs production out of the #3 and #4 spots was top notch in 2014. Joe likes to get creative with lineups. But, he's not a fool. Opening Day - Rizzo hits third and Castro hits fourth.

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