Commentary: Analyzing the Cubs' second-base situation, trade pieces
|Sunday, July 21, 2019, 10:40 AM- -|
Since the all-star break, the Cubs have looked like a typical Joe Maddon managed team after the all-star break: dominant. The Cubs have found ways to grind out wins or lose out sloppy games, much different than the lackluster effort we consistently saw near the end of the first half. However, despite the Cubs recent surge one thing remains concerning the second base carousel.
Second base is the only position that has not seen any consistency this season. The beginning of the year saw Ben Zobrist, Daniel Descalso and David Bote share time as Javy Baez’ double-play partner. After Zobrist’s unfortunate leave of absence, it was mainly Descalso and Bote who took over, mixed with a heavy dose of Addison Russell after returning to the team. Since July, there has been a three-headed monster at second base with Robel Garcia essentially replacing Daniel Descalso due to a lack of production.
Ben Zobrist’s return to the team is not guaranteed but could show up around September. Not to mention, the Cubs have a major league ready talent in Ian Happ and a major prospect in Nico Hoerner mashing in the minor leagues.
So with seven players capable of playing second base for the major league team, you would think the Cubs should have it figured out. However, the Cubs second basemen have been good for -0.7 wins above replacement. The Cubs rank 27th in batting average from second basemen, with a .223 average. The Cubs also have the fifth most strikeouts from second basemen in the MLB. It seems no matter what Joe Maddon tries to do to solve the second base problem the Cubs have, and yes it is a problem, has not worked. So let’s do Maddon’s job for him and pick the best-case scenario for the Cubs to solve who should be playing second base.
David Bote: Bote will always be a fan favorite based on the walk-off grand slam he hit filling in for Kris Bryant last season. At some point last season, Cubs fans were saying to trade Bryant to keep Bote long term. Those people are most likely hiding now. Bote’s calling card has been to hit left-handed pitching and play good defense, and he hasn’t entirely done either this season. Bote is hitting .246 with nine homers and 39 RBI. However, he has not homered since June 19th. Bote is also hitting an awful .161 against left-handed pitching and has committed 11 errors this season.
Bote looks most comfortable at third base where he will frequently start when Kris Bryant plays outfield, especially if he begins to hit left-handers with more authority. However, I think the Cubs are best with Bote off the bench, earning the occasional start at third for now. LONG TERM: I see the Cubs sticking with Bote as a bench player and utility man through their competitive window, especially since he agreed to a five-year deal before this season.
Daniel Descalso: The Cubs brought Daniel Descalso on to provide leadership and take productive at-bats, along with play some second base and third when necessary. However, all fans, players, coaching staff, and front office know that signing him was a mistake. Descalso has hit just .184 in 158 at-bats and has struck out in 52 of them. Descalso seems like a guy that Joe Maddon likes, but his inadequate production has taken him out of the picture at second base. Descalso has not started since June 30th.
LONG TERM: I can not see the Cubs holding on to Descalso beyond this season. Descalso will most likely not be traded because he has no trade value, and I assume he holds a roster spot until season’s end. I will not be shocked if Descalso gets DFA’d at some point soon.
Robel Garcia: To me, Garcia is the best bet to play every day. Garcia provides second base, third base, and outfield versatility and has been scorching the baseball all year, with over 20 homers across three levels of baseball. Garcia has only appeared in 10 games but has nine seven extra-base hits and a .300 plus average. Garcia gives the Cubs lineup some major pop from both sides of the plate that plays near the top or the bottom of the order. The 26-year-old, at the least, as eared the opportunity to play until he proves he can’t. His defense is not as strong as Addison Russell’s, but the bat has been more valuable thus far. LONG TERM: I don’t think the Cubs see Garcia in their long term future, nor do I know if they view him as a valuable trade piece. However, what I do know is that Garcia has earned the chance to show what he has, which so far has been better than anybody else the Cubs have put at second base.
Ian Happ: When news broke that Ian Happ would not make the team out of spring training, many were shocked. Happ is a young switch hitter with power from both sides and incredible defensive versatility, a guy many managers would love to have on their bench. However, Happ’s defense is not overwhelmingly good at any position, and he strikes out a bunch. Happ is only batting .237 this season at Iowa but has 16 homers and 52 RBIs.
Happ has, in my opinion, at least earned an opportunity to try and contribute to the big league team, especially since he has been watching the Cubs be below average at his positions all year long. LONG TERM: I see Happ as quite an attractive trade piece should the Cubs go that route. However, it would be hard to part with him due to his potential at the big league level. Happ very well could be a part of the future in Chicago.
Nico Hoerner: Hoerner is recovering from multiple injuries and still absolutely raking at the plate. Whether it be the minors, the fall league or even spring training Hoerner continues to climb prospect rankings and show the front office what he can do. Although there is some development left for Nico, he is a shiny new toy for the Cubs to play within the upcoming years. LONG TERM: Hoerner, in the Cubs eyes, is either the second basement to play alongside Javy should they extend him, or the shortstop to take over for him should he get away. I do not see the Cubs trading Hoerner unless an offer they can’t refuse arrises in the coming weeks. I also do not see Hoerner making his debut until next season at the earliest.
Addison Russell: Russell is deservedly met with boos every game he pays. However, Russell plays above-average defense and has recently been hitting left-handed pitchers well. Russell played an all-star shortstop on a championship-winning team and has yet to prove he is capable of returning to that level. In a season cut short so far by suspension, demotion and platooning, Russell is hitting .241 with six homers and 16 RBIs. Russell has only made two errors this year as well. Despite the baggage that comes with Russell, he is undoubtedly a valuable player on any team, especially defensively. LONG TERM: I could see Russell getting moved at the deadline. But Russell also could be a guy the Cubs continue to stick with, whether or not he returns to the player he once was.
Ben Zobrist: Zobrist is a guy the Cubs have missed immensely since his departure in May. Zobrist is a veteran presence who displays tremendous leadership, works professional at-bats, and defines what it means to be a utility man. Despite a below-average start to 2019, the Cubs without a doubt miss Zobrist in the clubhouse. LONG TERM: Upon his return (should it happen), Zobrist is likely to play frequently at either second base or the outfield and regularly take at-bats at the top of the order. It is Zo’s walk year, and it is unknown if he will return to the Cubs, let alone baseball, for one more season.
After analyzing the second base situation that the Cubs continue to deal with on a day-to-day basis here is what I have decided. Start Robel Garcia daily. Use Addison Russell as Garcia’s backup/ defensive replacement. Let Bote get his at-bats and playing time at third base when Bryant moves to the outfield.
Cut Daniel Descalso and bring up Ian Happ to serve the utility role and get starts at second base occasionally and starts in center to relieve the struggling Albert Almora (Maybe even send down Almora temporarily if Happ continues to hit well and the Cubs chose to keep Descalso around). Finally, insert Ben Zobrist when ready into the second base picture.
In terms of roster moves, Addison Russell and Ian Happ look like the most likely to be traded at the deadline. I do not see the Cubs deciding to trade Garcia unless it is to upgrade at second base somehow, or Ben Zobrist because they do not know when he may return. Finally, Daniel Descalso seems relatively useless for the Cubs, so trading him would be difficult.
The Cubs currently have seven players they could use at second base, but as the season and the deadline shakes out, that number could be drastically different.