Cubs Lineup Questions; Baez, Bryant, Soler, La Stella, Szczur
Before the injury to Kyle Schwarber things weren’t perfectly clear in left field but they were definitely more clear than they are now, after Kyle’s season ending surgery. We pondered what things would look like after the Schwarber injury but that was before Javier Baez’ return. Now that Javy is back, it’s worth taking a look at where we stand.
It’s clear that Joe likes seeing Baez in the lineup. Since his return to the Cubs on April 15th, he has started at second base, third base and shortstop. He’s done a great job and looked very comfortable in all those positions. He also has the flexibility to play any position in the outfield. So having Javy on the roster is extremely important when it comes to the Cubs versatility.
Using Baez gives Bryant, Russell, and Zobrist valuable days off. It also allows Joe to shift Kris to left field, where he is arguably the best on the team at that position. It makes me wonder if the day will come when Joe will decide to keep Bryant in left field. Of course, that decision depends on other things.
In a scenario where Bryant plays more left field, the only way to get there is by sitting Jorge Soler. At this point, Soler is an enigma. In fifty-five plate appearances so far this year he has only nine hits while striking out thirteen times. It’s early, I get it, but Soler has been having trouble at the plate his entire big-league career, with the exception of the 2015 playoffs. Add to that he’s not a great defensive player and you probably see where I’m going here. I have to admit, I wonder if Soler would be better off back in the minors for a while.
With Soler not playing particularly well and Schwarber out for the season, there will likely always be room on the bench for both Matt Szczur and Tommy La Stella. Matt is an outfielder replacement, whereas Tommy can play both outfield and infield positions but so far this year Joe has shown a propensity to keep him on the infield. They are both pretty similar in offensive productivity although I think that Szczur has more power upside than La Stella at this point in their careers.
So, to recap, we have Soler who has been been getting pretty consistent playing time but producing inconsistent results. There’s Bryant, who can play third base and left field and is likely the Cubs best defensive option in left. Baez can play anywhere but is more valuable defensively in the infield. Szczur and La Stella are both productive offensively, with Szczur covering the outfield and La Stella a better infield option.
I think Joe has a number of options with these guys and it’s not exactly clear how things pan out. It will take a while to sort through this. If Soler keeps struggling at the plate, and he’s already a liability defensively, I can’t help but wonder how much longer he keeps his semi-starting position.
Sure, it’s very early in the season and, because of that, I think Joe gives Jorge until at least into June to get his offense going. If it doesn’t click for Soler by then, I think it’s possible you could see Joe send him down. If Soler does pick his offense up, reduces his strikeouts and starts making consistent, solid contact, this picture is a little more clear. Soler would be the regular left fielder, Baez would continue to be a super utility player off the bench and Bryant stays at third.
Things get more complicated if Soler doesn’t pick it up. Bryant could move to left field with Matt Szczur as his back up. You’d then see La Stella and Baez splitting time at third base. In a situation where Soler gets sent down, the big question becomes who gets called up.
At some point in the season, I’d really like to see Willson Contreras make an appearance at the big-league level. Ross and Montero are doing fine splitting time at catcher but having a third option at catcher is going to prove valuable for the Cubs. Particularly when you consider that both Montero and Ross aren’t spring chickens any longer and they will need some rest as the season starts to roll. Let’s not forget that Contreras is most likely the Cubs’ stud catcher of the future too. He did well in spring training and he’s currently slashing .400/.451/.489 at AAA Iowa.
There are some other moves that I think you could justify if you want to look at the minor league roster and pick a call-up, but I think that Contreras makes the most sense. Particularly where we have several utility position players that Joe can and will move around freely. Let me be perfectly clear on one matter, the Cubs benefit the most from Soler starting to hit like we all know he can. If I had to pick my number one scenario, it’s seeing Soler start everyday in left field. It remains to be seen if he can make that happen but if he does, watch out. The Cubs might score 15 runs a game.