The Cubs shouldn’t have to rebuild and they sure as hell shouldn’t have to operate like the Rays from a budgetary perspective, but there is merit in looking to Tampa for a little outfield help if the 2021 payroll indeed drops precipitously. I’m going to go ahead and assume you checked out Saturday’s look at Hunter Renfroe as a lefty-mashing corner outfielder and thus don’t need to be brought up to speed on how poorly the Cubs performed against southpaws last season.
Even if you didn’t read it — looking at you, Facebook — you likely already know that Renfroe is coming off of an abysmal campaign and doesn’t hit righties well at all. He’s also in line to earn around $3.5 million or so, not exactly the best fit for a team that wasn’t handing out that much money to free agents even before biblical losses came into play. But what if the Cubs could pick up a really cheap lefty-batting outfielder who would allow Renfroe to platoon in both corners, thereby boosting his production and that of Jason Heyward as well?
Enter Brian O’Grady, who was designated for assignment along with Renfroe last week. The 28-year-old saw only five plate appearances in 2020 after just 48 during his debut campaign with the Reds the prior season, so he’s technically still a rookie. That means he’s on a league-minimum deal and won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2024, thereby mitigating almost any risk in acquiring him.
Well, unless the Cubs repeat their mistake in trading away a legit prospect and cash for a dude who was unable to record a single hit for them.
An eighth-round draft out of Rutgers in 2014, O’Grady rose steadily through the Reds system until getting that cup of coffee in 2019, then was DFA’d and traded to Tampa cash or a PTBNL. Though he never displayed much pop outside of hitting 28 homers at Triple-A that same season, his value in as an on-base machine. O’Grady’s .354 OBP across 2,276 minor league plate appearances is 102 points higher than his batting average, exactly the same disparity as he had during his time in Cincy.
Capable of playing all three outfield positions as well as first base, O’Grady would offer defensive versatility while matching or exceeding Kyle Schwarber‘s ability to reach base. A platoon of the two former Rays players would almost certainly fall far short of the power numbers the Cubs have gotten from left field over the past few years, but the defense would likely improve and the lineup would be better balanced.
Perhaps most importantly, at least in terms of what the front office is being given to work with, the combined cost for Renfroe and O’Grady would be roughly half of what Schwarber is projected to earn in 2021. It absolutely grates at me that we’re even having to view things through that prism, but there’s no use putting on rose-colored glasses and dreaming of a competitive payroll at this point. Besides, it’s not as though the offense has accomplished much these last three seasons.
Along with picking up a contact bat for the infield, getting one or two more low-cost hitters who can handle lefties would help to mend an offense that broke somewhere along the lines.