This topic has become yet another tired old nag in a long line of dead-horse topics I’ve beaten over the years, so I won’t belabor it much longer. After initially feeling vexed and frustrated by the Cubs’ decision to promote Alexander Canario and then refuse to play him, I’ve gained a new perspective on the situation. I can’t say, however, that I fully buy the club’s explanation.
Speaking with the media before Tuesday’s win over the Giants, David Ross basically said ya gotta dance with the girl that brung ya.
“Look, we’re in a really good position to win,” Ross said. “The guys that got us here are going to play. And the guys that are on the bench, if they’ve got roles, they’ll fill in those roles…Canario got called up for a September call-up. He’ll play when he’s needed and fills in nicely or the game gets out of hand one way or the other – get some at-bats, get in the outfield. I think the future is bright for a lot of our minor leaguers that are coming up, but now’s not the time that I’m trying to get those guys at-bats.”
Okay, but then why wasn’t Canario put in during the latter stages of Sunday’s blowout? Why not put him in the outfield for an inning or let him bat for the slumping Mike Tauchman, who is heading in the opposite direction of Seiya Suzuki and might be getting the same mental break that has the right fielder hitting like a superstar of late. Despite his recent four-hit game, Tauchman has a .176 average and has been worth -0.2 fWAR over his last 81 plate appearances.
“For me, I don’t think the formula is…if somebody goes cold for a week, sliding in somebody in their place where you don’t know what you’re getting and what if that guy goes cold for a week?” the manager continued. “Now you’ve lost faith in the player. This time of year, it’s like we’ve got these guys that have gotten us here, we’re going to play them. We’re going to ride with them. They’re going to go through ups and downs.”
We’re talking about more than a week in Tauchman’s case, and this wouldn’t be a matter of making Canario an everyday guy. But why bring someone up at all if you don’t think they could post at least replacement-level production? I believe the answer may lie in the fact that the Cubs aren’t actually concerned at all with what the young outfielder can or can’t do.
The Cubs were mandated to carry 28 players when rosters expanded on September 1, and Canario was a bit of a surprise to some. After all, he’d only been playing again since mid-June after suffering what seemed like a catastrophic injury — he broke his left ankle in three places and dislocated his left shoulder — last December. Not only that, but the news that he’d be playing in the Arizona Fall League to make up for some of that lost time made it seem as though the Cubs wanted Canario to get as many reps as possible down the stretch.
In that light, it would be a very odd choice to call him up to a team already stocked with veteran outfielders the manager isn’t going to sit. Unless the organization actually wanted to throttle Canario’s playing time after what was surely a grueling rehab process, hence the AFL stint. It’s also possible the ankle really needed a rest. Then you factor in that he’s already on the 40-man roster, unlike Pete Crow-Armstrong and others who might have been in line for promotions.
Add in the need to get Brennen Davis a little more room to log regular playing time for Iowa in September and things really start to clear up. Rather than place Canario on the development list or just having him on the bench in Des Moines, the Cubs rewarded his effort with a temporary big-league payday while letting him experience the MLB lifestyle for at least a week. And by dancing around the true nature of the promotion, they maintain the mirage of him being a decoy.
Now, it’s entirely possible we will see Canario get into a game here at some point when the Cubs are in a blowout one way or the other. It’s equally possible this was nothing more than a procedural move that was never really meant to impact the club’s competitiveness in its ongoing postseason push. If that’s truly the case, and I’m more inclined to believe it is with each passing day, you have to figure PCA will be up later in the month to play an actual role.
The one final possibility I’ll add here, and it’s not something I’d really given much credence to until it was brought up recently on Twitter, is that the Cubs could be hyping Canario up without risking a hit to his trade value. He’s been a bit of a slow starter following previous promotions and there was a belief that he was one of the most likely prospects to be traded prior to the injury, so the concept tracks even if it lends to the conspiratorial feel of the whole situation.
Alright, off to the glue factory with this one.