Theo Epstein Talks With Bryan LaHair

Despite the overwhelming amount of reports that suggest that the Cubs have no interest in signing neither Albert Pujols nor Prince Fielder, that has not stopped reporters from constantly linking the team to both free agent first baseman. Of course, some of it could result from the Cubs doing. It is no secret that the Cubs have had discussions with Dan Lozano, the agent for Pujols, and the Cubs probably will have some impact on the next contract that Pujols signs. With the Cubs’ perceived interest in Pujols, that only increases the asking price for Pujols. Thus, either forcing the Cardinals into making a bad deal by re-signing Pujols to contract he will never live up to, or by pushing the Cardinals out of the Pujols sweepstakes. No matter how one looks at it, the Cubs stand to benefit from the next contract that Pujols signs.

The Cub are also expected to have a conversation with Scott Boras this week at the winter meetings. Boras represents both Prince Fielder and Carlos Pena. Theo Epstein admitted on Monday that the Cubs are interested in bringing back Pena, but, with other multi-year offers on the table it does not seem likely that Pena will return next to the Cubs next season. As for Fielder, there are conflicting reports as to whether or not the Cubs are interested in the 27 year old slugger. The Cubs have been labeled by some national reporters as sleeper team in the Fielder sweepstakes.

While it may be hard for some Cubs’ fans to not get excited about hearing the likes of Pujols and Fielder being linked to their favorite team, the chances still remain likely that neither Fielder nor Pujols will be the Cubs starting first baseman in 2012. Instead, that honor could go to Bryan LaHair.

After a minor league season in where LaHair hit .331/.405/.664/1.070 to go along with 38 home runs and 109 RBIs with the Iowa Cubs, the first baseman was in Dallas on Monday to accept his Minor League MVP award and also have a discussion with his new boss, Theo Epstein. Throughout Epstein’s first couple of months as President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs, the 37 year old executive has had favorable things to say about the Cubs’ minor league first baseman. Those comments made by Epstein would suggest that the Cubs’ president may envision Lahair as the team’s starting first baseman in 2012.

After talking with Epstein, LaHair met with reporters and revealed that he will be given an opportunity next season.

“They didn’t make any promises,” LaHair said of his meeting with Epstein and Hoyer. “They want to give me an opportunity. It’s something I’m excited about.”

One thing Epstein did say was that he doesn’t believe there are career Minor Leaguers, which he called “4-A players.” LaHair turned 29 in November, and has 195 total at-bats in the Major Leagues. Muskat Ramblings

With Epstein seemingly being an admirer of LaHair, that has sparked speculation that the Cubs’ president may have found his new David Ortiz. Remember when Epstein took control of the Red Sox, he signed a career minor leaguer by the name of David Ortiz who soon came to be known as the Big Papi. It is a pipe dream to think that Lahair could produce a similar outcome to that of Ortiz, but is not out of the question to think that Lahair could be a late-bloomer. With the Mariners’ organization, LaHair was once considered to be a top power hitting prospect, and the first baseman could finally reach that potential with the Cubs.

This is where the conspiracy theorist in me begins to hypothesize. While Epstein did not comment on what his meeting with LaHair, if he said in general that LaHair would be given an opportunity next season; that does not necessarily mean that opportunity will be at the first base position. Even though LaHair is a first baseman at heart, he also is capable of playing either corner outfield position. During his run with the Cubs last season, LaHair started more games in the outfield (14) than he did at first base (2). The reason could be because Carlos Pena was embedded as the team’s first baseman, but LaHair has also appeared in more game as an outfielder rather than a first baseman while playing with the Iowa Cubs. Meaning if the Cubs trade Alfonso Soriano, LaHair could be a part of a platoon scenario in the outfield. Thus leaving the opening at first base in the case that the Cubs are serious bidders for Fielder.

No matter how one looks at it, the Cubs are going to add a first baseman this winter. There is no way that Epstein and Hoyer can enter the 2012 season with LaHair slotted as the starter and no real back-up behind him. While LaHair will be given an opportunity, that will not preclude the Cubs from pursuing Fielder.

Tags: Albert Pujols Alfonso Soriano Bryan LaHair Carlos Pena Chicago Cubs Jed Hoyer Prince Fielder Scott Boras Theo Epstein

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