The Chicago Cubs are in the process, with their play over the past couple of weeks, of trying to convince the average outsider that the team will not only be capable of contending in the 2013 season, but hope should not be written off for the 2012 season just yet.
The Cubs are 15 and 21 on the season, and currently are sitting in last place in the National League Division–six games behind the St Louis Cardinals. However, the Cubs are 5 and 5 in their last month, and have been the second best team in the NL Central during the month of May with a record of 7 and 6.
The Cubs turnaround from irrelevancy to somewhat relevance is largely attributed to the success of the starting rotation. Behind the efforts of Paul Maholm, Jeff Samardzija, Ryan Dempster, and Matt Garza. In addition to those four starting pitchers, first baseman Bryan LaHair has been one of the more prolific run producers for the 2012 season.
There is no question that the Cubs semi-turnaround is encouraging to see. It should give further credence to the reputations of both Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. However, one thing that Epstein and Hoyer are unlikely to do is lose sight of the main goal of the organization. That goal does not revolve around the 2012 season. Rather that goal falls more in line with the seasons to come, and the organization’s ability to turn short term assets into long term assets. Through this process, the Cubs hope to build a Major League team that is capable of contending on a seasonal basis.
Coming into the season, it was not determined if LaHair would be a short term asset or a long term asset for the Cubs. Through the first month and a half of the season, LaHair has the look of a long term asset. LaHair is hitting .352/.445/.713/1.158 on the season with 10 home runs and 21 RBIs. While no one expects LaHair to keep this pace for the entire season, it is entirely possible that LaHair turns out to be the late-bloomer that Epstein suggested he could be.
Even though Epstein was a supporter of LaHair, the Cubs president did not go without giving the organization an insurance policy in the event that LaHair faltered. That insurance policy happens to be the team’s first baseman of the future. The Cubs’ first baseman of the future if Anthony Rizzo, whom was acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres this past off-season. Rizzo knew all along that he would start the season with the Iowa Cubs. Though, Rizzo’s stay in Iowa would be dependent on how the first baseman fared with the Iowa Cubs, and how LaHair started with the Cubs. As we know, LaHair is off to an impressive start with the Cubs.
Meanwhile, Rizzo is off to a similar start with the Iowa Cubs. Rizzo is hitting .359/.420/.704/1.125 with the Iowa Cubs in 37 games to go along with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs. From a pure numbers perspective, Rizzo is essentially screaming that he is ready for the Major Leagues.
The Cubs front office has taken notice. In fact, a report from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times suggests that Rizzo could be called up to the Major League level within the next couple of weeks. A move that would signal the long-term movement for the Cubs’ organization. Wittenmyer’s report goes on to mention that there is not much left for Rizzo to prove on the Triple A level, and that the Cubs front office have begun to discuss scenarios that involve both Rizzo and LaHair being in the same lineup for the Cubs.
Such a lineup would see Rizzo, who has gold glove potential, play at first base and LaHair being moved to the outfield. Where exactly in the outfield is an intriguing question. Alfonso Soriano has failed to put up any display of power while being the team’s starting left fielder, though Soriano’s contract likely keeps him in the lineup. Tony Campana has received the bulk of the starts in center field since Marlon Byrd was traded, and the quick center fielder is hitting .333 since being given that opportunity. David DeJesus, who is the team’s leadoff hitter, is hitting .273 on the season and has scored 22 runs.
Do the Cubs sacrifice speed by taking Campana out of the lineup while moving DeJesus to center, and placing LaHair in right? Do the Cubs make DeJesus a reserve, and simply replace him with LaHair? Do the Cubs bite the bullet on the Soriano contract, and replace the veteran with LaHair? The Cubs front office faces a lot of questions with the call up of Rizzo looming. Taking Campana out of the lineup does not make too much sense at this point, in addition, the Cubs would have to face the same question once top prospect Brett Jackson is deemed ready for the Major Leagues. Neither do I think the Cubs will take DeJesus out of the lineup, as the right fielder is the team’s leading run scorer. Meaning the only option would appear to be the Cubs biting the bullet on the Soriano contract and waiving the veteran left fielder–if unable to find a trade partner–and naming LaHair the starting left fielder.
The Cubs organization has long been in the search for a left handed run producer. Now, in a mere two weeks, it is possible that the Cubs lineup will feature two left handed run producers in Rizzo and LaHair.