The Cubs veteran outfielders had better look out; their replacements are coming, and coming quickly. In a situation that strongly resembles the Cubs congested mix of veteran and young starting pitchers, the outfield looks like it could be come very congested in a hurry. On the veteran side we have Soriano, Byrd, and Fukudome guaranteed jobs and Johnson trying to earn one. On the side of youth we have Colvin trying to take as much playing time as he can get, Perez trying to beat out Johnson for the fifth outfielder slot, and Jackson doing his best to upset all those plans and take a major league job of his own.
Fernando Perez, recently acquired from Tampa Bay, is going to resume switch hitting. According to Cubs.com, its his own idea and a welcome surprise for the Cubs. The added flexibility a switch hitter adds to the lineup could earn him the fifth outfielder job over Reed Johnson… and then again it might not. With Cubs current outfield, it looks like they’ll be running a four-way platoon, mixing and matching Colvin, Soriano, Byrd, and Fukudome as needed to make sure Colvin gets plenty of at bats and that Byrd and Soriano don’t wear out. Half of that pool is left handed already. Then again, Perez would most likely be used as a pinch runner, defensive replacement for Soriano, or a regular pinch hitter. His ability to switch it up at the plate could be an asset in any of those cases. Keep on eye on Perez from the left side. If he can hit for any kind of an average that way this spring, Reed Johnson’s return to the Cubs might be fairly short.
And then there is Brett Jackson. Some analysts have said that Jackson is competing to be the Cubs fifth outfielder. That’s nonsense. There is no way the Cubs would start the year with Jackson on the roster just so he can sit on the bench and maybe get four at bats a week. If he is good enough in camp to be the Cubs fifth outfielder, he’ll go to Iowa and play everyday.
That’s not to say Jackson isn’t out to earn a job with the Cubs. He is after the starting center field job and Marlon Byrd knows it. Byrd isn’t about to give it up without a fight, but everyone knows that it should be just a matter of time. Byrd might keep it through 2011, and he might not keep it until April 1. Jackson has the talent to take center field this spring. Like Colvin last year, he has muscled up over the winter. There is no denying that Jackson is doing his best to come to Chicago. If Hendry and Quade are convinced that they can find him no fewer than 350 at bats with the Cubs, he could be on the opening day roster if he has a great spring. Unfortunately, with at bats already at a premium, the only way I see that happening is if one of the veterans gets traded. The most likely is Fukudome, but that probably won’t happen until the trade deadline.
Five slots, seven names. Nine if I include Snyder and Montanez. That’s not quite as congested as the Cubs starting pitching, but it’s close. While the outfield will no doubt create a ton of headaches for Hendry and Quade this spring, they are the kind of headaches that any team wants to have.
Finally, regarding the Cardinals losing Wainwright, keep your eye on Braden Looper. He could be exactly what the Cardinals are looking for… only he’s in the Cubs camp. I would not be surprised if something happens by mid-March that sends Looper’s contract to St. Louis.