Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look back, assessing player performances from this year. I’ll take into account expectations, durability, consistency, and the overall numbers. There’s no scientific algorithm here. I watched them play, I’ll give them a grade. Be sure to give your grades, opinions, etc. in the comments. Before free-agency begins, this will be a fun way to see what the Chicago Cubs will have–or what I think they have–entering next season.
First up, Luis Valbuena.
Coming into the season, the talk about third base was Mike Olt, who won the starting third base job out of camp. As the season pressed on, it moved to Kris Bryant, who absolutely crushed the ball everywhere he went. But there’s a certain value to a player like Valbuena who did an exceptional job when given the opportunity. Not to mention one of the better bat-flips in baseball.
He played in 149 games, setting career-highs in almost every offensive category. In his three years in Chicago, that has become the norm. He continues to improve each season, and the Cubs will need to decide how he fits into the future plans.
Somewhat sneakily, Valbuena’s numbers have been overlooked. He finished second on the Cubs in HRs (16), third in hits (119), and third in RBIs (51). All of these finishes are mixed in with the same two players. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Both NL All-Stars this year.
Adding to that is the solid defense Valbuena plays, and his versatility on the infield. His .969 fielding percentage was good for fifth in the National League at third base. And it’s not a percentage based on laying back and playing the easy ones. Valbuena played an aggressive third base, making several fine plays, including several barehanded plays on bunts for outs.
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Valbuena will be 29 next season. There’s been plenty of talk on adding veterans to help guide this very young team. Clearly the goal is to add a player with a winning pedigree, postseason experience. But what Valbuena has been to the Cubs over the past three years cannot be overlooked.
He is arbitration eligible in 2015. The Cubs– and bear with me before you call for my head–don’t have anyone locked in at third base next season. Yes, we all believe Kris Bryant can be the guy. But he may not be it out of camp, and it’ll be his first season in the Majors. There will be hiccups. And Olt fumbled his chance, but isn’t completely out of the running. But having a player like Valbuena, who is very likely in his prime for another year or two, is very valuable to a young team looking for leadership and consistency.
That doesn’t necessarily mean being all rah-rah in the clubhouse. Doing what he’s done, day in, day out, is a great example for the rookies to follow.
I gave Valbuena a B+. He was consistent, durable as far as a 162 game schedule goes, and in my opinion, exceeded expectations.
Be sure to keep following Cubbies Crib as we’ll continue to look at more players throughout this off-season. Also make sure to comment with your own grade, or general thoughts on the player.