With most of the attention focused on their burgeoning young stars, Chicago Cubs outfielder Chris Denorfia doesn’t command the spotlight all too often.
However, if he continues to hit like he has during his first 61 at-bats of the season, Denorfia’s name will begin to appear more frequently in media reports. He is beginning the process of resurrecting his career in Chicago, but is it enough to keep him around for more than one season?
The 34-year-old veteran has been in the Majors for 10 seasons, so perhaps his hot start is being ignored because most people expect his numbers to eventually plateau back towards his career averages.
However, what he has done this season at the plate is becoming increasingly difficult to discredit. His bat has provided a compelling argument for why Denorfia deserves more attention.
In 61 at-bats, Denorfia is hitting .328/.369/.426 with seven RBI and 20 hits on the season. Although this is a relatively small sample size, this hitting line surpasses his career averages of .274/.332/.396. His slugging percentage this season shows that a large percentage of his hits are singles (15/19). This statistic measures up to his career trends, as he has only hit 39 home runs, 95 doubles and 16 triples during his 10-year career.
As noted above, it is important to keep the sample size of Denorfia’s body of work this season in mind when looking at his production.
Denorfia’s 2015 season has been hampered by injuries. A reoccurring hamstring issue has caused him to miss 43 games so far this year. This number includes games missed while playing in rehab assignments in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system.
He missed most of spring training due to left hamstring soreness. After making his season debut on April 18, he re-aggravated his hamstring on May 4 while running the bases. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list and began a rehab assignment at Double-A Tennessee on June 5. He was reinstated into the lineup on June 7 and has played injury-free ever since.
The Chicago Cubs acquired Denorfia last winter, signing him to a one-year contract worth an approximate $2.6 million. He was brought into Chicago for his veteran presence and as a right-handed compliment to left-field counterpart Chris Coghlan.
Jun 17, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder Chris Denorfia (15) celebrates his three-run home run with shortstop Starlin Castro (13) in the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Denorfia made his Major League debut in September 2005 with the Cincinnati Reds. Since then, he has played for four other Major League teams including the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres.
Denorfia’s offensive numbers have failed to garner the attention of the public and the media, however; these aren’t the groups that he should be striving to impress.
He can fly under the radar for as long as he wants as long as the Cubs front office remains satisfied with his play. Has Denorfia done enough this season to convince the Chicago Cubs’ front office to keep him around for another season after his contract expires at the end of the year?
Denorfia has gotten off to a hot start, but as the at-bats pileup his hitting averages will likely level out to more realistic numbers. Thus far, he has shown an ability to hit for a high average against both left-handed (.341) and right-handed pitchers (.400). This versatility offensively bodes well for his chances of staying around for a couple more years.
He has always been a solid hitter against lefties, but this season he has figured out how to hit right-handed pitching as well, making him a good pinch-hitting option off the bench for Joe Maddon.
His versatility defensively (he is capable of playing all three outfield positions and has a career fielding percentage of .987) and his ability to hit both right-handed (.261 career) and left handed pitching (.293 career) make him a viable candidate for such a role.
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However, his age (34) may ultimately work against him. Younger players that field the same position will likely be granted precedence over the veteran Denorfia. Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Junior Lake, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber are all players under the age of 25 that he will compete with for a spot in the outfield and even on the bench in general.
Additionally, a number of veteran outfielders will also be competing with Denorfia for spots going into next season. Center fielder Dexter Fowler has been an everyday player for the Chicago Cubs, but is on a one-year deal.
Coghlan is the Cubs’ left-fielder and is a player that Denorfia had to split time with prior to Soler’s injury. Mike Baxter is another veteran player that has earned some playing time in the outfield, as well – although he likely won’t see as much time once Soler returns from his ankle injury.
Simply put, Denorfia will have to continue to put on a show with his bat if he hopes to be re-signed by the Cubs following the expiration of his contract at the end of the season.
The number of young, talented outfielders makes Denorfia expendable. His versatility defensively makes him a good option as a bench player, however; he needs to continue to hit as he has to opened the year in order to remain a valuable asset moving forward.
With Soler likely returning next season barring an unforeseen circumstance and Coghlan eligible for arbitration following the season, there simply may not be room for Denorfia in the outfield.
Although Fowler becomes a free agent next season, the Chicago Cubs have shown a preference for Fowler by making him an everyday starter this season. It seems unlikely that the team will waste another year on a bench player that is unlikely to be part of the long-term plans.
Enjoy Denorfia while you can. Unless he has a career season, he is likely a goner.