Chicago Cubs getting most out of secondary pieces this year
By Jake Misener
While the young studs get all the attention, the Chicago Cubs have gotten more than expected from a pair of seasoned outfield veterans.
Last offseason, the acquisition of Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros was supposed to be a stopgap measure for the Cubs, a team that has plenty of young outfield talent, but none ready to contribute at a big league level.
It looked like a good enough deal. Fowler had experience in playoff races, brought speed – a missing element for recent Cubs teams – to the table and was relatively inexpensive at a $9.5 million price tag.
Paired with former National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and a hodge-podge of Chicago youth, Fowler has quickly become one of the biggest assets in the hand of first-year Cubs skipper Joe Maddon.
Since the All-Star Break, the eight-year big league veteran has been the 10th-most valuable player in baseball, according to Fangraphs. Coming in at 2.5 WAR, Fowler outranks the likes of Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen and Edwin Encarnacion post-All-Star Break – and it’s not hard to see why.
In 48 second-half games, Fowler is batting .295/.424/.557 – and he’s swiped 17 bases, putting him well within reach of hitting 20 for the first time since the 2009 season. What was once so easily considered a fill-in-the-gap signing now has long-term appeal.
The Cubs will likely extend a qualifying offer to Fowler, regardless of whether or not they actually intend on bringing him back. It’s not hard to imagine a revamped market for his services, given his production and inherent value in his lone season in the Windy City, but we’ll save that for another day.
Now we turn to Coghlan, who, for lack of better description, has become Maddon’s Ben Zobrist 2.0. Zobrist, a super utilityman now with Oakland, could play virtually anywhere on the diamond, while providing decent at-bats in the process.
The Cubs have got more than they could have hoped for in Coghlan and Fowler, both of whom have exceeded expectations this season.
This year, Coghlan has appeared in games for Chicago in all three outfield positions, second, third and first base, while posting a .769 OPS in 120-plus games. In his two seasons with the Cubs, he carries a .265/.344/.442 slash-line, which is largely in-line with his numbers with the Marlins, with whom he spent the first five years of his big league career.
The most noted improvement has come in terms of power. His slugging percentage is 50 points higher with Chicago than it was with Miami – thanks mostly to his career-high 15 long-balls. Coghlan ranks fourth – trailing only Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Fowler – in extra-base hits on the team.
Not set to hit free agency until after next season, Coghlan will likely remain with the Cubs this offseason in just such a role – playing wherever Maddon needs a man, giving the regulars a day off here and there.
Whether or not both players, however, will be back in 2016 remains to be seen. One thing is certain though – with 80 wins already under their belt this season, Fowler and Coghlan have done their share to end the Chicago Cubs’ postseason drought.