Chicago Cubs: The critical role of the bench in 2016
It’s no secret that Joe Maddon loves to do things differently from other managers, and his time with the Chicago Cubs hasn’t changed that. The versatility of the Cubs bench will continue to be an important part in 2016.
Chris Coghlan at second base. Kris Bryant in center field. Kyle Schwarber in left field. When last season began, none of these sounded that likely. And none of those were moves that the Chicago Cubs had been preparing for, as is the case with Javier Baez playing some center field this spring. So how creative will Maddon be in 2016 with his bench?
The addition of the versatile Ben Zobrist–who Maddon has managed before–will give the unorthodox Maddon more flexibility. Last season the Cubs carried Jonathan Herrera through the entire season, but he saw very few at-bats in the final month of the season. After the team lost Addison Russell to a hamstring injury in the playoffs they turned to Baez. He didn’t disappoint at the plate, but the normally sure-handed infielder had some issues.
But with the addition–and then release of Brendan Ryan, it appears that Baez will be the infield super-sub, and quite possibly a backup in center field. Schwarber remains focused on honing his catching prowess, but will see most of his at-bats while playing left field. Without a “true” center fielder as of now, the Cubs will need to tread carefully with Schwarber in left. It’s a fluid process for all of these guys as they learn to be more “versatile”, and Maddon isn’t afraid to throw them into the fire.
While Schwarber remains a catcher by developmental standards, he will be a OF/C on the roster. The Cubs have Miguel Montero and David Ross, but after carrying three catchers to start last season, this doesn’t seem like it will be any sort of restriction on Maddon.
The Cubs have improved their starting rotation enough to be considered one of the better one in the National League. But scuffles by Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks last season forced Maddon to use the bullpen more often. Will they opt to carry an extra arm instead of an extra bat?
One of the biggest variables in this conversation is injury. The Cubs stayed relatively healthy, but they weren’t without injuries last season. Jorge Soler has dropped some weight and gotten leaner in hopes of being more healthy. Russell’s injury was likely more bad luck than anything, but it was a critical loss at a terrible time.
Next: Offseason moves have solidified bullpen
Maddon’s ability to use his reserves at multiple positions makes them more valuable, and Maddon more dangerous as a manager. The Cubs bench will again be vital to the team’s success, but it will certainly miss Hererra and his helmet rubs and unnecessary curtain calls. Someone will need to step it up next year.