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Chicago Cubs: Contreras creates interesting situation for 2017

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Jun 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (40) reacts after tagging out St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz (not pictured) during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (40) reacts after tagging out St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz (not pictured) during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /
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Kyle Schwarber is out for the 2016 season with a torn ACL, which opened the door for Willson Contreras to get a big league promotion. How does Contreras coming in and making an instant impact affect the Cubs in 2017?

A Chicago Cubs’ catcher gets promoted to the major leagues and has a tremendous impact on the team right away. Sound familiar?

In 2015, Kyle Schwarber electrified the team’s roster after getting promoted for several interleague series in June and eventually for good in July. In just 69 games last season, Schwarber clubbed 16 home runs, energizing a team that went 50-25 after the young slugger was promoted full-time.

Fast forward to 2016, where déjà vu has struck the Cubs’ roster. The team promoted catcher Willson Contreras to the big leagues on June 17th, nearly a year to the date of Schwarber’s first promotion (June 16th) to the MLB.

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Not only were both players first promoted to the MLB around the same time, but both are catchers who caught fire for the Cubs almost immediately. Through eight games where they registered at least one at-bat, Schwarber hit .407 and Contreras hit .348, both superb averages to start one’s career.

In addition to the fact that the two players are catchers with similar promotion dates, both Schwarber and Contreras have played left field. Essentially, the two player’s bats are so valuable that manager Joe Maddon has played them out of position for the sole purpose of getting their bat into the lineup.

Although playing both catchers in the outfield has benefited the team, it also has created a significant problem for the 2017 season. When Schwarber returns from his knee injury, will he go back to developing as a catcher with the Cubs while also playing outfield? What happens to Contreras if this occurs?

With David Ross retiring after this season, the Cubs will need a second catcher in 2017. Assuming Miguel Montero remains on the roster, Schwarber and/or Contreras seem to be in line to man the position. Which one gets the job, though?

The issue at hand is that due to Contreras’ emergence, the Cubs have one too many players at one position. Although this has become the norm due to the Cubs’ extreme number of prospects, finding playing time for three catchers is much harder than it is for other positions.

Having three catchers (including two stud young players) means that one player at the least might not be in the lineup each game. For example, Schwarber can play left field if Montero catches. What happens to Contreras though?

In no way am I saying that it will be impossible to play all three catchers at once. If Schwarber is in left, Contreras could play first base (he already has in 2016), third base (his old position) or even learn to play right field.

If the Cubs go this route, they might have a larger problem than the one they started with. If they go with this option, having Contreras in any of these positions means one of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant or Jason Heyward might have to be taken out of the lineup.

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Obviously, all three players mentioned above are established All-Stars, meaning this option is the opposite of ideal. Yes, Contreras is a solid young player, but is he so solid that his playing time is worth more than any of Rizzo, Bryant or Heyward?

While it is true that Contreras or Schwarber could sub in for these players to give one of the three a day off, doing so also is not ideal. This option would mean that a large chunk of the two’s playing times would come from another player’s days off.

No player who is worthy of a starting job wants an inconsistent amount of playing time. Although Javier Báez will never say so, it seems obvious that he would prefer to play every day, rather than playing many positions almost every day.

Báez has had a solid season with his situation thus far, hitting .256 over 164 at-bats. However, this doesn’t mean going in and out of the lineup is an easy task, as it is much harder to stay fresh and hot at the plate when you aren’t playing every day.

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Next season, the Cubs will most certainly have an interesting situation at hand with Schwarber and Contreras. 2016 has been a season full of playing many players in many positions, with Joe Maddon succeeding in playing the right matchups game in and game out.

Come 2017, Maddon will presumably have to consistently shuffle his lineups to find playing time for his young catchers, hopefully playing his cards right for the betterment of the team.

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