Chicago Cubs: Depth still a concern?

Mar 7, 2016; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; General view of the hat, glove and sunglasses of Chicago Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2016; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; General view of the hat, glove and sunglasses of Chicago Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

The depth of the Chicago Cubs has been tested since day one of the season, and it is still testing manager Joe Maddon as the team makes their playoff push.

Injuries have played a major role in the success of the Chicago Cubs this year. What started as a year filled with promise and hope because of the depth of the team turned into streaks of need, calling up prospects from the minors to fill roles. Luckily for the Cubs, prospects such as Willson Contreras and Albert Almora, Jr., performed well and helped keep the team afloat. But, now it is time to ask the question that no one has asked all season:

Is the Chicago Cubs roster too deep?

Has ever a question been asked in the world of sports? Has this type of depth been a problem for any sports team, ever? Before you sit there and say “Man, this is the stupidest questions in the history of questions,” which it may be, it is one that needs to be discussed. Let’s list some facts, and compare that to the team with the second-best record in the majors, the Washington Nationals:

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Fact #1: Seven different Chicago Cubs played 3+ positions so far this season, compared to only three for the Nationals.

Fact #2: Only five position players have been limited to one spot all season, two of which are David Ross and Miguel Montero. The Nationals have seven such players.

Fact #3: There have been 13 different left fielders compared to three shortstops. No position (excepting pitcher) has seen more than five players for the Nationals.

Fact #4: Kris Bryant has played 68 games at third and 57 games in the outfield (obviously several in both positions). No infielder for the Nationals has played outfield, and vise versa.

The Washington Nationals won 11 of 19 games since the All-Star break and have a +140 run differential for the season. Many consider them to the second best team in Major League Baseball behind the Chicago Cubs. As you can see from the facts listed about, the two teams perform well but have completely different philosophies. The Nationals value consistency while Joe Maddon enjoys the versatility of his players. But, as the Cubs make the push toward the playoffs, is it time to consider establishing regular roles for the team.

Versatility is a great asset. Knowing that players that can cover positions when called upon is important. For example, Javier Baez‘s defensive ability in all infield positions helps in giving Kris Bryant or Addison Russell a day off. Add his batting success to that and he can be a regular in the lineup. With Jorge Soler return from the disabled list, the outfield has another player that can fill in left field, keeping Bryant, Contreras, and Ben Zobrist in their regular positions.  But, what are their regular positions?

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

That is the true issue. The Chicago Cubs’ versatility would make Abbott and Costello’s heads spin. While we may know who will be on first more often than not, the fact that Zobrist can play second and outfield and Baez any position would keep us guessing. Not to mention the game of “Where’s Bryant” that Maddon enjoys. As the season winds down and the Cubs make their way to the playoffs (barring a collapse of epic proportions), it will be important for players to get regular at-bats. Can they find a rhythm in their performance when they are moving around?

Baseball is probably the most mentally challenging team sport. One miscue in the field by one player, or even fan interference, can affect the psyche of the entire team. Do I need to bring up the 2003 playoffs? One play not made lead to another, lead to a loss and to losing the NLCS. We have seen that already this year during the challenges before the All-Star break. It is not just in the field, but at the plate that mental strength is a must. The best hitters go up to bat with a plan. The execution of that plan is affected by what the pitcher delivers and by the mental acuity of the batter. A player that consistently falls short in clutch situations will feel extra stress the next time they are in that situation. If they are mentally tough, they can break that streak. We all know this as we, as fans, feel the stress of the situation when certain players are up with a runner on first.

Next: Jorge Soler's return offers unique possibilities

Back to the original question. Is the wealth of depth the Chicago Cubs enjoy an issue that could harm the team? It is possible. The team played well for the first two months when movement around the field was less. It was when injuries occurred that the need to play multiple positions came about. Now that the team is healthy, is it time to return to a normalized line-up?

My answer: No. There are too many players that have performed important roles and they will be needed as the regular season closes. Everyone will require at-bats before October baseball arrives, especially for Baez, Contreras, and Soler. The defense has been solid all season, but its the offense that must continue to improve before the playoffs. The more pitches they see, the better off they will be.

It has worked to this point in the season. Why change now?