The uncertainty of the Chicago Cubs center field position has been a question this offseason. Could Albert Almora be the one to take over the role in 2018?
The Chicago Cubs’ center field position has been quietly uncertain in the young offseason. The rumor mill has connected Jon Jay to the Mariners. When the Cubs drafted Albert Almora Jr. sixth overall in 2016, they likely did so with the thought that he’d become their everyday center fielder. If Jay, in fact, does sign with the Mariners or another team, 2018 might become Almora’s first full-time season.
Almora was reliable in 2017
Almora often shared center field with Jay in 2017. When Almora was called on, however, he consistently performed well. He hit .298 overall and an impressive .342 against left-handed pitching. He was also often called on for his stellar defense.
The issue with the numbers of a platoon player is their reliability. Manager Joe Maddon could limit Almora’s plate appearances to favorable matchups. Since he hit better against lefties, Maddon would use him primarily against lefties. He was good against righties, too—hitting .271 on the season vs. righties—but still, Maddon had more faith in Almora vs. lefties.
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Other internal center field candidates
The surplus may suggest one of Happ or Almora may find themselves on the trade block. Heyward, in spite of early offseason rumors suggesting otherwise, will not be traded. His contract is too complex and includes a no-trade clause.
If the Cubs keep Happ and Almora, Almora seems like the more viable candidate for center field. Happ can play a handful of positions on defense, whereas Almora only played center field in 2017.
A new center fielder is possible
Since Dexter Fowler left the Cubs after the 2016 season, the team has struggled to find a regular leadoff hitter. Like Fowler, leadoff hitters are often center fielders. The Cubs still don’t have a prototypical leadoff man. However, the position is something Theo Epstein has described as a luxury rather than a necessity.
The Cubs probably won’t make any trade moves specifically targeting a center fielder or leadoff hitter, but if an opportunity to acquire presents itself they’ll act on it.
If everything works out for Almora, he’ll become an essential part of the Cubs both in the field and in the batting order.