The Chicago Cubs have a few needs outside of pitching, and some believe that’s a “true” leadoff hitter. What do they need at the top?
In 2017, the leadoff role for the Chicago Cubs was a revolving door. From a failed experiment of having Kyle Schwarber hit first to a fun-for-fans but the unsustainable tenure of Anthony Rizzo fronting the order, the Cubs never found their guy. In their 2016 Championship season, Dexter Fowler’s prowess as a leadoff hitter jump-started the lineup. Finding another guy like that would help the Cubs with offensive consistency.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon assigned the mantra “You go, we go” to Dexter Fowler in 2016. He meant that if Fowler got on base, the rest of the order would do their job. Whether he was taking his walks or hitting leadoff home runs in Game 7 of the World Series, Fowler had a way of jump-starting the lineup.
Since Fowler signed a career contract with the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2016 season, the Cubs haven’t been able to find that rock at the top of the order. The Cubs’ options are relatively limited, but the leadoff hitter pursuit should be taken seriously.
Another fire sale in Miami
As the baseball world knows, the Miami Marlins sold players fast this offseason. Dee Gordon was the first to go after the Marlins traded him to the Seattle Mariners. Gordon isn’t likely to be moved this offseason again, but it may have been a good acquisition for the Cubs when possible.
The Mariners paid surprisingly little to acquire a lefty who batted over .300 in 2017 and stole 60 bases. He would’ve been an excellent match for the Cubs, but he’s not the only one from the 2017 Marlins who could be a solid leadoff candidate.
Christian Yelich has batted leadoff in the past, despite not getting a single at-bat there in 2017. His numbers still look like those of a capable leadoff hitter. He batted .282 in 2017 with an on-base percentage of .369. Yelich will become the leadoff hitter for the Marlins if they don’t trade him.
Rumors have gone back and forth about whether or not Yelich will be available, but Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported that Yelich is in fact available. If the Cubs trade for him, it will require top prospects and likely even a major leaguer or two. Still, even considering the high price, the Cubs’ front office should check on what the Marlins would want from the Cubs for Yelich.
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Many Cubs’ fans collectively groaned when Joe Maddon suggested Kyle Schwarber could return to the leadoff spot. Schwarber’s time spent as a leadoff hitter in early 2017 didn’t go well.
However, it’s possible that it was just the wrong time for an otherwise good idea. He was coming off a year that he missed virtually the entire season.
When he is good, Schwarber gets on base as well as anyone. Cubs’ fans would be understandably frustrated if the plan were to start 2018 with Schwarber leading off again.
Deep breath, Cubs’ fans
But if the Cubs don’t acquire a traditional leadoff guy and Schwarber is playing well, Cubs’ fans should keep an open mind if Maddon tries Schwarber there again.
Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist, the Cubs’ two switch hitters, are options. Zobrist’s 2017 season was disappointing. Given that, it’d be wise to give him some at-bats in the middle of the order to see where he is first.
Ian Happ is coming off a rookie year that in a year with fewer break out rookies may have earned him a Rookie of the Year Award. His numbers don’t exactly jump off the page if you’re thinking of them regarding a leadoff hitter. He hit .253, got on base at a clip of .328 and stole eight bases.
The Cubs gave Albert Almora Jr. auditions for the leadoff role in 2017. In 17 plate appearances batting first, Almora hit .294. He only stole one base in 2017. However, Almora’s speed on defense indicates that number should increase. He does have the most clutch and important stolen base in Cubs’ history.
The Cubs have some players that make sense for the leadoff role. Nonetheless, acquiring a more traditional leadoff hitter externally could be beneficial for the right price. If they fail to obtain one before the season begins, one should surface internally in time. However, they should be wary of assigning the role to any one player too quickly.