Rarely would an injury to your former MVP be considered a blessing in disguise. And yet, that’s exactly the case if you’re the Chicago Cubs right now.
Now, do not play me for a fool. David Bote’s emergence does not endanger Kris Bryant’s spot as the Chicago Cubs’ everyday starter. But rather, it should give Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer cause for a closer examination of the team.
Through 35 games with the Cubs, Bote is slashing .333/.417/.531 while leading the majors in average exit velocity – albeit in just 81 official at-bats, per MLB Statcast. According to FanGraphs, Bote’s chase rate of 25.5 percent is actually better than Cubs OBP leader Anthony Rizzo. While these numbers are impressive on the surface, 96 plate appearances offer a rather small sample size.
Yet it is his total makeup that makes Bote such an asset for the Cubs’ roster. The 25-year-old can run the bases (including three steals thus far) and has flashed some outstanding leather. Check out this ridiculous bare-handed play Bote made on Lorenzo Cain yesterday:
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Bote’s continued development has the potential to force a roster shakeup in Chicago. Given his ability to play multiple infield positions as well as Kris Bryant’s experience playing the outfield, it is wholly possible to imagine lineups in which both Bote and Bryant are on the card.
Changing the offseason picture?
All year long, the Cubs have been able to rotate their group of outfielders and keep guys fresh. But with the way Bote has played and the prospect of adding Bryant as another outfield option may make one of the current group more expendable, namely Ian Happ.
Happ has rebounded from a slow start to post a .365 OBP with 13 home runs as of Friday, but his slugging is down nearly 100 points from last year, and he has nearly the same amount of strikeouts in 55 fewer plate appearances. That said, the 24-year-old still has good upside as a high-OBP guy that can hit for power and play just about every position on the field. There would likely be multiple teams that would be interested in adding him to their core.
Pieces for pitching
The Cubs are going to need more starting pitching next season, particularly considering that Jon Lester will be 35 and Yu Darvish just turned 32 years old. This does not even account for Darvish’s struggles just to get healthy as well as the sizable regression experienced this season by both Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks. Bote’s development has provided Cubs management with a window to evaluate their own players and potentially make gains at the position through savvy decision-making.
Of course, Hoyer and Epstein may in fact find that a package including Bote himself would provide the best return. Or, rather than looking to deal Happ, they could once again take offers for Kyle Schwarber (though Epstein and Joe Maddon have repeatedly stated that Schwarber is firmly part of the team’s future).
But regardless of the potential outcomes, Bote gives the Cubs options and roster flexibility, both crucial elements in the maintenance of a perennial World Series contender.