Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant may play center field down the stretch

With center fielders Ian Happ and Albert Almora struggling mightily at the plate, the Chicago Cubs may need to turn to former MVP Kris Bryant to fill the void.

Manager Joe Maddon‘s heavily criticized merry-go-round isn’t going to stop. Not now, not even with the Chicago Cubs fighting for a divisional title and only a couple of weeks remaining in the season. He’s not afraid to put his players all over the field in order to ensure that he has his best lineup on the field. Maddon’s unorthodox nature is part of what makes him so successful, he’s not afraid to think out of the box.

Since returning from the disabled list, he’s been asked to move from third base to left field for most games, and has done so admirably.

According to Fangraphs Bryant has 90 innings in the outfield this season and has zero Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), in his 654 innings at third base he has -2 DRS. Bryant isn’t an elite defender at anywhere on the field, but he wont hurt the club, either.

Happ and Almora slumping

For the better part of the second half, Happ and Almora have been pressing at the plate. They have both struggled through extended slumps and have seen a decrease in their playing time.

During the second half of the season, Happ has a batting average of .182 and Almora has a .231 mark. Almora has especially slumped as of late, with a .469 OPS in the month of September.

The simple fix to the lack of offensive production in center field would be to move Jason Heyward into the role, but he’s currently on the disabled list with right hamstring tightness. Heyward has voiced optimism for a return, but also insisted that he won’t rush back from the injury.

Without Heyward, Bryant is the only other option.

Turn to Bryant?

Bryant would not be a great center fielder. However, the Cubs have shown their willingness to sacrifice their defense in order to obtain more production from their starting lineup. They made that clear with the addition of Daniel Murphy, who has some of the worst defensive metrics in all of baseball. The idea there is that the Cubs could bring in their best defensive group late in games to “lock it down”.

Bryant will play anywhere Maddon puts him, and has been open to playing center field in the past. He’s a great athlete, and has shown that he’s faster than his size would suggest.

The Cubs should be looking to find ways to increase production throughout their batting order, especially with several players scuffling at the plate. Bryant in center field could be that fix. This would allow them to insert Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber into the starting lineup as the corner outfielders and give Maddon many options with his infield.

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Playing Bryant in center field isn’t ideal, but nothing about this season has been conventional. In a tight pennant race, it’s important for the Cubs to have their best hitters in the lineup everyday.