Chicago Cubs should move on from outfielder Albert Almora this winter

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Once viewed as a part of the Chicago Cubs long-term plans, outfielder Albert Almora suddenly looks quite expendable given his struggles this year.

Since acquiring Nicholas Castellanos, the Chicago Cubs look like a transformed club. The former Detroit outfielder has been in the lineup on a day-in, day-out basis, teaming up with a combination of Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora.

There was a time when Almora was viewed as the team’s center fielder of the future. As recently as last season, he hit .286 for Chicago while providing elite defense in the outfield. But in recent weeks, his playing time has dwindled considerably and that’s probably how the rest of the season will play out.

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Almora hasn’t played up to expectations this season and he doesn’t have much of argument to be in the lineup. At the plate entering this series against Philadelphia, he’s posted a career-low slash line of .242/.275/.398. Against lefties, something he has thrived on in the past, he’s hitting a dismal .206. That’s a far cry from the player he was last season, who looked to be turning the corner.

Well if he’s not hitting at the plate you can at least be sure he’s playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field right? Eh, not exactly. Almora has made a number of defensive blunders and mistakes in the outfield this season that are uncharacteristic of the 25-year-old.

Last season Almora saved a total of nine runs defensively but this season he has contributed to three runs scoring. His defensive WAR is at a career-low of -0.2 while his range factor of 1.77 is currently second-worst among all qualifying center fielders.

So he’s not hitting lefties and not playing quality defense. When you take away those two things – both pretty clear strengths of his in the past – you have to ask whether or not this guy has a long-term future in the Cubs’ plans.

In the short term, Schwarber, Heyward and Castellanos will get the lions’ share of reps in the outfield. Since rejoining the team from Triple-A Iowa, Ian Happ has looked more and more like the answer at second – but can spell that trio as needed in the outfield.

Since Theo Epstein took control of the organization nearly a decade ago, he’s stressed the desire to build a long-term annual contender – and rightfully so. But he’s also begun both preaching and practicing performance over potential – and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Almora on the block this winter.

Both Heyward and Schwarber will return in 2020, along with Happ. There’s no telling whether or not Castellanos will choose to stay in the Windy City when he tests the waters of free agency, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if Epstein pushes hard to retain the 27-year-old, who’s been nothing short of amazing since joining the team.

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The Cubs have a lot of questions that need answering heading into 2020. They’ll be down a starter with Cole Hamels hitting free agency and the bullpen will likely look very different given the number of guys who either have options or will test the market.

Almora’s greatest value now may be his team control – and only because he could make a very enticing trade chip come the offseason.