Chicago Cubs can’t bet on an Albert Almora bounceback in 2020
Despite what Theo Epstein said in recent weeks the Cubs cannot accept the stagnation maintaining the status quo represents heading into 2020.
If the Chicago Cubs decide to head into next season without making changes in center field or at second base, this offseason should immediately be considered a failure. Regardless of the past or the promise someone like Albert Almora once carried, it’s time to face the facts.
Since just before the All-Star Break two years ago, Almora ranks as the single worst player in baseball (in terms of wRC+) among those with a minimum of 500 plate appearances. As if that weren’t bad enough, his defense trended sharply in the wrong direction in 2019, as well.
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"“It’s trying to find that balance of how he harnesses his barrel control early in the count and then battle, compete, persevere and put the ball in play with two strikes,” Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce told The Athletic (subscription required). “That’s the balance he’s trying to really get a grasp on. And once he does, he’ll be able to make an impact in the lineup.”"
Once he does? No. That’s not how this works. If a reckoning has truly come for Chicago as Epstein sure indicated at the end of the season, we’re past that point. We’re past the point of betting on former first-round picks panning out after demonstrating during long stretches that they’re just not up to snuff at the big league level.
That’s not to say Almora won’t figure it out somewhere and be a quality piece for a team. But that team shouldn’t be the Cubs. I found it pretty incredible the team even tendered him a contract this winter given their payroll restrictions, but here we are once again with Epstein hoping his coaching staff can get Almora back on track in 2020.
In 130 games last year, he managed a measly .271 OBP, drawing just 16 walks in 363 plate appearances. He’d managed to keep that number afloat in the past with his contact-oriented approach that usually netted a respectable average, but that bottomed out – as he hit just .236, a 50-point drop from the year prior.
"“The great thing about Albert is he really hates striking out,” Iapoce said. “That’s such a positive. We crave contact today. In the playoffs, nobody can make contact because it’s such great pitching. Albert Almora craves contact and loves contact. He loves hitting singles, doubles, just loves making those left-hand turns around first base after hitting a line drive.”"
The problem is Almora doesn’t drive the ball nearly enough to justify keeping him in the lineup. He slugged .378 in 2018 and followed that up with a .381 mark in 2019. Now, if he were getting on base, working counts and making pitchers work, maybe you’re more accepting of that type of performance.
But the simple truth is this. Almora has had multiple years to win the starting job in center field after Dexter Fowler departed following the 2016 campaign and he’s failed to do so, instead regressing to the point where using a roster spot on him feels like a shaky decision, at best.