Chicago Cubs News: Seiya Suzuki's imminent return creates roster intrigue

The Chicago Cubs have a solid collection of outfielders on their roster and it will only get better when Seiya Suzuki returns.
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The 2024 Chicago Cubs do things as a team. When one of them gets injured, they seem to all get injured, but luckily, when one of them gets healthy, they seem to all get healthy at the same time.

Ideally, by the end of the weekend, the Cubs will have seen the return of Cody Bellinger, who was their best player in 2023, Justin Steele, who was their best pitcher in 2023, and Seiya Suzuki, who was shaping up to look like the power threat the Cubs need in the middle of the lineup. 

Unlike Bellinger, Suzuki is taking a short rehab stint in Triple-A Iowa to get back to his best self, and it didn’t take long for that to shine through. In his first game back on Wednesday night, he went 2-for-2 with two singles, a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored. 

If we work under the assumption that Suzuki rejoins the lineup and immediately returns to dominating opposing pitching, the question becomes:

What is the best version of the Chicago Cubs starting lineup?

This is a great problem to have. The Cubs will legitimately have too many players who are either playing well enough to necessitate at-bats or have a high enough upside that they necessitate at-bats. 

Ian Happ has struggled recently, but he had a great 2023 and is (somehow) a Gold Glove-winning outfielder. Cody Bellinger just received the first contract the Cubs have ever given with a value of $30 million dollars for a single season and is arguably the current face of the franchise. Seiya Suzuki is returning from injury but was the hottest-hitting player the Cubs had prior to getting hurt. Pete Crow-Armstrong has struggled at the plate, but he’s the Cubs’ top prospect and probably the best prospect they’ve had since Kris Bryant. Finally, Mike Tauchman has an OBP over .400 and an OPS+ of 138 while being a fan favorite. 

So who is the odd man out?

Option 1

LF- Ian Happ
CF- Mike Tauchman
RF- Seiya Suzuki
DH- Cody Bellinger
Option Pete Crow-Armstrong to Triple-A Iowa 

This is the most likely solution for now. Craig Counsell has said that he intends to ease Bellinger back into the field slowly and this is a good way to do that while also continuing to get a solid defensive lineup and at-bats for everyone that needs them.

In a perfect world, Crow-Armstrong would get to stay up, but this is his first season above Double-A, so it’s not the worst thing in the world to get him some additional at-bats against better competition before throwing him to the wolves at the major league level. 

Option 2

LF- Ian Happ
CF- Pete Crow-Armstrong
RF- Seiya Suzuki
DH- Cody Bellinger
Bench Mike Tauchman

This is something that could potentially happen but it has too many drawbacks. PCA is electric when he gets on base, but he is functionally a black hole in the lineup at this stage of his career so he’s just not getting on base.

He’s a better fielder with a better arm and more range in the outfield than Tauchman, but for a team that is playing well and has chemistry right now, a move like this would likely rock the boat too much for it to be a reasonable thing to do.

Craig Counsell will be flexible

The most likely scenario is that the Cubs will continue to use the DH position to give guys a breather in the field.

It’s unlikely the team will carry five outfielders when Suzuki returns, so, there is a strong chance that Crow-Armstrong will be optioned.

The Cubs are in a tremendous position. Very few teams have the luxury of being able to send not one, but two star outfield prospects back to the minors because they have not one but two star veteran outfielders returning from injury.