The 2017 Chicago Cubs have a problem. That problem is lacking starting pitching depth. It is a problem big enough to cause concern just halfway through the second month of the regular season. The front office has hinted that a big move could be coming in the not-so-distant future. When will it come? Your guess is as good as mine.
The term “big move” usually means some type of roster shake-up. For the Cubs, this could mean trading major league-ready players or coveted prospects for an elite arm that is controlled in 2017 and beyond. One thing the Cubs have never been short on throughout the Theo Epstein era are impact position players. Recently, another one of those individuals has made his presence known at the big league level.
Ian Happ has made a strong impression on many of the Cubs’ brass in just a few games. This isn’t too surprising considering he did something similar in spring training. The Cubs need for starting pitching, coupled with the rise of Happ could be the writing on the wall for the departure of one former Postseason hero.
Javier Baez was phenomenal for the Cubs most of last season, especially in the postseason. However, he now is the most expendable player on the roster for several reasons.
The former Co-National League Championship Series MVP isn’t off to a hot start, to say the least. He is hitting just .228 with five homers and 14 RBIs. He also has been less than stellar in the field. Baez still poses a tremendous amount of upside at the young age of 24-years old, but if the Cubs want to make another deep postseason run they will need to at least, consider trading the young second basemen.
The biggest issues with Baez are that he strikes out too often and does not walk enough. This season, Baez has 32 strikeouts to just five walks. To put that into perspective, last season Baez struck out 108 times compared to just 15 walks. That is not a good trend and doesn’t pose well for Baez this season, though walks are a crucial part of his development as a player at this point.
Happ, on the other hand, is a very polished hitter at the plate. In just four games, Happ has just two fewer walks than Baez has in 34 games. Like Baez, Happ is also versatile in the infield and even the outfield. He also doesn’t strike out as much, which is another huge indicator of what should happen before July’s trade deadline.
The bottom line here is that Happ fits in better with the Cubs than Baez does, whether it’s in the short term or long term. Theo Epstein has never built his team around players that strike out a lot. Instead, the front office favors hitters that make contact and get on base i.e. taking walks.
Remember, Baez isn’t a Theo guy. He was in the organization before Theo, Jed, and the rest of the current front office took shape. Believe it or not, that does make a difference. The perfect example of this is Starlin Castro.
Castro was a solid player for the Cubs for many seasons, but he didn’t fit in with what the Cubs were trying to accomplish. So, he was traded to the New York Yankees for an arm. Similar to Baez, Castro also had trouble making contact at times and striking out. Castro has 28 punch outs on the year compared to just eight free passes. Again, a very similar ratio to Baez.
Sure, you can argue that Ian Happ’s sample size is small, but his tendencies and prior history tell us he will be a more patient and efficient better in terms of getting on base and keeping strikeouts down. That doesn’t mean Happ will be the better player and that Baez will never be a consistent MLB player, but it does make Baez expendable whether Cubs fans like it or not.
The Cubs could get a cost controlled starting pitcher if they made Baez the centerpiece of any deal. Many teams would kill to have a talented player like Baez on their roster and in their everyday lineup. Any package centered around Baez could get a pitcher of Zack Greinke or Jose Quintana’s caliber.
Javier Baez is still one of the most talented players in all of Major League Baseball. He did have five RBIs in yesterday’s win. Baez will continue to hit, like Castro, but the strikeouts and lack of ability to get on base will also continue. Baez is not a .220 hitter. His numbers will continue to grow as he gets more at-bats and the weather gets warm. This will make the Cubs decision a difficult one.
Just because Baez is expendable doesn’t mean the Cubs have to, or are going to trade them. It just means they can be comfortable making such a move.