The Cubs Outfield is Kind of a Problem…Right?

I enjoy the offseason as a time to reflect, evaluate and create a wish list of moves for the Cubs to make before pitchers and catchers report.  This past season saw the first wave of talent reach Clark and Addison, with the promise of more to come very soon.  But now that the dust has settled it is a good time to really analyze what took place, what the Cubs have and what do they need to get this winter.

The outfield is an area of concern, as the Cubs had one of the worst in the game from an offensive standpoint.  When Chris Coghlan is the unquestioned offensive leader of a team’s outfield, that is a problem.  He did do very well though, putting up a stat line of .283/.352/.452 with 9 HR, and 41 RBI.

Granted, Jorge Soler showed a great deal of promise and looks like a fixture for years to come.  But outside of him there are some question marks.

Arismendy Alcantara came up in July and started out very hot, but was figured out quickly. Still though, for someone who didn’t come up through the system with any real outfield experience, he handled himself pretty well every day in centerfield.  For the year, Alcantara slashed .205/.254/.367 with 10 HR, 29 RBI and 8 SB.  He struck out 31% of the time and walked just 5.7% of the time (which is actually lower than even Javier Baez, who walked 6.6%).

In his two-and-half months in the Bigs, Mendy was worth about 0.2 WAR.  Not that I am saying he should be written off and not given a chance to figure things out next season, but it is hard to be confident that he is a long term answer for a Cubs’ outfield that is still in a great deal of flux.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that Jorge Soler’s super-small sample size (yep, five “S” words right in a row there) was no fluke and he will actually build on those numbers.  In 24 games, he slashed .292/.330/.573 with 5 HR and 20 RBI.  He stuck out a sustainable 24.7% of the time while walking at an also sustainable, if not improve-uponable 6.2%.

His performance in a short month in the big leagues earned him an impressive 0.7 WAR, which would rank behind Chris Coghlan (2.2 WAR) and Emilio Bonifacio (1.9 WAR).  Soler showed a great approach at the plate and an ability to wait for his pitch and then punish it.  He had an ISO of .281, quite impressive all things considered.

Outside of the performance of Alcantara, the outstanding-but-possibly-best-we-can-ever-expect season from Coghlan, and the SSS Soler campaing, there was not much else of value happening on the grass at Wrigley this season.

Emilio Bonafacio was passable, but not someone you could or would rely on as an everyday starter for a contender.  Nate Schierholtz and Junior Lake fell off the face of the planet with their performances.  Matt Szczur had a cup of coffee and did fine, but his ceiling may be that of a 4th or 5th outfielder; which is also the ceiling of Ryan Sweeney, Ryan Kalish and Justin Ruggiano.

In fact, when you reflect on the outfield, that is truly what sticks out the most…wow, there were a bunch of 4th and 5th outfielders on these team. It was basically a replacement-level unit.

Any possible shopping list for the offseason would have to include Nick Markakis (if he makes it to free agency), who slashed .276/.342/.386 with 14 HR and 50 RBI.  I have also heard Jonny Gomes and even Torii Hunter as possibilities, but both are right-handed, which might not make sense for a team that is already right-hand heavy.  I like the idea of Carlos Gonzalez, but he would only be available because he is so injury-prone and the cost may be prohibitive.

But just imagine Gonzalez’s left-handed bat breaking up all the right-handed power.  A season of around .290 with 25 HRs and 90+ RBI would be nice, but that is based on him staying healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do for most of his career.  In fact, he has missed over 140 games the past 2 seasons.

Either way, the point is that there are more question marks than there are solutions in the outfield right now, and for a team that is supposed to compete for the division in 2015 that is a concern.  Hopefully the front office will add a couple key offensive players in addition to the pitching that the team desperately needs.

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