Carter Hawkins on Possible 1B Platoon Role for Michael Busch, ‘Opportunistic’ Roster Upgrade Strategy

Hey, I don’t know if you were aware, but the Cubs haven’t done much of note this offseason. After their shocking move to replace David Ross with Craig Counsell, they more or less sat out free agency until signing Shōta Imanaga. A trade with the Dodgers for Michael Busch and Yency Almonte followed shortly thereafter, then we waited a while for them to sign Héctor Neris.

The front office has been busy, of course, it’s just that most of the work is stuff we’ll never know about because it involves phone calls and crowded whiteboards of deals that never happen. There’s also a ton of planning, particularly with spring training right around the corner. Though he was understandably vague when it came to specifics, GM Carter Hawkins did offer a little peak behind the curtain when he joined 670 The Score’s Inside the Clubhouse Saturday morning.

There’s been a bit of intrigue surrounding Busch because, along with being the new guy, he’s very highly regarded as a hitter and lacks a true position. Though he’s mainly played second in the minors, he was primarily a third baseman last year at Triple-A and spent most of his reps in college at North Carolina at first base. Hawkins reiterated that first will be Busch’s primary spot, indicating that a platoon may be in order early on.

“We had some opportunities for at-bats at first base, opportunities for at-bats at third base, and we’ve got guys that are currently on the roster that have played well at those positions, but nobody’s solidified that,” Hawkins said. “We’re also looking for guys that can hit left-handed. So you check first, third, left-handed, the ability to be here for a long time, and Michael Busch is in the middle of that Venn diagram.

“He hasn’t played a ton of first, but his ability over there is really, really solid and we feel like his hands and his know-how will help have the opportunity to be really, really good over there. And he has totally dominated the minor leagues over the course of his career, but he was blocked…We think that he’s a potential great member of our lineup that can 100% hit against righties and hopefully can play every day at some point.”

That’s borderline damning with faint praise, and maybe I’m sensing a little bit of Hawkins trying to manifest Busch’s ability at first by speaking it into existence. The Cubs have a load of guys who can play either or both corners, so it’s not like Busch has to be the man right out of the gate. That said, someone most definitely has to step up because the front office pivoted away from Rhys Hoskins and isn’t in any hurry to bring Cody Bellinger back.

The latter could still be in the works, however, and the Cubs are still looking for ways to improve the roster in other areas. One of those is the bullpen, where other reports have them seeking additional help.

“We’ll be opportunistic and there’s definitely going to be a lot of guys that are available here, whether it’s through free agency, waivers, trades,” Hawkins explained. “If we can upgrade, we’ll upgrade. I wouldn’t rule that out on any part of our roster, but it does feel like just generally this year there’s more availability in bullpen arms than anywhere else to find those upgrades.”

X was abuzz Friday night after a Cardinals account hinted that the Cubs and Marlins were talking, which would seem like complete bunk if there hadn’t already been a little smoke on that front. The idea of plucking Tanner Scott is intriguing, and some have wondered about the potential to land Jesus Luzardo as well, which would give the pitching staff a serious upgrade.

It might also mean putting more thought into a six-man rotation, a topic that has come up often in the wake of the Imanaga signing. Not only is the lefty used to that cadence as an NPB veteran, but it might also be best to give Kyle Hendricks a little more rest. As noted on Saturday, however, that’s probably not happening.

“We’ve gone through all the different permutations and, just like talk radio, we’re thinking about a lot of ideas,” Hawkins said. “In terms of things we have intention to implement or are looking to try to make work this year, that’s not in the cards. Not to say it never would happen, I’ve said never on too many things that ended up happening to ever rule anything out, but that’s not our intention going into camp.”

Most of the rest of the conversation was the same old stuff with Hawkins repeating things we already know, but I’ll bullet out some other notes.

  • Pete Crow-Armstrong learned from his challenges last season and is “working his tail off this whole offseason in Arizona” to turn them into strengths. Hawkins noted the need for a stronger plate approach and better baserunning decisions.
  • Counsell “focuses on unintended consequences in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time,” which I’m not sure I completely understand. I suppose it’s a matter of explaining the new manager’s thoughtfulness and how he seeks to be highly intentional with his communication.
  • Miguel Amaya is out of options and will be with the big club barring injury; no commitment on how the duties will be split
  • Though they didn’t mention Bellinger by name, Hawkins restated the team’s approach to free agency: “When there’s overlap on [Our interest in terms of how we view a player and the player’s interest in terms of how he views himself], deals get made. And when there isn’t, deals don’t get made.”

You know, it really sucks to get through over 900 words and look back wondering if you actually said anything. Spring training can’t get here quickly enough, and I’d sure love a few more moves in the meantime.

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