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Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB 2020 free agent market

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Super agent Scott Boras again finds himself in the middle of much of the big Hot Stove season action

 

Welcome to the latest episode of the ‘Ring the Bell‘ podcast. For those simply reading this piece at the website, it doubles as the script for today’s episode.

As I discussed in yesterday’s episode which evaluated the Phillies current roster and payroll situations, the ball club has a number of important needs. General manager Matt Klentak will find himself increasingly under the glare of the spotlight as this Hot Stove season moves along and he attempts to fill those needs.

First, let’s take a minute to run down the list of what I see as those Phillies needs this off-season, in order of importance:

  1. Starting pitching
  2. Starting pitching
  3. Center field
  4. Bench
  5. Bullpen
  6. Third base (?)

That was not a typo in listing ‘Starting Pitching’ twice. It is simply that important, first of all. And also, the club needs two new proven winning veteran starting pitchers, at least one of whom should be an “ace” level rotation arm. Now, let’s take a look at who is available on the free agent market.

STARTING PITCHING

There are two big names here, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. They should and will be the Phillies top two targets in free agency. Principal owner John Middleton has made the addition of top-level starting pitching a priority for the team, and is prepared to spend top dollar to secure such an arm.

The problem is not going to be one of either money or will power. The problem for the Phillies will be that they are not the only team in search of this level of pitching talent, not by a long shot.

The world champion and division rival Washington Nationals and their World Series opponents, the Houston Astros, are not simply going to let Strasburg and Cole respectively walk away from their ball clubs without a major effort to retain them.

Also, it is publicly known that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels will be shopping aggressively for this type of arm as well. Speculation is that the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves are among any number of other teams with the desire and money to land one of these top two starting pitchers.

It’s hard to know what is going through Strasburg’s mind. There has been some speculation that opting out of his contract with the Nationals was purely a strategy to get more money from the only organization he has ever known.

The 31-year-old, 10-year veteran was due to make another $100 million over the next four years in Washington. Some have speculated that he could get another $50 million and another year, at least, on the open market.

While it would not be a surprise to see the Nationals and Strasburg announce a new deal at any point, that is far from a given. The longer he hangs out there on the market, the more clubs are going to his agent, Scott Boras, with interest.

Cole is also represented by the Boras Group. The 29-year-old is the biggest name on the free agent market this winter. I expect to see Boras take him on a tour of interested teams and cities, similar to what we saw happen last year with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Don’t expect to see Cole sign with anyone until February.

While the Phillies will be in the mix for both, their money and genuine interest making them legitimate contenders, they should not be considered the favorites for either pitcher. Cole, a native of Newport Beach, is said to be interested in either a return to SoCal or a spot at the top of the Yankees rotation. Strasburg, a San Diego native, may also go the SoCal route if he doesn’t return to D.C.

It is going to be curious to watch the Phillies pursuit of a top arm, because as I said, what the rotation really needs is two more experienced, proven, veteran starting pitchers.

The longer that Cole remains unsigned, and Strasburg as well for that matter, and the longer the Phillies genuinely believe that they are in the mix for one or the other, then it becomes a somewhat dangerous game.

There is a large group of talented starting pitchers just below the talent levels of Cole and Strasburg. Most if not all of those pitchers are going to sign somewhere earlier than at least Cole will be signing. The Phillies are going to have to commit to one of the next level of pitchers by Christmas, possibly even within the next few weeks.

The most obvious target would appear to be 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Turning 36 years of age two days after this coming Christmas, Hamels has already said that he would be open to a return to the club with whom he broke into the big-leagues and first became a star.

Judging by social media, Hamels remains popular with the fan base. And judging by his comments, the feeling is mutual.

MLB Phillies insider Todd Zolecki quoted Hamels earlier this week:

I know Philly is finally trying to make that push. They’re building their roster. If I fit on their roster and their plans, I’d love the opportunity to come back. It’s probably more on their end, though, to reach out and see if I actually do fit in their plans. It would be difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there, can you guys make it happen?’ But I’m always willing to play for that team and city and attempt to win a World Series. That’s where I am right now. I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.

Hamels then went on to say, according to Zolecki, that he would even be willing to play on a one-year contract:

I’m not there to handcuff somebody or an organization…I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play. I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around. Obviously, if the Phillies were interested in longer than one, I’d entertain that, too. But I think I want the opportunity to have as many opportunities to get to the postseason and try to win. I’ll go every year. I’ll prove myself. I don’t mind having my back against the wall. I think I perform better like that anyway. It just keeps me more accountable.

This just seems to make too much sense. Hamels is clearly interested in a return to the Phillies. The fans would love to have him back. He has the talent and experience that the club is looking for, and he has something else going for him – Hamels is left-handed. The club has not had a truly effective southpaw in their rotation since, well, since Hamels left in 2015.

No longer in his prime, this could absolutely work on a one-year deal with a club option for another year or two. The Phillies, as long as all the medicals check out, should waste no time with this decision. Klentak should be on the phone with Hamels agent today.

If they just can’t work something out, or don’t want Hamels for some reason, there are other interesting arms.

Available free agent left-handers include 30-year-old, 4x NL All-Star and former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner…32-year-old, 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel…33-year-old Korean native and 2019 NL All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu…29-year-old, 2017 NL All-Star Alex Wood.

Available right-handers would include 29-year-old, former first round MLB Draft pick Zack Wheeler…31-year-old, 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello…30-year-old, 2019 AL All-Star Jake Odorizzi.

There are a few dozen other possibilities as well. But frankly, anyone other than the pitchers mentioned already would be a disappointing addition.

The Phillies would be wise to take Hamels up on this word, and wrap him up to fill the 3-4 slot in their starting rotation for 2020. Then they can concentrate all of their efforts into trying to land one of the really big fish.

CENTER FIELD

There are a lot of Phillies fans who seem to think that the club is okay here with either Scott Kingery or Adam Haseley. Frankly, if you truly want to be a contending team, I think that is just crazy talk.

Kingery has handled himself admirably out there for someone who is not a natural outfielder. Haseley deserves much credit for rising from Double-A to a regular big-league role last season.

But neither is the answer for a contending Phillies ball club.

Kingery needs to be handed his natural second base position and allowed to play it every single day, barring some situational need or emergency. Haseley would be well served getting more everyday plate appearances at Triple-A or serving a fourth outfielder apprenticeship in 2020.

There has been some chatter on social media about the team bringing back free agent outfielder Corey Dickerson, who excelled with the Phillies following his arrival from Pittsburgh at this past season’s trade deadline.

Yes, Dickerson hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances with the Phillies. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and you have something like a 35 homer, 120+ RBI campaign.

However, the 30-year-old Dickerson is a free agent for the first time. He is going to parlay that performance into a nice, well-deserved payday. And he is, unfortunately, not a center fielder. Just 27 of his 571 big-league games in the outfield have been played in center.

If you are thinking of putting him in left field and having Andrew McCutchen slide over to become the everyday man in center field for the Phillies, you really need to think again.

McCutchen is now 33-years-old and has not played center field regularly in either of his last two seasons. He is coming off major knee surgery as well.

While he can spot-start or slide over temporarily during a situational or emergency need, as he did for 10 starts and 15 total games this past season with the Phillies, he is no longer the player who won a 2012 Gold Glove Award as a center fielder.

Roman Quinn is also not the answer. I love Quinn’s tool set and have been publicly in his corner for a few years now. But even someone who is as big a fan as I am has limits. Quinn has proven that he simply cannot remain healthy long enough to be a reliable starting option.

No, what the Phillies really need is a new center fielder, someone from outside the organization. Unfortunately, there really are not quality options available this year in free agency.

You have a premier defender such as Juan Lagares. There is pure base stealing speed in Billy Hamilton. There is an aging veteran such as 34-year-old, 5x AL All-Star, 4x AL Gold Glove Award winner Adam Jones.

None of those is a realistic option. Jones played just one game in center last year for the Dbacks, and two years ago with Baltimore he was rated as one of the worst regular center fielders in the game defensively by Fangraphs.

Lagares will turn 31-years-old in spring training and has just a .254/.297/.361 career slash line in 2,119 career big-league plate appearances. With a slash of just .242/.297/.326 over 3,089 plate appearances, Hamilton is even worse with a bat in his hands.

There is no answer available in free agency. If the Phillies want to improve in center field, it is going to have to come via trade.

During this past season, I wrote that a worthy trade target could be found in Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He turns 30 years of age early in the 2020 season and can become a free agent after next year.

If I’m Klentak, I’m on the phone looking to see if we can find a reasonable match in trade for the 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and ALCS Most Valuable Player.

THIRD BASE

Don’t count me among those who feel that the Phillies need a third baseman. Again, this is assuming the club does what I think it should do – give second base to Scott Kingery, and cut ties to Maikel Franco by not offering him arbitration.

If I’m running things, top offensive prospect Alec Bohm is starting at third base on Opening Day 2020. I let him know that right now.

When Bohm’s season ends following the conclusion of the Premier 12 tournament, at which he is Team USA’s starter at the hot corner, I tell him to go home and enjoy the holidays. Just keep working out and stay in shape. Don’t report to Clearwater until early February. And be mentally ready for your role as the Phillies starting third baseman.

Now, that’s me. The club could actually go in a number of directions. They could offer a contract to and bring back Franco as the starter, at least to begin the season. Then let him try to hold off Bohm for as long as he can.

Or the club could offer a contract to Cesar Hernandez, cut ties with Franco, give the third base job to Kingery, and fill center field some other way. Once Bohm is deemed ready, they could either slide Kingery back to center if no good option has emerged, or work out some king of position-sharing scheme involving the players. That option seems too messy.

Another option would be to cut ties with Franco and sign a free agent. There are a handful of interesting options if the Phillies try to take this route.

In order of talent, those free agent options would be Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Moustakas.

Rendon will be expensive and would tie up the position for years, meaning that the Phillies would either be banking on the NL getting a DH as soon as the 2021 season, or they would be considering a trade of either Bohm or Rhys Hoskins. I love Rendon as a player, but with Bohm nearly ready, this just doesn’t seem like the right move.

Donaldson just played on a one-year deal with Atlanta at a $23 million salary. He’ll turn 34-years-old a month from today. Perhaps the Phillies could lure him with a similar one-year offer? That would mean Bohm at least starts the season back at Triple-A.

The 31-year-old Moustakas is a bit trickier. He played with Milwaukee this past season at $7 million and received a $1 million buyout of his contract for next year, rather than the Brewers committing to his $11 million mutual option.

Moustakas is going to be seeking a multi-year offer from some team. He is still young enough that someone is likely to make that kind of offer in order to add a 35-homer bat to their lineup. I am betting it won’t be the Phillies.

Again, my choice here is to give the job to Bohm, spend your free agent money on pitching, and move on from the old, losing Franco-Hernandez infield combination.

BENCH

Putting together a bench group that includes at least a few veteran options for new manager Joe Girardi, preferably options that can hit the ball, will be another Klentak challenge.

The Phillies are already slated to have Jay Bruce return. He should help out as a pinch-hitter, on the outfield corners, and could even turn out to be a lefty-hitting backup first base option, giving Hoskins a blow against a few tougher right-handed pitchers. Girardi should be able to get him plenty of at-bats to keep him sharp and happy.

Assuming the Phillies move on from both Franco and Hernandez, as well as Odubel Herrera, that leaves other outfield depth options as Roman Quinn and Nick Williams. The infield would need help. There are a bunch of interesting options who could fit the bill:

The club could try to re-sign 30-year-old Brad Miller, who appeared in 66 games with the Phillies this past season. Miller played four different positions, mostly at third base and in left field, and produced a dozen homers in just 130 plate appearances.

38-year-old Ben Zobrist can play second base and an outfield corner. He even covered shortstop for one game last season with the Cubs.

Starlin Castro turns 30 at the end of spring training. He played both second and third this past year with the Marlins, and even held down shortstop, where he was a former starter, in three games.

At age 36, Howie Kendrick showed just how valuable he can be in a part-time role while helping the Nationals win their World Series. Kendrick, who played in 39 games with the 2017 Phillies, saw time at first, second, and third this year in Washington.

30-year-old Derek Dietrich ripped 19 homers in 306 plate appearances while covering first, second, and left field this year in Cincinnati. He even appeared in one game at the hot corner, and has played in 146 career games there.

33-year-old Eric Sogard hit .290 while playing five different positions between stops in Toronto and Tampa Bay this past season.

Former popular Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence turns 37 in April, and enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in which he was named to the American League All-Star team. His bat, outfield glove, and infectious enthusiasm could be a perfect mix for this team’s bench group.

The Phillies could use a reliable backup catching option, and yesterday I mentioned one of their former prospects as a possibility. That would be 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, who finally stayed healthy this past season and showed off his fine combination of offensive and defensive skills.

More veteran backstop options who could add an alternative to Andrew Knapp include 37-year-old Russell Martin, 34-year-old Matt Wieters, 32-year-old Bryan Holaday, 36-year-old Robinson Chirinos, 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy and a half-dozen or so others.

These are just a representative sample of the dozens of names who could fill out a veteran bench for the Phillies.

BULLPEN

As I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, assembling a bullpen is a tricky proposition from year to year. The Phillies pen was decimated by injuries this past season, but most of those arms should be back in 2020.

They could do nothing, and still end up with an effective group. However, adding someone as a strong, veteran back-end option couldn’t hurt. Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Steve Cishek, Will Harris, and Pedro Strop are just a few of the couple dozen veteran relievers available.

And how about this possibility: lefty Jake Diekman? Wouldn’t it be sort of ironic if the Phillies brought back both Hamels and Diekman, who they traded away together in 2015, in the same off-season? Diekman turns 33 in January, and struck out 84 batters over 62 innings this past season as a southpaw out of the pen.

Again, as with third base, I don’t feel this is an area of desperate need. But if the Phillies want another bullpen arm, there are plenty from which to choose.

WRAPPING IT UP

Well, that’s a look at the free agent market. The Hot Stove season is officially underway. Free agents can sign with any team at this point, though signings of the bigger names are likely to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

And those free agent ranks are only going to swell when the December 2 deadline passes for teams to offer arbitration, which is the decision that the Phillies will need to make on Franco and Hernandez.

As we move through the off-season, this podcast will focus occasionally on rumors regarding the club, and I’ll certainly be talking and writing about any big signings.

I hope you’ll come back tomorrow, when I’ll be talking about the MLB Award winners to this point, as well as the nominees for the major awards to be handed out next week, including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in each league.

Remember, you can follow any written pieces or podcast episodes through links at the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds @philliesbell. I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy. Until next time, God bless you and yours.

NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers vs Chicago Cubs preview and prediction

The Dodgers and Cubs meet in a repeat NLCS

For the second consecutive season the National League Championship Series will be contested by the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

The two teams engaged in a spirited series last October, eventually won by the Cubs in six games. Chicago would then go on to defeat the Cleveland Indians, winning the franchise first World Series in more than a century.

A year ago, Chicago took the opener. But LA then received back-to-back pitching gems from Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, shutting out the Cubs twice to take a 2-1 series lead.

After that, it was all Chicago. The Cubbies bats awoke with a vengeance to take the final three games by a combined 23-6 score.

This season, the Dodgers staggered out of the gate, going 10-12 over the first few weeks of April. But from April 27 through August 25 they accumulated an unreal 81-24 record.

That four month stretch of dominance allowed the Dodgers to run away with the National League West Division race. Even a month-long slump over which they lost 20 of 25 games would not allow either the Arizona Diamondbacks or Colorado Rockies, both eventual NL Wildcard teams, to make a dent in the division.

Los Angeles would recover to take eight of their final 10 games, finishing with 104 wins and an 11-game cushion over Arizona. The 104 victories gave them the best mark in all of Major League Baseball, and were the most by any Dodgers team in more than four decades.

The Dodgers would stay hot in the postseason as well, sweeping the 93-win Diamondbacks in three games in a National League Division Series.

Over in Chicago, the defending World Series champion Cubs had a much tougher go of things in the 2017 regular season. They would ultimately win 92 games and a second consecutive NL Central crown by six games. But that would not be decided until September, following spirited challenges from the upstart Milwaukee Brewers and arch-rival Saint Louis Cardinals.

That tougher road would continue in their NLDS against the Washington Nationals. The Cubs and Nats split the first four games, with Chicago taking a pair of low-scoring 3-0 and 2-1 affairs. Washington won by 6-3 and then in a 5-0 shutout behind Stephen Strasburg to send the series to a deciding game.

In that decisive Game Five, the two National League giants threw hay makers at one another. At the end of the battle in our nation’s capital, it was the Cubs left standing following a 9-8 victory.

The Dodgers are led by skipper Dave Roberts in his second year at the helm. Roberts has guided the LA club to division crowns in each of those two seasons.

The Cubs manager is the colorful Joe Maddon. The longtime skipper in Tampa Bay, Maddon guided the Rays to a pair of AL East crowns and the 2008 American League pennant. Now in his third season in the Windy City, he has an all-time managerial record of 1,073-922 and that 2016 World Series crown.

The Dodgers lineup receives most of their offense from five players. Two of them, shortstop Corey Seager and first baseman Cody Bellinger, are the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year and the likely 2017 ROY respectively.

A pair of 27-year olds have emerged as the most pleasant surprises this season. Left fielder Chris Taylor hit for a .288/.354/.496 slash line with 21 homers, 72 RBI, 85 runs scored, and 17 steals. Austin Barnes has taken over primary catching duties. His big 6th inning homer off Dbacks ace Zack Greinke in the NLDS Game Three helped the Dodgers clinch that series.

The mercurial Cuban right fielder known as “the Wild Horse”, Yasiel Puig, put together his finest season. The final influential lineup piece is third baseman Justin Turner. Known for his long red hair and beard, Turner is also one of baseball’s most underrated superstars.

There are plenty of veterans to provide Roberts with lineup support. They include Logan Forsythe, Chase Utley, Andre Ethier, and Yasmani Grandal.

On the mound, Roberts will go with his ace Kershaw in the opener. You can expect to see the lefty, one of the top pitchers of this generation, to come back twice more in the series if needed.

The lefty Hill will go in Game Two, followed by right-hander Yu Darvish in Game Three. Another lefty, Alex Wood, will start Game Four. If the series continues beyond that, expect Kershaw to start Game Five, and then to be available in a decisive seventh game.

The Dodgers bullpen is anchored by one of baseball’s top closers. Kenley Jansen is a big, 30-year old right-hander. He saved 41 games this year with a 1.32 ERA and 0.746 WHIP in his second consecutive NL All-Star campaign. Jansen allowed just 44 hits over 68.1 innings with a dominating 109/7 K:BB ratio.

Between his starting pitcher and his lights-out closer, Roberts will lean heavily on righties Kenta Maeda and Brandon Morrow, and left-handers Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson. He is likely to also have right-handers Pedro Baez and Josh Fields available.

Maddon is well aware of what it takes to beat good pitching in October. “Mr. Kershaw, obviously, and they’ve got Darvish, etc. Listen, we just went through Strasburg and Scherzer, and that’s no day at the beach either. When you get to this time of the year, you really have to be prepared to beat good pitching, which they have.

The Cubs group of hitters have proven they can beat that good pitching. One of the deepest and most versatile lineups in the game today is led by the 2016 NL MVP in third baseman Kris Bryant and clutch first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jason Heyward are all 20-somethings and all are talented enough that they can be difference-makers in a particular game.

The old man of the team is versatile 36-year old Ben Zobrist, who followed Maddon from Tampa to Chicago and still contributes heavily. When he takes the field in the opener, Zobrist will be participating in his 60th MLB postseason game over the last decade.

The biggest question mark in this series may be what Maddon decides to do with his starting rotation. Even as late as Saturday morning, the starter for Game One has not been announced.

Maddon could choose to go with lefty summer acquisition Jose Quintana, who tossed 2/3 of an inning in relief during Game Five against Washington just two days ago in the NLDS.

He could also come with righty John Lackey, who won a dozen games and started 30 games in the regular season. The veteran turns 39 years old in a couple of weeks, has 26 games of postseason experience, and is well-rested after not seeing any NLDS action.

I would expect to see Maddon go with those two as starters in the first two games in some order. They would be followed by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks. But that’s only what I would do.

The good news is that whomever becomes the choice to start, there is plenty of talented bullpen support available should they get into early trouble. Maddon should have righties Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, and closer Wade Davis available. From the left side it would be Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing, and Mike Montgomery. And if he doesn’t start, Lackey would be available as well.

The Dodgers had the best record in Major League Baseball this season and swept their NLDS opponent. The Cubs are the defending world champions and play with confidence and swagger. This should be a fascinating matchup.

During the regular season, the Dodgers took four of the six meetings between the two clubs. But I am going to call it for the defending champs. I believe that the Cubs have the talent to take out the Dodgers by that same margin. Call it Chicago in six games.

Champion Cubs May Have Next Young Star in Albert Almora

The Chicago Cubs ended the more than 70-year old “Curse of the Billy Goat” by powering their way to a 2016 World Series championship.
A group of talented and youthful position players were keys in making that title possible. 
There were a pair of 26-year old players serving as virtual senior citizens in first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right fielder Jason Heyward.
In left field, 24-year old Jorge Soler and 26-year old Matt Szczur saw a lot of playing time. 23-year old Javier Baez was a super-utility guy, playing all over the diamond. The shortstop was 22-year old Addison Russell.
23-year old Willson Contreras largely took over the catching duties by the second half. Another 23-year old, Kyle Schwarber, missed the entire regular season due to injuries. But he returned in time to influence the postseason.
The featured player was 24-year old third baseman Kris Bryant. All he did was take home the NL Most Valuable Player award after winning NL Rookie of the Year the previous season.
On June 7, a rookie outfielder made his debut. Albert Almora would stay with the team through mid-July, then return in September. He made enough of a positive impression that he was kept on the postseason roster by manager Joe Maddon.

Almora hit for a .277/.308/.455 slash line with three homers and 14 RBI over 117 regular season plate appearances. He then went hitless in the postseason.
But then in Game 7 of the World Series vs the Cleveland Indians, Almora had his big moment. He was called on to pinch-run for Schwarber, who had led off the top of the 10th inning of a 6-6 game with a single.
Almora moved to second base on a fly ball. Then with one out, Ben Zobrist drilled a ground double to left field. The speedy Almora flew around third and came home to score the go-ahead run.
The Cubs would tack on one more, which would prove vital when the Tribe came back to score one in the bottom of the 10th. Chicago would hang on to capture the Fall Classic for the first time since 1908.
Now as spring training is underway and the Cubs prepare for defense of a world championship for the first time in more than a century, things have changed for the speedy Almora.
This year, he is penned in as the starting center fielder. He will be replacing veteran Dexter Fowler, who left for the arch-rival Saint Louis Cardinals. And the expectations for Almora are high.
Earlier this week, Paul Skrbina of the Chicago Tribune wrote a piece on Almora. In it, Skrbina quoted Bryant:
“He’s a star in the making. Everybody has seen what he can do, what he’s going to give you on defense. More importantly, you know he’s … going to play his heart out every single day.” ~ Bryant
So far this spring, Almora has been doing his part, continuing to play stellar defense. In his 41 games played last season, Almora didn’t make a single error.
Offensively, he is not expected to become a big contributor. He had just 24 home runs, 100 doubles, 16 triples, and 33 steals in 1,733 minor league plate appearances.
However, he was a .290 hitter in the minors, striking out just 203 times. A classic “contact” hitter in an already powerful lineup, he just needs to chip in now and then. He is certainly more than capable of filling the role.
So far this spring, Almora is hitting .313, and recently chipped in with a grand slam. He is getting plenty of chances. His 32 plate appearances in the Cactus League are tied for second on the club.
A week ago, Tony Andracki with CSN Chicago wrote on the team’s attempts to tap into Almora’s offensive upside potential. In the piece, Andracki quoted a confident Almora:
“I feel like personally, there’s a lot more improvement for myself of the player I can become. So it’s going out there and play, let it happen.”
While Almora is likely to never be more than a complimentary bat in the Cubs lineup, that is all he needs to be. His defensive ability is going to save the Chicago pitching staff a ton of runs.
The Cubs have amassed an enviable collection of good, young players. The odds are that his is just the beginning of a long run of success. Starting in 2017, Almora should prove a key piece on many winning North Side teams in the years to come.