Like many positions on the diamond for the Chicago Cubs, left field is in a holding pattern of who might be the main starter come Spring Training. Nine total players patrolled there batting .247/.338/.419 with 22 home runs, 67 RBI and 13 stolen bases and became a large platoon of the right player for that day’s matchup. Let’s take a look back at left field and what we can expect moving forward.
A platoon of Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia is where the front office decided to go for left field starting last season, so it’s fitting that the position ended up like it did. The left-handed Coghlan played in 99 games and batted .262/.352/.459 with 12 home runs, 28 RBI and nine stolen bases. He was the Opening Day starter thanks to a strong 2014 where he surprised everyone with a solid year. However, he had a hard time getting back on track and effectively lost his job to Kyle Schwarber come August. Once that happened, Coghlan slid into more of a utility role filling in for injuries to Jorge Soler in right field and ineffectiveness from Starlin Castro at second base. Coghlan is likely to fill that role again unless the front office feels his value is high enough to warrant trading him in a package to acquire controllable starting pitching.
The right-handed half of the platoon, Denorfia played in 43 games mostly against left-handed pitching or as a defensive replacement and hit .271 with four doubles and eight RBI. As a 35-year old free agent, Denorfia is unlikely to get re-signed unless the team thinks he can be a productive pinch hitter and veteran presence for one more year.
Should Denorfia not return, Cubs farmhand Matt Szczur might be in line for a bigger role. He played in 26 games in left last year and batted .267 with three doubles, six RBI and two stolen bases. He struggled as a pinch hitter though and will have to adapt better to not having regular at bats to keep his bat hot though if he plans to take over a bench role in the outfield.
Kris Bryant might also see more time in left as he played in eight games there last year. He managed just three hits in 18 at bats, but fielded well above average. His pedigree suggests so far that he will hit no matter where he is on the field.
The most likely current starter in left field is Kyle Schwarber who played 41 games at the position after taking over for Coghlan. He came back to earth somewhat after mashing the ball as a catcher and batted .212/.346/.462 with 10 home runs, 23 RBI and two stolen bases. His fielding needs some work though as evidenced by his poor playoff performance and -4.1 UZR/150 rating of just below average. Schwarber has shown to be a quick study and athletic for his size, so he no doubt could become passable. Of course, he still is in the mix for time at catcher and right field depending on the moves the front office makes this offseason.
Speaking of those moves, the Cubs might choose to upgrade the outfield in free agency and names like Alex Gordon, Colby Rasmus and Gerardo Parra make sense as upgrades.
Gordon has been the most reported of the three names and checks a lot of boxes. The front office has stated that they want to improve their outfield defense and Gordon is regarded as one of the best in the game in left field. He also could help replace Fowler as a solid leadoff man as well as provide another veteran voice in the clubhouse who has won a championship. At 32 and likely to command a lengthy contract, the price may be too high to pay for someone whose best years may behind him especially with a qualifying offer attached.
Another defensive standout is Parra who is above average in the outfield corners and had a breakout season split between the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles where he batted .291/.328/.452 with 14 home runs, 52 RBI and 14 stolen bases. At 29, Parra is younger than Gordon, but will command a lot less money and years.
Rasmus is probably the least likely choice for the Cubs of the three, but brings some nice things to the table nonetheless. The 29-year old batted .238/.314/.475 with 23 home runs, 61 RBI and two stolen bases last year and brings the flexibility of being able to play all three outfield positions. He probably strikes out far too much to lead off, but brings another power bat that has pretty even platoon splits. He’s had issues with veteran managers in the past, but seemed to calm those rumors last year in Houston. Like Parra, he can probably be had for around a three-year deal, but carries a qualifying offer.
Junior Lake, Austin Jackson, Mike Baxter and Quintin Berry combined for 13 games in left field last year and only Jackson has any chance to return. He was acquired as a defensive outfield depth piece in August and likely auditioned for a role in center field for the coming season so we will profile him further in our next installment.
Depending on the front office’s plan, there likely will be some changes at the left field position. Whether it be in house players, a trade or the free agency market, it’s clear that there will definitely be an upgrade.
Cubs 2015 Position Reviews
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