Second base has seen its share of upheaval over the past couple of seasons and last year was no different. Seven players made multiple starts at the position and batted a collective .250/.303/.383 with 14 home runs, 69 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Next year’s starter is still yet to be determined, but the picture has become a little clearer so let’s take a look back at second base.
Going into Spring Training, it looked as if super prospect Javier Baez had the inside track on the second base job. However, after continuing to strike out and make inconsistent contact during the spring, the front office decided he needed more seasoning to get right. After the death of his sister and a broken finger took out big chunks of his season, he did not return until September and played in 17 games at the position. In that time he collected six hits in 23 at bats, including one home run, three RBI and seven strikeouts. He showed good leather at the position with a 5.1 UZR/150 rating which ranks above average. Thanks to a need for quality young starting pitching, Baez is one of a few who could be on the trading block so his status is up in the air for next season. If he stays, he has a good shot at being the starter next year.
Baez’s ineffectiveness at the plate left the Cubs scrambling for a starter at second of sorts. To replace him they went with a tandem of Tommy La Stella and Arismendy Alcantara. La Stella didn’t last very long as an oblique injury suffered in the first week kept him out for much of the year and he totaled just 14 games. In his time, he showed patience and clutch hitting which led to his acquisition in the first place. He will likely fill a bench role next year doing more of the same.
Alcantara also failed to fill the role as he managed just one hit in 20 at bats at the position and failed to show much patience at the plate. Once he was demoted, he did not return to the team as he continued to struggle and his future with the team is very much in doubt as he has been passed on the depth chart by Baez and La Stella.
After the lack of consistency by Alcantara, the Cubs turned to Jonathan Herrera who made the team out of Spring Training as a switch hitting bench bat and an infielder with experience all over the diamond. His 67 at bats at the position ranked third on the team, but he batted just .239 with two doubles, six RBI and three stolen. Herrera was certainly not a long term fix and likely forced the front office to bring up Addison Russell to play out of position and before he was likely ready.
Nonetheless, Russell played 86 games at second and helped stabilize the position offensively and defensively despite being just 21 years old. He batted .231/.299/.341 with 17 doubles, five home runs, 25 RBI and two stolen bases while batting mostly out of the ninth spot. He had his ups and downs and struck out 92 times as he learned. He really took off when he and Starlin Castro essentially switched positions as Russell’s spectacular fielding at second base showed his adaptability to the Major League game. His UZR/150 rating of 13.6 would have been tops among all second baseman if spread out over a full season.
An excellent August and phenomenal September for Castro led to a reinvention of a player at somewhat of a crossroads in his Cubs career. In just 38 games at second, he posted a line of .339/.358/.583 with 11 doubles, one triple, five home runs and 22 RBI almost equaling Russell’s counting statistics in half the at bats. His fielding was similarly just below average to his ability at short, but more time at the position, he could be about average. There’s no doubt that Castro still has loads of potential and could still be a major cog and great veteran leader to a very young team. However, with Baez seemingly ready, other middle infield talent on the way and the Cubs needing quality young pitching Castro could certainly be on the trading block. His four-year, $38 million contract doesn’t expire until his 29-year old season in 2019 and is very reasonable for a player of his offensive abilities and a change of scenery could do wonders for him. However, if Baez is the one sent out, Castro will likely be the starter at second base.
Chris Coghlan was the last player that saw some time at second this past season playing in 15 games. He has slid into the Ben Zobrist role for manager Joe Maddon as a player who can play all over the diamond and provide some pop in his bat. He had nine hits in 39 at bats, but three of those, a triple and two home runs, went for extra bases. He’s likely the third choice at the keystone and may continue to get some at bats depending on matchups or could see himself on the trading block thanks to his versatility.
If Coghlan does find himself traded, there’s no one better to fill the Ben Zobrist role than Zobrist himself, who the Cubs were linked to all season. In a year split between the Oakland A’s and championship winning Kansas City Royals, Zobrist batted .276/.359/.450 with 36 doubles, 13 home runs and 56 RBI. He has experience at second, short, third base and the outfield corners and knows what it takes to win at the big league level. The 35-year old will likely command a two to three year deal thanks to his flexibility, but could opt for less to be reunited with Maddon and another chance at a championship. It all depends on much the front office thinks he has left and if ownership thinks he’s worth the $10 million a year he’s likely to command.
If not Zobrist, with Jonathan Herrera set to test free agency, the Cubs may opt for another minor league free agent to provide some more depth in the infield should they need it again. Names like Cliff Pennington, Joaquin Arias, Gordon Beckham or Kelly Johnson may fit the bill.
With another tumultuous off-season on the way for the Cubs and a lot of moving parts, it’s hard to say what the second base picture will look like come Spring Training. But with a fair amount of organizational depth, it’s nice to see that there are finally some quality options no matter what happens.
Cubs 2015 Position Reviews
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