The youth wave in Chicago is finally starting to arrive, with Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara being just the first two. In fact, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Addison Russell all are anticipated to make their debut some time in 2015 (or sooner), and guys like Albert Almora, Billy McKinney, and C.J. Edwards aren’t far behind.
Soon enough the Chicago Cubs will be, on paper at least, a formidable competitor. Yes, I can say that again! It’s been so long, but, hey, the longer the wait, the sweeter it tastes, right? Cubs supporters are, predictably, elated about their team’s future, and with good reason. It seems perfect; their patience is about to be rewarded by Theo Epstein’s genius. It’s a win for everyone, correct? Well, actually, the answer to that is no. Because, unfortunately, the influx of talented youngsters means Luis Valbuena‘s end as a Chicago Cub is looming.
It’s unfair because he’s been one of their only bright spots over the past few years, yet once Bryant is ready to go, which should be fairly soon, Valbuena’s position as the Cubs’ hot corner man will be taken over by Bryant for the foreseeable future. Luckily, Valbuena is a versatile man, and can and has played more than one position, however, Russell and Starlin Castro likely will occupy the middle infield for a while, so that rules out the possibility of him sliding into another infield position — unless he plans on taking over first base, a position he hasn’t played at the major-league level, from All-Star Anthony Rizzo.
Moving onto the outfield — a place he has only logged 15 and 1/3 innings in the bigs — as a possible destination once the youth arrives. First off, there’s no way he’ll ever play center field given his skill-set, so let’s dismiss that “option.” He could very well occupy a corner outfield spot, but I’m guessing the Cubs find moving Baez to one of those more appealing based on his offensive aptitude. Finally, this leaves us with one possible position in the outfield for Soler, Almora, and McKinney to fight over.
There’s just no realistic way they can find him regular playing time, and he’s too good to be an occasional role player. If you disagree with that statement, check out these numbers over the past three years.
2012 (303 plate appearances): .310 OBP, .340 SLG, 77 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR
2013 (391 plate appearances): .331 OBP, .378 SLG, 96 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR
2014 (421 plate appearances): .321 OBP, .422 SLG, 1o6 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR (projected by ZIPS to finish with a 2.2 fWAR)
He’s an above-average offensive player for the first time this season, but I don’t believe it’s an aberration considering his .285 BABIP. That said, from a defensive perspective he’s always been above-average, although, an argument could be made he’s a borderline terrific defender.
The right thing to do would be to trade him this offseason, as Valbuena is under team-control until 2017, and can be used as trade bait to lure an impact starter from a team because the Cubs could use some help in that department.
Upon completion of this article, the news that Jorge Soler is being called up to the club Wednesday had just broke.