Cubs

Cubs could change the equation with Kris Bryant in left field

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Cubs could change the equation with Kris Bryant in left field

MIAMI — The Cubs insisted moving Kris Bryant to left field shouldn’t be interpreted as a precursor move that sets the stage for a huge shakeup.

But feel free to imagine all the possibilities, the wide-ranging effects if Bryant does shift from third base, what it means in 2015 and beyond.

Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t go there before Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Miami Marlins. But it’s a good thing Bryant packed his outfield glove.

“I almost didn’t bring it this road trip,” Bryant said at Marlins Park. “I haven’t played there in awhile, but I’m excited for it.”

[MORE CUBS: Starlin Castro doesn't worry about the critics]

The Cubs could promote Javier Baez from Triple-A Iowa to strengthen their shaky infield defense and see if his Gary Sheffield bat speed still plays after trying to channel some of that aggressiveness and cut down on all those strikeouts.

The Cubs would also have to figure out what to do with All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro and 21-year-old second baseman Addison Russell.

Does putting Bryant in left field somehow signal the Cubs are convinced elite prospect Kyle Schwarber can be the long-term answer at catcher?

How will all these moving pieces influence the front office’s thinking leading up to the July 31 trade deadline?

[MORE CUBS: Cubs hope ankle injury doesn't force Jorge Soler onto DL]

The Cubs are 27-23 and will be looking to add, but Maddon downplayed the Bryant position switch, rattling off all the factors that went into the decision.

Jorge Soler could be placed on the disabled list with an ankle injury, and that would definitely change the outfield mix, probably creating an opportunity for Junior Lake in right. Maddon also didn’t like the matchup of Chris Coghlan against Marlins lefty Brad Hand and wanted to give utility guy Jonathan Herrera some playing time at third base.

“Honestly, it’s just based on today,” Maddon said. “I just chose to do this. Purely, that’s it.”

But the Cubs are always thinking about tomorrow and what’s coming next. Bryant has some outfield experience, playing center and right at the University of San Diego and getting exposed to left in spring training.

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant right here]

Coghlan’s hitting only .229, but he’s definitely contributing with seven homers, a .739 OPS and five outfield assists, which was tied for second in the National League. It’s also fair to wonder if Bryant would be a defensive upgrade in left field.

Bryant is a team guy who doesn’t seem to care how the dominoes might fall, willing to move wherever, and that’s another factor the Cubs will consider.

“I’m prepared for anything,” Bryant said. “I played all over the field growing up. I think that’s important to have that versatility.

“I’ve said it before: It’s a kid’s game. So (when) you’re a kid playing this game, you play all over the field. That’s what I do. I’m a ballplayer. I’m ready for anything.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.