SAN DIEGO — The talking heads on MLB Network ran through a segment on the Cubs that spelled it out with a “SHAKE IT UP” on-screen graphic: Call up Javier Baez, make him your third baseman and shift Kris Bryant to left field.
Starlin Castro didn’t look up from his phone on Wednesday afternoon, relaxing in a leather chair with his feet up on a table in the middle of Petco Park’s visiting clubhouse. Addison Russell didn’t seem to be paying attention to the TVs either, standing by his locker and getting ready for batting practice.
The Cubs are approaching potential franchise-altering decisions that will involve their All-Star shortstop and converted second baseman. Promoting Baez from Triple-A Iowa could shore up their infield defense, while moving Bryant to the outfield could generate more production out of an important corner spot.
“Those are possibilities,” manager Joe Maddon admitted before downplaying those scenarios.
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The night before, Bryant, Castro and Russell combined for three errors that led to three unearned runs in a 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. Baez has a take-charge personality on the field that makes it hard to imagine him not yelling for that pop-up in shallow center that bounced out of Russell’s glove.
In a game the Cubs felt they should have won, left fielder Chris Coghlan absolutely crushed two balls off James Shields and Craig Kimbrel, showing signs that maybe he’s about to get hot after those two home runs.
“I know his batting average (.205) isn’t high, but who’s hit the ball harder with worse luck than he has this year?” Maddon said. “You got to look through that surface stuff. I think Coghlan’s had a pretty nice year so far. He’s been unlucky, man. That guy’s hit line drives that have been caught and even if, say, four of them had fallen ... he’s probably hitting about .240 or .250 and everybody’s happy.
“I like depth in a long season. I don’t like pushing or pressing people to get here before it’s their time or before it’s really absolutely the necessary time to do it.
“Right now, Javy’s taking care of business. It’s great. I like him a lot. He’s going to be a really good major-league player. But I also like what’s going on here a lot, too.”
Coghlan has pretty much seen it all after becoming the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year with the Florida Marlins. He got injured, got released, signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs and put up an .804 OPS during last year’s bounce-back season.
“I’ve played enough years that the average only matters at the end,” said Coghlan, who does have six homers and a .705 OPS. “The numbers are up there, and it looks bad. Trust me, I know that it’s not good. But that’s why they call it an average at the end of the year.
“I don’t care what I’m hitting. I could be hitting .400 right now — and I finish the year at .190. I mean, .190’s the only one that matters, not .400 the first two months.
“So every day you just look to grind out some at-bats, man, and hit the ball hard. Obviously, the harder you hit it, the better chance you have for it to fall. I feel like my numbers definitely don’t show or reflect the way that I’ve hit the ball. And in the long run, it will.”
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Maddon tried but couldn’t convince Theo Epstein’s front office to put Baez on the Opening Night roster. The Cubs have Baez focusing on shortstop and second base at Iowa — where he’s hitting .308 with an .823 OPS this month — after he took an extended leave of absence in April to deal with the death of his younger sister.
“Javy can make any defense better,” Maddon said. “I talked about that in camp: I thought he was one of the finest young infielders I’ve seen. But I’m not displeased with anybody out there right now, either. Sometimes, you just got to wait for your opportunity.
“I hear that he is doing well. That’s good when you get thick and you have that kind of depth coming, because something’s going to happen. It always does. I hate to say it, but it does. And I’ve talked about how baseball has a cruel way of answering its own questions.
“Right now, from Javy’s perspective, the biggest thing he has to do is to stay ready.”