PITTSBURGH — The Cubs didn’t option out Jeimer Candelario so that they could showcase him in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and ramp up the speculation leading into the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
Major League Baseball had already found a replacement for Candelario, who made his earlier-than-anticipated big-league debut Fourth of July weekend against the New York Mets and Noah Syndergaard’s 100-mph heat.
The Cubs wanted a different presence, and they got it by calling up infielder Munenori Kawasaki from Triple-A Iowa before Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Kawasaki bowed to reporters in the clubhouse and wore an oxygen mask that looked like something out of “The Silence of the Lambs.” When Fox Sports broadcaster CJ Nitkowski, an old teammate in Japan, asked how his English is now, Kawasaki replied: “Horses---.”
“It’s the experience factor,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You can see that Candy probably needs a little bit more seasoning at this point. And that’s fine. I love the kid. I think he’s going to be a very, very good player.”
The question is: Where?
It’s hard to see Candelario breaking through the layers of position players already established with the Cubs, making him an interesting trade chip this summer. As a corner infielder, Candelario will be blocked by All-Stars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who together could be middle-of-the-order hitters here through the 2021 season, and the Cubs will have more moving parts with Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber.
“Just by being here, that’s going to help a lot,” Maddon said after watching Candelario go 1-for-11 with two walks and five strikeouts during his first week in The Show. “He went from Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues already this year, so that’s a lot of movement.
“What he did here now — got a couple at-bats, played some defense, made a couple plays, was in a big-league clubhouse — all that stuff counts.
“How far away is he? I would say ... go back to Triple-A, kill Triple-A for a bit, he’s not far off. He’s somebody that may be able to help you by the end of the season with a good run on his part.
“Just getting to know him, I think the most important thing was that he saw this and felt this. I don’t think he will be as impressed with it the next time.”
Here are some selling points if the Cubs need to buy pitching: Candelario is a switch-hitter who put up a 1.052 OPS through his first 25 games at the Triple-A level. He has been an Arizona Fall League Rising Star. He has a reputation as a good defensive third baseman. He is bilingual after splitting his childhood between New York and the Dominican Republic. His father pitched in the minors for the Houston Astros. He is still only 22 years old.
“He’s really talented,” Maddon said. “I love his swing. He’s a calm kid. We just thought it was wise to get him back out and go play.”