The Cubs are looking at internal solutions and hoping for strength in numbers with Kyle Schwarber sidelined for the rest of the season. Javier Baez could be on deck.
Baez hit in the middle of Triple-A Iowa’s lineup on Monday night, with Cubs manager Joe Maddon saying the organization would like to see him get around 20 or 25 at-bats before joining the big-league club.
That could happen as soon as this week’s opening homestand at Wrigley Field — or once Baez gets his timing down after a left thumb injury prevented him from making the Opening Day roster.
The Cubs plan to move Baez around the infield and the outfield with Iowa, grooming another versatile player to help fill the void with Schwarber awaiting surgery to repair the torn ACL and LCL in his left knee.
That’s how Theo Epstein’s front office built this flexible roster over the years, preparing for worst-case scenarios with a Rookie of the Year who can play third base and all over the outfield (Kris Bryant), an All-Star super-utility guy (Ben Zobrist) and a bullpen stocked with four swingmen (Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, Clayton Richard, Travis Wood).
“Overcoming adversity is really all about character and looking at it the right way,” Epstein said, “instead of sulking and getting down and thinking about what you don’t have. It’s seeing it as an opportunity to overcome something, an opportunity for someone else to step up, an opportunity to really prove your mettle as a club.
“Because injuries are not a variable in this game. They’re a constant. You just don’t know who. You don’t know how long. You don’t know what type of injury. But you know you’re going to have injuries. So if you don’t prepare for them, then shame on you.”
That’s what the Cubs had in mind when they signed Dexter Fowler to a one-year, $13 million contract in late February — or multiple news cycles after the Baltimore Orioles were supposed to be finalizing a three-year, $35 million deal with Maddon’s you-go, we-go leadoff guy/outfielder.
“Dexter’s pretty much been the guy that’s gotten this whole thing rolling,” Maddon said. “We have so many great guys within our support group. It’s obvious with the guys that came in. You’re talking about Jason (Heyward) and ‘Zo’ and what they’ve already done to this particular group.
“These guys (understand) that we can survive. They realize that people are going to have to pick each other up.”
The Cubs also look at Iowa and already think Albert Almora could be a plus defender in center field, with Willson Contreras projected to be a frontline catcher in the big leagues.
As Maddon said: “I really believe you’re going to see a lot of guys (who) are going to come up from the minor leagues and do equally as well (and) surprise a lot of people.”
The Cubs can’t afford to lose Anthony Rizzo, an MVP presence in the middle of their lineup and new clubhouse and a Gold Glove-level defender at first base.
Schwarber’s promotion from the minor leagues helped transform the Cubs into a 97-win team last year. He got a loud ovation when he used a crutch to climb the dugout steps and join his teammates on the field before Monday’s home opener against the Cincinnati Reds.
Maybe the Cubs will have lightning strike again this summer.
“We hate to lose Kyle,” Epstein said. “It changes who we are a little bit, because he’s unique. But we’re built to withstand some injuries and to keep fighting and to have the next guy step up.
“That’s why you have depth. That’s why you have talented players waiting for that opportunity. I think our guys will rise to this challenge.”