Cubs

What should LaHair's role be in 2012?

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What should LaHair's role be in 2012?

Where will Prince Fielder sign?

Who cares? The Cubs have their first baseman of the (near) future already.

I mean, don't they?

Bryan LaHair certainly deserves at least a long look for the vacant position. The 29-year-old had a very solid season in 2010, his first year with the Cubs organization. But it was nothing compared to his 2011 (to date).

He absolutely annihilated Triple-A pitching this season and he didn't slow down over his brief stint in the Majors or during the Venezuelan Winter League.

In all (Triple-A, Majors, Winter League), LaHair has hit .311.405.629 in 677 at-bats with 127 runs, 211 hits, 51 doubles, a triple, 54 homers, 143 RBI, 105 walks and 180 strikeouts.

The whiff numbers are a bit high, but you can't argue with that power. Four-hundred-twenty-six total bases in 677 at-bats is just astounding. Those are video game numbers.

Granted, Venezuelan Winter League isn't exactly filled with a bunch of Cy Youngs, but it's no slouch of a league.

LaHair's 2011 Triple-A success netted him a slew of accolades, including the Pacific Coast League MVP, Joe Bauman Home Run Award and a spot on the Baseball America 2011 Minor League All Star team.

He showed the same ability in the brief stint with the big-league club with time at first and 14 games in the outfield.

It's true he could be one of the Cubs' outfielders next year or rotate through first and outfield. But on a team currently without a first baseman, LaHair has the bat to fill that position.

Theo Epstein says he doesn't believe in the "Four-A" players, or guys who are too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the MLB. Given LaHair's numbers, he's too good for Triple-A now. Which means he deserves a shot.

The former 39th round pick of the 2002 draft turned 29 in November, so while he's too old to be considered a prospect, he's still young enough to have at least three full seasons in his physical prime.

The power is for real. The 2012 Cubs are sorely lacking power and the free agent market is sorely lacking in talent at first base -- apart from Fielder, who is still a relative long shot to sign on the North Side because of the financial commitment, and Carlos Pena, who very well may re-sign with the franchise that grew to admire him.

Signing Pena to another "pillow contract" would be a pretty good move, which could slide LaHair in as the backup first baseman and at least a part-time outfielder (if the Cubs deal Soriano, LaHair could get the lion's share of time in left).

Either way, LaHair has proven he deserves a shot and he has the big bopper potential this 2012 Cubs lineup needs.
(numbers are through Tuesday, Dec. 27)

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: