I like Bryan LaHair and would not mind if the Cubs decided to keep him. But would the Cubs deciding to keep him delay Anthony Rizzo’s call-up?
I believe, yes. A prospect like Rizzo deserves to play every day, not sparingly.
We all know when Rizzo is called up he will be the Cubs' first baseman. That leaves LaHair as the odd man out– or the even man out since he would be option No. 2 of 2.
If both Rizzo and LaHair are on the big league roster together, then one of them will have to change positions. That would most likely be LaHair.
That is why I believe the Cubs should delay calling up Rizzo until mid-August or September if they decide to keep LaHair.
But where to would they move LaHair? Third? The outfield?
We all know Ian Stewart is not a long-term solution at third. However, in a previous article I mentioned that could be the future position of Javier Baez. Given LaHair’s advanced age (29), by the time the Cubs call up Baez to play third, LaHair may no longer be relevant to the club.
That being said, it is not easy to learn how to play the hot corner, especially for someone coming from the other side of the diamond. Famed baseball author, historian and pioneer of sabermetrics, Bill James, has ranked the positions by their defensive difficulty, with third base being ranked sixth and first ranked ninth.
While there have been many players moving from other positions to third—second, short, catcher—you would be hard pressed to find one of note that has moved from first to third without having ever played the position (Miguel Cabrera went from third to first, then back to third). So, moving LaHair to third in order to give Rizzo playing time is not a serious option.
There is the more likely option of moving LaHair to the outfield; but not midseason I hope. And since the Cubs are not likely to sit $18 million, right or center are the more likely destinations—albeit left would be the preferred spot for a player not familiar with the outfield.
And since playing center requires speed and overall better defensive capabilities than right or left, that position seems unlikely as well.
Where does that leave us? Right. Right?
If they decide to move LaHair to right, most Cubs followers would prefer giving him a few games at the end of the season to learn how to play outfield at Wrigley Field rather than throwing him out there in June or July to make room for Anthony Rizzo at first.
One corner outfielder as a defensive liability is enough for this fan.
It’s one thing to learn to play the outfield when that is not a player’s natural position, but it’s another when that new outfield position is at Wrigley.
Now, remember this article is predicated on the Cubs keeping Bryan LaHair rather than trading him this season.
Barring injury, I do not see Anthony Rizzo being called up until after the All-Star break at the earliest for spot play, and possibly not until September for a permanent place on the Cubs' roster. The Cubs could choose to play LaHair in right and Rizzo at first twice or so per week, then building through the summer their number of appearances before moving them permanently to those positions by season’s end.
However, my belief is a prospect as talented and highly regarded as Rizzo would be better off given an everyday spot on the roster ASAP instead of using him sparingly through the summer and fall.
Every baseball observer knows the Cubs are in the midst of major rebuilding, but playing LaHair in right too much in 2012 would sacrifice the offseason signing of David DeJesus. Rotating LaHair between first and right, Rizzo playing one day then off for three, DeJesus cycling between right and center, Campana\Johnson in center never knowing when they are going to play—all of that would be detrimental to the club.
Furthermore, the time given to Rizzo to play first base at the tail end of the season would also give a great opportunity for LaHair to gain outfield experience at the wind tunnel that is Wrigley Field before entering into a full offseason of transitioning to a permanent position in right.
The Cubs could then utilize the 2012 offseason to remedy their 2013 lineup woes. They could move LaHair to right, designate DeJesus as the primary center fielder with Campana as a utility outfielder and let go of Reed Johnson, then begin preparation for Rizzo as the everyday first baseman.
The possibilities and hypotheses are many, and the confusion rampant on what the Cubs could, should, and would do when Rizzo is called up. There are so many, if printed out they would equal the size of a doctoral dissertation.
Whatever the club decides to do, it will be interesting to see what the Cubs lineup looks like come the time Anthony Rizzo is promoted to the North Side for good.