Benchwarmers: Grading the Chicago Cubs' Reserves
With the season beginning in just over a week, there still seem to exist quite a few question marks with your very own Chicago Cubs. It has been rumored today that Samardzija was optioned to Triple A where he will begin the 2009 season.
But what about the bench players and utility men on this 2009 Cubs squad? Here I will take a look at the utility players and evaluate the Chicago Cubs in terms of their depth.
Bako has been a Cub before (2003, 2004) so Cub’s fans know what he brings to the table. The difference this time around is that he will not be counted on as much as he was his first go-around, and also he is 36-years-old as opposed to 30 during his first stint as a Chicago Cub.
Offensively, Bako brings very little to the table and is probably not any improvement over the man he replaced, Henry Blanco. And defensively, while Bako does not commit too many errors, he is certainly not one of the stronger catchers in the game, and he is without a doubt a weaker defensive catcher than Blanco was.
These conclusions lead me to wonder why the front office believed he was an upgrade from Blanco, who is similar in age, and could have been retained for a similar if not less price.
Gathright was certainly an unexpected addition to this Cub’s team that seems to lack speed in terms of on the base-paths. While I believe Gathright will be used primarily in late defensive swaps and as a pinch-runner, his offense over his career has not been too shabby either (.263 average, .328 on-base-percentage).
These are certainly not starter type numbers, but do not be surprised to see this speedster get his fair share of chances and put down some bunt base hits
Miles was really a great addition and one that the Cubs desperately needed. He is a switch hitter who will help mix things up in a righty dominated lineup. In addition, Miles is a big time contact hitter (37 strikeouts in 2008) and can also play good defense.
It is still a big question how the playing time will be split between Miles and Mike Fontenot, but Miles should still get around 300 abs between time at 2B, SS, 3B, and even some outfield playing time.
Johnson will most likely platoon out at center field with Kosuke Fukudome, and it is possible that if Kosuke struggles, Johnson could step into an almost full-time role by as early as June or July.
After a disappointing shortened season in 2007, Johnson was right back to 2006 form last year hitting over .300 and playing tremendous defense as always. There is no reason he shouldn’t replicate his 2008 numbers in 2009, and he is definitely capable of having 400-450 at-bats over the course of the season.
Hoff turned 29 this month, so this will most likely be the defining season of his MLB career. Last year in limited time he hit over .300, slugged over .500 and only really had some problems making contact (24 strikeouts in 3 at-bats).
In the minor leagues, the story was the same, with Hoffpauir tearing through them like it was tee-ball. Derrek Lee’s numbers all around dropped significantly last year, but it is very unlikely Hoff will take over for a Cub icon as well as a guy making over $10 million per year.
It is tough to bench a guy who has shown great success at the major league level, but there are not really any options at this point, especially with the addition of Bradley in right field, and Hoffpauir unable to play any other positions.
Unless Lee struggles tremendously or faces mid-season injuries, I think a trade of Hoffpauir is definitely a possibility, and I think he will find success at the major league level wherever he ends up.
Altogether, the reserves for the Cubs appear to be quite strong. The main weakness spots are a power hitting outfielder; Johnson seems to be the only one capable of hitting over 15 home runs in a complete season, and an offensive catcher, which will hopefully not be needed with Soto's strong offense.
Otherwise, although the bench is certainly not stacked, it appears to be quite sufficient with a lineup like this one.
Overall Cub's Reserves Grade: B+
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