Bryan LaHair hit about as dramatic a home run as a non-contender can have hit on their behalf Tuesday night, helping the Chicago Cubs reach extra innings by launching a two-out, two-run bomb to tie the score at 2-2. Entering the frame, Chicago had managed just one hit off Cincinnati Reds starter Mike Leake all night.
LaHair also recently won the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) MVP award, after clubbing 38 homers during their shorter season. His power tool is well clear of average; of that there is no doubt. Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune highlighted the issue of whether or not LaHair deserves a chance to play in 2012 in a piece Tuesday. He is not the first.
I find no fault with either man's logic, and indeed, neither goes so far as to declare starting LaHair to be unequivocally correct. I offer only two words of caution: Micah Hoffpauir.
Hoffpauir was a beast at around the same age as LaHair, destroying Triple-A pitching much as LaHair did this season. Hoffpauir smashed his way to a .917 OPS there at age 27 in 2007, then got even better—a 1.145 OPS—at age 28 in 2008. At the end of that second season, he came to the Cubs (a team with similarly little to play for, although for very different reasons) and posted a .934 OPS in 80 plate appearances. At the time, I called for the team to trade Derrek Lee and line up Hoffpauir at first base in 2009.
Jim Hendry, heeding me not at all, retained Lee, and thank goodness. Lee went on to hit 35 homers and attain a .972 OPS in 2009. In an expanded role as a pinch-hitter and part-time outfielder, Hoffpauir managed a .727 OPS. He was never as good again.
LaHair is a similar case. Like Hoffpauir, he is not the canned, central-casting old minor leaguer dominating young ones. Both men used late-coming swing adjustments to effect part of their breakouts. LaHair came to the Cubs in 2010, whereupon (at age 27) he slashed to a .942 OPS. At age 28 this year, his minor-league OPS was 1.070. In his brief action thus far, he has that home run and eight total bases in nine at bats.
LaHair simply is not going to be much better than was Hoffpauir. Promoting him to any substantial role in 2012 would demonstrate poor institutional memory. The Cubs need to focus on the six or seven more intelligent options (Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez, Logan Morrison and Yonder Alonso, plus possibly Alfonso Soriano in the right situation—in no special order) available in the transaction markets or in-house this winter.