2016 Stats: .188/.290/.310, .222 TAv, -.7 WAR
Why he fits: On the surface, Chris Coghlan looks like he had a horrible 2016 season, but really it was a tale of two seasons for him. Heading into the year, Coghlan became a last minute roster casualty to make room for the signing of Dexter Fowler. After two extremely successful seasons in Chicago in 2014 and 2015, Coghlan got shipped to Oakland in February 2016 for Aaron Brooks. The trade clearly threw him for a loop and his performance reflected it in Oakland. After posting a .167 TAv in Oakland in 172 plate appearances, he was traded to the Cubs in exchange for Arismendy Alcantara. Despite some injuries while in Chicago, Coghlan bounced back and posted a .295 TAv in 128 plate appearances with the Cubs. While some might not put a ton of stock into the soft factors that have to do with baseball, I think we might just have to accept that Coghlan is just more comfortable in Chicago and able to perform at a higher level because of it.
As currently constructed, the outfielders on the Cubs 40 man roster consist of Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Matt Szczur, Jorge Soler and Jacob Hannemann. With Hannemann targeted for the minor leagues, that gives the Cubs five outfielders. With Schwarber a fixture in LF, the Cubs seem like they will have some of rotation between the other four guys in center and right. Three of those four options are right-handed and while Ben Zobrist will certainly play some right field, they could stand to get another left-handed bat off the bench for the outfield. As Ken Rosenthal recently reported, the Cubs are currently looking at left-handed center fielders. While Coghlan isn’t a center fielder, the market is fairly slim at the position, so the better option might be to grab a corner outfielder and use Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, or even Matt Szczur in center.
Why it won’t work: The simple answer here is depth. Like I mentioned before, the Cubs currently have five guys who are primarily outfielders who have a good shot to make the team in Schwarber, Heyward, Soler, Almora and Szczur. In addition to that, Zobrist, Contreras, and Bryant are capable of playing a corner outfield spot. The key to all of this is really Javy Baez. If the Cubs want Baez to get the majority of starts at second base, then Ben Zobrist is likely ticketed for the outfield to get the majority of his playing time. On the other hand, if the Cubs are content with Baez to fill a similar super-utility role as he played this past season, the Cubs might have some room on the roster for another left-handed outfield bat. The development of Baez and his expected role really is really key in determining the makeup of the Cubs bench.
Another worry with Coghlan is that while the overall numbers looked great when he came back to the Cubs, they were a bit inflated by his walk rate. His 17.2% BB rate led to an excellent on-base percentage of .391, but his .388 slugging percentage represented a pretty drastic drop in power. In his first two seasons in Chicago he had a .169 and a .193 ISO, but that number dropped all the way to .136 with the Cubs in 2016. That walk rate isn’t really sustainable, so if the power doesn’t return, Coghlan’s production will likely take a dip next season.
The last thing here is that Coghlan might have to accept a smaller role with the Cubs, but we do know that Coghlan loves Chicago. It wouldn’t be surprising if another team wanted him as the strong side of the platoon in a corner outfield spot, but the Cubs would be wise to build their outfield depth by bringing Coghlan back into the fold. Coghlan might have to forego a little bit of money and a larger role if he comes back to Chicago, but it is a place where he has enjoyed a great deal of success over the past three years.
Alternatives: The Cubs could go one of three different directions if they don’t go after a guy like Coghlan. They can look to pick up a left-handed center fielder, where the options include the likes of Jon Jay, Michael Bourn, Will Venable and Coco Crisp. They could also look at left-handed corner outfield bats like Alejandro de Aza and Matt Joyce. The third option, which might be the most likely, is simply just to stand pat and go into 2017 with the outfielders they currently have on the roster.
Lead photo courtesy of David Richard—USA Today Sports