As the Chicago Cubs retool for the 2017-2018 season, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have made it clear that they will have to be creative in their efforts to bolster the Cubs’ current roster. The Cubs’ outfield depth has caused a logjam the last few years, but there may be space freed up soon as Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, and even the albatross of Jason Heyward and his massive contract may all be in play for possible trades this offseason.
If the Cubs were able to move one or more of those players in a deal, likely for starting pitching, there will be spots available in the outfield to be had. A player who could be available to fill one of those spots could be one of Epstein’s former first-round picks Jackie Bradley Jr.
Position: Center Field
2017 Stats: Hit .245/.323/.402, 39 XBH (17 HR), 63 RBI, .726 OPS, 90 wRC+, .257 TAv
How he fits:
Epstein drafted Bradley Jr. back in 2011 when he was the general manager of the Red Sox. Boston expected him to be their star center fielder of the future, but it didn’t go smoothly at first. JBJ bounced between Triple-A and the majors for three seasons before finally sticking around in 2015.
Bradley Jr. showed he belonged in the big leagues when he broke out in 2015 and 2016. The former University of South Carolina star tapped into his power potential, hitting 10 home runs in ’15 (123 wRC+) and a career-high 26 (119 wRC+) in ’16.
So where do the Cubs come in?
Bradley’s ability to hit for some power from the left side would add balance to the lineup and lengthen the middle-to-lower- third of the order. He’s also been one of the best defensive outfielders in the game and would fit perfectly alongside Heyward in center field. If the Cubs were somehow able to get out from under Heyward’s contract, which I doubt, JBJ could easily slide to right field and be gold glove caliber there as well.
While Bradley’s numbers were down in 2017, reuniting with former Red Sox, now Cubs, hitting coach Chilli Davis, who helped unlock some of his potential in Boston could be beneficial.
The Cubs would have to have to part ways with their long-time prized control of Schwarber. We have known for a while that he would likely end up in the American League, due to his lack of defensive prowess, and this might not help only the Cubs, but Schwarber as well.
Boston Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski is notorious for making splashy moves and has already had his fair share of hits and misses during his brief time in Beantown. I don’t doubt that Dombrowski, like Epstein, would see the .950 OPS and 40 home run potential in Schwarber. The thought of Schwarber hitting in American League East ballparks would make any general manager worth his salt salivate. Schwarber also put together a decent second half, posting a .903 OPS with 18 homers after returning from his demotion.
There would be serious value in Boston making this move. Not too long ago, Schwarber was an untouchable just like Kris Bryant, and due to failed defensive experiments, positional logjams, struggles in 2017, and the need for starting pitching, there may not be a best possible time better time to make this move.
Schwarber’s first half of 2017 was so bad that it makes determining his value a bit difficult. He’s still 24 years old, and 2017 was just his first full season after missing the entire 2016 season. If there was one thing that could keep this move from happening it would be the Cubs being unable to part with Schwarber due to his upside. Epstein’s love for Schwarber has been well-documented, even referring to his 2014 first round pick as “Babe ‘effin Ruth”. Logically, there’s no way Schwarber fits with the Cubs long term. He’s not a catcher, he’s definitely not an outfielder and the front office may realize that he might have to be someone else’s “Sultan of Swat”.
From Boston’s perspective, Bradley Jr.’s value may be worth more on the trade market and could net them something more attractive than the potential of Schwarber. The “Killer B’s” outfield of Bradley Jr., Andrew Benetendi, and Mookie Betts is one of the best in baseball and breaking that up would take the right deal and while Dombrowski loves to make deals, it may not be the Chris Sale, David Price, or Craig Kimbrel move he’s accustomed to.
There are several players who could be alternatives to JBJ. The best, and unfortunately for the Cubs, most expensive option would be to acquire Miami Marlins center fielder Christian Yelich. This would likely cost a combination of Javier Baez, Addison Russell, or Happ in addition to Schwarber. A more realistic option would be Philidelphia Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera. Herrera had two big seasons in 2015 and 2016 earning himself a nice payday in the process. The former Rule 5 pick didn’t play poorly in 2017, but the attention shifted to No. 1 prospect Nick Williams, who played well in his first taste of big league action. Even though Herrera is just 25, Williams is the Philles’ center fielder of the future, which could force him out of a job. Herrera would be a perfect fit atop the Cubs’ lineup. Or, of course, they could stay the course with the still-promising Almora Jr. in centerfield for 2018.
Lead photo courtesy Bob DeChiara—USA Today Sports