I had been wondering about this for a few days now, are the Cubs having their doubts about Almora being the everyday center fielder? I went into the off-season assuming it was a lock that he’d be out there, but now I’m not so sure. Heck, I’ve been advocating for him to be playing everyday since August. But there have been a few things to make me hesitate this winter.
First off, the rumors that the Cubs are interested in Lorenzo Cain. Now, I take this, as I do with all of Bruce Levine’s reports, with a grain of salt. But what if it’s true? The rumor is the Cubs have been in contact with Cain’s representatives, hoping to get him on a steal of a deal. Wouldn’t that seem to indicate that confidence is not all that high on where the Cubs stand on the centerfield position? If they were comfortable with the guys they already have on the roster, why would they even bother on checking in on it? I get the point that if you can get him on a cheap deal, in the neighborhood of 3 years, $40 mil, why not pull the trigger, but it also points to them not being sold on Almora as an everyday bat. Like my twitter friend @DartTalk said, maybe they are using this as a way to light a fire under Almora? Get him to push himself a little harder?
Almora made strides in the 2nd half of the season, greatly improving his splits vs righties, but Maddon also carefully picked and chose his spots where he used Almora. There was the hot run he went on in early September, where almost all the at bats came off the bench, but I think a lot of that can be attributed to Joe using him in good situations. Albert finished the year slashing .298/ .338/ .445 with a wRC+ of 103 and an OPS+ of 101. Those numbers say he was slightly better than league average (100 is average), and keep in mind, he was only used in situations that benefited him. Now the numbers don’t look all that impressive.
This leads me to my 2nd point: Happ was assumed to be the guy that would be traded this off-season to bring in talent at a weak position, but it has been Almora that has been mentioned in all of the trade rumors. This makes me wonder if the Cubs front office is more comfortable with Happ in center, despite being the weaker option defensively, since he has the superior bat. Happ got more at bats last season, and he featured much better power numbers. In addition to that, he also played pretty good defense in center, much better than anyone expected. Almora’s biggest attribute has always been his defensive abilities, but they aren’t as strong as once thought. He doesn’t have a lot of speed, and he relies on getting great jumps and reads on the ball. He has done this pretty successfully, but I think he would be better suited as a corner outfielder in the long-term, and the cubs have those spots pretty much locked down with Heyward (don’t give me any grief for that) and a slimmed down Schwarber. With Happ’s ability to play pretty much anywhere on the field, he just seems to be the better fit for this team.
All in all, I think Almora will be a good major leaguer with a long career ahead of him. This off-season has just given me doubts about whether that career will be with the Cubs. I threw up a poll on twitter yesterday, and 92% of voters said they were comfortable with Almora being the center fielder of the future, so what do I know.