I figured that Valbuena would have a pretty good OBP, but he has been on a tear lately and so while I wasn’t paying attention, his batting average shot up and despite striking out in his last at-bat, hes OPSing .850 in a part-time role. As Cubs fans we are familiar with his plate discipline and his ability to grind out a long at-bat; before tonight, he was just behind Anthony Rizzo in pitches per plate appearance at 4.10 pitches/PA. He came in for a struggling Mike Olt last night to hit a go-ahead double, and with Olt OPSing under .600 now, Valbuena is cementing his place into the everyday lineup at Olt’s expense. I would argue that Valbuena more than deserves it.
And now we have to wonder what the Cubs will do with Valbuena, who has two more years of arbitration eligibility after this season. He’ll likely get a hefty raise for his age 29 season in 2015, and has proven that he can be valuable as either a starter or a pinch-hitter. He can play second and third base competently and could probably stand at shortstop every now and then. Hell, he was tabbed the emergency catcher behind John Baker and Eli Whiteside. The plate discipline, the club control and the defensive versatility make Valbuena a very intriguing commodity.
But I’m going to argue that the Cubs keep him around. Valbuena provides the kind of veteran presence that the Cubs prospects need as they graduate to the major league level. Currently I would suggest that the Cubs make Valbuena the every day second baseman and just ride Mike Olt at the hot corner, slumps be damned. But later on, as Olt and/or other infield prospects come into their own, Valbuena would be an incredible weapon off the bench.
Imagine a guy who can get on base over 33% of the time (his average as a Cub) pinch-hitting in a high-leverage situation, and who can then plug in to at least two different infield spots on defense to give the manager multiple options later in the game. Ideally you would see Javier Baez/Kris Bryant/Mike Olt/Christian Villanueva (whichever one the Cubs decide to stick there) at third base, Starlin Castro (rejuvenated!) at shortstop, Arismendy Alcantara/Javier Baez at second, and Anthony Rizzo at first. Now imagine having Luis Valbuena as a backup for two or three of those positions and not having too much of a drop off in offense. I feel like that’s got to have some value for the team, though I’m not entirely sure right now what the Cubs could get in trade for Valbuena.
Any way they decide it, Valbuena has certainly proven to be valuable and I don’t mind him sticking around on the Cubs for a while. Even if his batting average comes back down to earth, he can still give pitchers fits and the batflips are always entertaining.