The Chicago Cubs are on a stretch of games where they are playing several losing teams. Going back to the last series before the All Star break, the Cubs have played 11 of 20 games against teams who are currently under .500 and have a record of 5-6. That is unacceptable in my mind, and they should be able to rack up the wins against the “cupcakes” in baseball.
Unfortunately, they have not been able to win games, despite getting some pretty good pitching from their starters. The bullpen has blown a couple of games while trying to protect one run leads of low scoring games. Why are they low scoring? Because the Cubs offense is in the middle of a slump that is about two months long. Very rarely do the Cubs add on late in games. The fail time and time again to get insurance runs to give their pitchers a cushion to work with. Someone needs to step up and be that run producer the Cubs need.
One option is Kyle Schwarber. Since coming up to the majors, Schwarber has been a great addition to this offense and has injected life into the offense. The problem is, he is a catcher and catchers cannot catch every day. At very most he would catch only four of five games, with the fifth game obviously being when Jon Lester starts and David Ross catches him. But Joe Maddon has previously stated that Schwarber would not catch Jake Arrieta either. That makes three out of five games that Schwarber can, and likely will catch with Taylor Teagarden being the emergency catcher.
A lot of fans question why Lester needs a personal catcher who is fairly worthless with the bat and why Maddon does not want to let Schwarber catch Arrieta either. With the Cubs needing offense, some fans want this to change rather quickly. Perhaps today Maddon will change his mind and have Schwarber catching Arrieta. Though I am not so sure.
Maddon is big with pitcher & catcher relationships. If a pair is having great communication during games and working well together, he tends to want that to continue if they are having success. Another possible reason Maddon is currently keeping Schwarber away from his top to pitchers is that maybe he is not ready to catch what they are throwing.
Jason Hammels, Kyle Hendricks are good starters, but they do not have the stuff that Lester and Arrieta have. Still learning to be a defensive catcher, he may not be ready to handle the filthy stuff that Lester has, and if he cannot handle that, then he cannot handle Arrieta. Maybe in time he can, but while he is still developing his receiving skills, I would rather not risk that in game.
Of course, the Cubs could experiment with Schwarber playing left field and putting him out there the two games he is not catching. That would keep his bat in the lineup every day, and would move Chris Coghlan to the bench, which would instantly give the Cubs someone who can get the job done late in games. However, playing him in left field may not be in the cards any time soon as the Cubs do not want to overwhelm him and put too much on his plate. Learning to be a defensive catcher at the major league level is tough enough without learning to play a completely different position.
Personally, I think he is best suited sitting on the bench talking to Ross and Cubs catching coach Mike Borzello. I would also rather he spend as much time with them pregame as possible watching and breaking down his catching tape figuring out how to get better rather than shagging balls in the outfield.
See, however bad Ross is with the bat, his value to the team is not with his bat. His defensive catching and clubhouse leadership more than earns his salary. He was not brought here to be an offensive catcher or just to be Lester’s “caddy”. He is turning out to be very valuable and can help teach Schwarber how to be a better catcher. Schwarber can learn a lot by sitting and watching Ross.
Would that be enough to get the Cubs offense jumpstarted? Probably not, the Cubs need a lot more than Schwarber in the lineup if they want to have a dangerous offense. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo along with Addison Russell and Starlin Castro who also need to start producing more as all four are in a prolonged slump, none worse than Castro though.
Perhaps adding a bat from the outside would be the way to go. Who the Cubs eventually acquire (IF they do) remains to be seen, but the smart money is on Ben Zobrist from the Oakland Athletics.
Zobrist and Maddon have a long relationship after their years in Tampa Bay, and Maddon loves the guy. Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer said that the team is looking to add a “super utility guy“. To me, that is as good as saying the Cubs are working on a deal to acquire Zobrist. Over the years, Zobrist has played seven positions mostly for Maddon with the Tampa Bay Rays before being traded this offseason to the Athletics.
Zobrist is not the offensive player he once was, but at age 34 he might still have some gas left in the tank to help bring this lineup together and score some runs. Move him around the diamond giving guys a day off, or simply plant him in left field every day.
Ideally, Schwarber would catch three out of five games with Zobrist in the outfield those two games. If the Cubs wanted to put Schwarber in Left Field when he is not catching, Zobrist could give someone else a day off.
Trading for Zobrist would also likely not cost the Cubs a lot in a trade. A 34 year old rental should not cost too much. But Billy Beane might want more than he is worth in order to get back a little talent for his farm system to replace what he gave away last year, especially with the Cubs involved. I am not sure that Zobrist alone is worth one of the Cubs top prospects like Billy McKinney who the Cubs acquired in a package last year for Jeff Samardzija and Hammels.
I am not even sure if Zobrist would be enough if the kids on the roster do not start hitting more. He may be the best that the Cubs can do though, without emptying the vault for a middle of the order bat.