A (Somewhat Serious) Case for Munenori Kawasaki

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I want Munenori Kawasaki to make the Chicago Cubs in the year 2016.

I can’t believe I wrote that sentence or even entertained that notion in my head. I hate no hit backup middle infielders. Jonathan Herrera‘s presence on the Cubs pained me for most of 2015. It isn’t my fault. I was scarred watching guys like Augie Ojeda, Neifi Perez and Rey Ordonez taking up valuable roster spots that made me fear this type of player. But here I am openly rooting for a terrible hitting middle infielder to make the team.
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He is a fun player. Well maybe not so much on the field as a player, but he certainly could add a spark that Jonathan Herrera seemed to add to the 2015 Cubs. After all Munenori Kawasaki is known as “energy boy.”

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Is there a legitimate baseball reason for Kawasaki to make the team?

There might be a need for another infielder and specifically a player to cover shortstop on this roster. Javier Baez is very clearly the backup shortstop. He might be the best backup shortstop in baseball, but he is also the primary backup for half a dozen positions right now. Ben Zobrist has played shorstop and played it well in the past. But he is also in his mid 30s and is coming off of knee injury. Tommy La Stella is the only other backup infielder likely to make the roster now, but his struggles to stay on the field in a Cub uniform makes his presence on the roster more something spoke of in theory at this point. Adding Kawasaki would free Baez to truly be able to rove all over the diamond if the Cubs suffer some day to day injuries that come up during the long baseball season.

There could be a role for a replacement level player like Kawasaki given the makeup of the roster, but it is hard to make much of a case based on the baseball talents of Munenori Kawasaki. He isn’t a very good major league baseball, but the Cubs are more able to carry a player like this in 2016. The Cubs will have on most days Javier Baez and one of the outfielders resting on the bench. That is two pinch hitters better than what the Cubs carried most of 2015 and maybe ever.

Team chemistry is overrated. Teams don’t have to like each other in order to win, but maybe it was part of the secret sauce that made the 2015 Cubs so successful. There was a role for an equally bad player in the field last year in Herrera. Kawasaki might be worse in the field and at the plate, but he provides a steady veteran presence in the field much the same way Hererra did. He also should fill the same role of wearing the bubble-gum rally cap.

The 2016 Cubs face the highest expectations of any Cubs team. The roster is universally loved by the fanbase, projections and national media. Joe Maddon is the person most responsible for making sure this team plays at its highest possible level, but clubhouse guys can make a difference in this area. Many writers have commented on how the Cubs reacted in their postseason failures of 2003, 2007 and 2008. Drawing conclusions based on a few games is always dangerous, but to completely dismiss the mental angle of the game is wrong. Players like David Ross and Munenori Kawasaki are not as important as Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo, but they could play in a role making sure that the team plays at peak performance levels through the enormous pressure on this team to be the one to end the longest championship drought in sports.

There is something troubling about arguing for Kawasaki to make the team as more mascot than player though. Zach Moser wrote this last week when he talked about the Cubs’ troubling past with “mascots.” The Cubs have a complicated history with race throughout the franchise’s long history. The Cubs were an early entrant in the Pacific Rim market, but Cubs fan reactions to Asian players in this millennium is troubling. Some of the tweets about Kawasaki are pretty cringe worthy to be honest, but as Zach Moser has pointed out himself this is a role Energy Boy has embraced himself. Kawasaki has personal agency in being this team’s mascot. It is not something that the Cubs organization has forced on him.

I’d also being lying if Shohei Otani wasn’t in the back of mind. Otani isn’t going to be posted anytime soon, but Otani should be arriving to MLB sometime after 2019 when the Cubs revenue streams should make them a strong contender for the young ace. Posting works like free agency at this point with Otani almost guaranteed to net the 20 million maximum from a lot of teams. A chance for the Cubs and its fanbase to rehabilitate its image with Japanese players is a good thing. The Cubs have done everything they can, but adding more Japanese players to the history of the club would not hurt. Also a chance for a Japanese player to be embraced as a fan favorite would be a huge positive.

I want Munenori Kawasaki to be part of a magical 2016 Cubs season, but now that I’ve written this I’ve sealed his fate as a cut. After all I am baseball Costanza.

 

UPDATE 4/8 2:27 PM: With Kyle Schwarber injured (still waiting word on extent, but it’s at least an ankle sprain and may include a knee injury), there might be a chance for Kawasaki after all:

Before the regular season, Kawasaki was added to the roster and optioned to Iowa, where he has been quite the fan favorite.  As of now, Kawasaki can yo-yo back and forth with that option year already burned, so this may be his time to shine not just as a would-be mascot, but to back up the infield as well.  We’ll keep an eye on this as it develops.

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