By Matt Abbatacola-
CHICAGO (WSCR) — The final month of the season begins for the Cubs with a six-game home stand against division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Chicago is in fifth place in the NL Central with a record of 59-78. To say that the Cubs have had a disappointing year is quite an understatement. Even with the sixth highest payroll in MLB, the Cubs will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Outside of the play and development of Starlin Castro, there isn’t much that I can say has been positive about the 2011 season.
So, it would to seem to make sense that the Cubs would “see what they have” in the minor leagues with the expansion of the roster to 40 players. Today, they added infielder, Bryan LaHair, to their roster.
LaHair was named the 2011 Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player after leading all of minor league baseball with 38 home runs. He hit .331 with 109 RBI and 91 runs scored.
The 28 year-old 39th round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners was a no-brainer to join the big league club in September.
The Iowa Cubs first baseman was taking outfield practice with third base coach, Ivan DeJesus, as his new teammates were taking BP. Why? LaHair will be asked to play a corner outfield spot for the Cubs as well as sub at first base for Carlos Pena.
Doesn’t make sense to you?
“We’ll see how we can mix him in here”, said Mike Quade. “We’ll pick a game here and there for Bry there (at first base).
Make the most of September call-ups, right?
“He’s played some outfield. We asked him to do a little bit of that. So, maybe we give Sori a day. We’ll mix and match because with him and Colvin and the rest of it – it’s not something where he’s going to play everyday, but he’ll get some opportunities. Obviously, we’ll use him off the bench.”
Are you angry yet? Are you thinking to yourself that every kid should be called up and play everyday?
It’s not that simple.
I don’t know what type of future that LaHair has at the major league level. Even Quade said that “history may work against him” when it comes to finding success in the majors after so many years in the minors. Yet the ever so optimistic Quade said, “never say never”.
It would seem to make sense though that LaHair plays everyday at first base and Pena gets the “a game here and there” treatment for the remainder of the 2011 season. LaHair may be a bust at the major league level, but why not find out for sure?
The answer – Mike Quade wants to and needs to win games. The emphasis for the final 25 games of the 2011 season is win as many games as possible. He will play the players that give him the best chance to win at the major league level – those players are his veterans.
“We’ll look for those opportunities (to play September call-ups), but it’ll be mixing and matching. I still think the experience here – whatever it is – is valuable to all of them, however they’re used”, explained Quade.
“We’ll try to keep them involved the best that we can. I would argue that any experience at this level – whether it’s coming off the bench, whether it’s getting starts, whatever the case might be, it’s got to help you down the road. Who knows what your role’s going to be down the road.”
It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
What if winning in 2012 means playing more minor leaguers in 2011? It’s a hard balance to find between winning and developing young (or in LaHair’s case older) talent.
It would be interesting to see and possibly ugly to watch if Tom Ricketts told Quade to play the “call-ups” everyday.
It isn’t always that simple though.
Take Brett Jackson, the Cubs first round pick in 2009 and CF for the Iowa Cubs, for example. In 46 games at Iowa, he’s hitting .305 with 9 home runs and 25 RBI. He has great speed and plays a solid center field. He seems like an ideal guy to call-up and get some playing time with the big club. Yet, the Cubs may not be inclined to do so.
First, if he’s called up, his service time at the major league level would begin. Second, a minor league player only has three option years before another team can claim him if there’s consistent movement between the minors and the 40-man roster. Third, the Cubs may be trying to move Marlon Byrd and not playing for the remainder of the season would devalue him on the trade market.
With one spot left on the 40-man roster, I don’t expect to see Jackson here on Tuesday after the Triple-A season ends.