By Bruce Levine:
(CBS) — A similar sign is posted in many different clubhouses in baseball — “Wanted: a player who can get on base and steal.” The mantra in 2014 baseball and beyond, especially going forward for the Chicago Cubs, is on-base percentage and speed. The only real way to define run production in this post-steroids era is through run producers, RBI men and run scorers, notably those with speed.READ MORE: FBI Seeking Public's Help Finding Devontay Anderson; Feds Say Third Suspect Charged In Killing Of Jaslyn Adams Fled State To Avoid Prosecution
In the case of the Cubs, they appear to have power and RBI bats arriving through the farm system. As to who these sluggers are going to be driving in remains a short-term problem. Top-of-the-order on-base percentage has been supplied most recently from the reincarnated career of Chris Coghlan. After floundering since his Rookie of the Year season in Miami in 2009, Coghlan has been a pleasant surprise for the Cubs this season. A .349 on-base percentage and left-handed bat is always welcome at the top of any lineup. That said, Coghlan isn’t a center fielder, and that alone could eliminate him from starting consideration.
The franchise will have corner outfielders in Jorge Soler and possibly Kris Bryant for the next decade. Finding a guy who has speed and can play center field for at least two seasons should be on the list of priorities for Chicago, until Albert Almora gets more seasoning in the minor leagues. Emilio Bonifacio filled the leadoff role admirably in the first three months of the season. Although only a .312 on-base guy this season, Bonifacio ignited the lineup early on with base hits and stolen bases. After he was traded in July, numerous players have led off. Other than Coghlan, no one has been acceptable in the role. Arismendy Alcantara has the speed but at this juncture not the plate discipline, with .267 on-base percentage and eight steals in 14 attempts.
Ironically, Bonifacio will be a free agent once again this offseason. Would he once again be a nice short-term solution to the Cubs’ obvious need? Bonifacio has stolen 24 bases while getting tossed out eight times. The Cubs have stolen 61 bases as a team, third-lowest in the National League. They have been much worse since Bonifacio was traded. Without Bonifacio’s numbers the Cubs have 47 steals in 81 attempts on the year, a measly 58 percent success rate.READ MORE: Family Of 12-Year-Old Erica Gibson Says Girl Who Accidentally Shot Her Dead In Hazel Crest Had Earlier Posed With Long Gun In Social Media Video
With the young talent being presupposed for Chicago, a top-of-the-order answer would serve many purposes. Most importantly, getting on base and seeing pitches to wear down a starting pitcher will be that player’s main assignments. With a lifetime .322 clip, Bonifacio doesn’t have a great on-base percentage. Yet that number still looks a lot better than the Cubs’ team on-base percentrage of .300 in 2014. The league average is .312.
The top free agent leadoff man will be Denard Span. The Nationals have a $9 million club option or a $500,000 buyout on the productive 31-year-old outfielder, who has a .352 lifetime on-base percentage and would be an ideal short-term sign for the Cubs or any number of clubs.
“You want guys who can lead off a game and get on the sack,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “It does help if you have a guy that can run. It changes the dynamic of the game a little bit. The idea of having somebody who can set the tone is something you would like to have.”MORE NEWS: 'I Was Completely Unaware': Brookfield Homeowner On Apartment Complex Looming Large Over Her House, Obstructing Views
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.