(CBS) The Cardinals’ signing of center fielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year deal on Friday made this official too: The Cubs are in search of a new lead-off hitter.
That’s been on the minds of the team’s front office for weeks, as the Cubs expected Fowler to depart. As it sits now, Chicago has a couple options. The conventional route would be to use infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist or outfielder Jon Jay to lead off. Zobrist has a .358 on-base percentage for his career, while Jay checks in at .352.
A less conventional option? That would be using slugger Kyle Schwarber at the top of the order. It’s an idea the Cubs are discussing internally, general manager Jed Hoyer told the Spiegel and Goff Show on Friday.
“That’s his job, not by job,” Hoyer said, referring to manager Joe Maddon. “But I will tell you this: When we talk about it internally and kind of kick things around, I love that idea. There’s only a handful of guys — maybe more than a handful, maybe a dozen guys in the big leagues — that really make sense as a true lead-off guy. You know, guys that if you get on base can really run the bases and they’re obviously guys that you pencil in at No. 1 every day. I think if you don’t have that kind of player, forcing someone into that role can be really dangerous.
“To me, what I was always taught in baseball was when we started working with Bill James with the Red Sox, the most important part of a lineup is making sure your best hitters hit the most often. You’re only guaranteed to lead off once a game, and the most important thing is having the right guys at the plate the most often. To me, it’s pretty terrifying to think of Schwarber, (Kris Bryant), (Anthony) Rizzo to start the game. That pitcher’s coming out for that first inning, and he knows he’s in trouble right away. And I love that idea, I think it’s intimidating, and I think getting your best hitters up there the most often is the most important part of our strategy.”
Schwarber has a .352 on-base percentage in two MLB seasons, the most recent of which was quite abbreviated as he tore ligaments in his left knee in the third game of the season and sat out until surprisingly returning for the World Series. He’s one of the most prodigious power hitters in all of baseball, as he hit 16 in 232 at-bats in his 2015 rookie season.