Every year there are numerous position battles to look out for. Some of them are obvious. Some not so obvious. Some are shockers.
As the first month of the Major League Baseball season comes to a close, there have been some unusual moments. Ian Happ lost his job and was sent to the minors before the end of spring training. Kevin Pillar was traded just days into the season. Jose Leclerc can’t find the strike zone and when he does, he suffers from gopheritis.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of how some of the early season position battles are playing out, starting with a big question about what the Chicago Cubs are doing at third base.
When it comes to shock value, this battle falls squarely into the most shocking of all, potentially. No one would have expected to be talking about Kris Bryant losing his job on a full-time basis. But his previous foothold on third base is fading and his offensive stats (.230 batting average, .710 OPS, 1 HR and a lot of weak contact). Bryant has started 14 games at third base, but David Bote continues to sneak in more starts (five at third so far and four more at second). In addition, the Cubs appear to have plans for Bote after signing him to a five-year, $15 million contract extension in early April.
While that doesn’t qualify as a major deal it did raise the eyebrow a little bit. The 26-year-old Bote looked like a prototype utility guy, but has started to develop some pop (he hit double-digit home runs in the minors in 2017 and 2018), has improved his OPS and raked in the spring (.442 average and 3 HR). He is also coming up in big moments, the latest being his walk-off single in the ninth on Sunday (and who can forget his walk-off grand slam last season?).
Bottom line, Bote is out-producing Bryant right now. While I’m not predicting a Kris Bryant trade, let’s look at a couple things here that might make you wonder. One, why give Bote any kind of extension if you don’t have future plans for him? While he and Bryant both play multiple positions, their main position is third base. If Bote ends up improving as he has been, it’s safe to say that he should get more playing time. Maybe even progress into a starting position.
Bryant is going on his second straight bad year. In his last 121 games he has hit a combine 14 home runs. Not bad if your name is Yangervis Solarte, but we’re talking about All-World Kris Bryant here. Mix in the fact he irked the Cubs management and front office for not playing through his shoulder injury last year and turned down a $200 million contract offer.
Also, he’s a free agent in 2022 with bully mega-agent Scott Boras representing him. Based on Bryant’s current regression, I would be hard-pressed to pay him big dollars. So again, while I’m not predicting a Bryant trade, I would think that the Cubs would be able to get pretty much any reinforcements they want for this year’s title run if they wanted to do the unthinkable and put Bryant on the block. Yea, it’s the day after 4/20, so maybe my brain is a little cloudy right now, but at least it’s something to think about.