My kids love Legos. And every Lego set they get comes with a bunch of tiny spare parts. Like little red circles and random connective bars and maybe a flower or two. "What the hell," I wonder, "am I supposed to do with these?" Invariably, they go in a shoebox and get forgotten about. But these are the pieces that are most easily lost and, every so often, I have to go to the shoebox to get a replacement for the tiny flower that's supposed to go on Cinderella's castle or the laser that's supposed to be on the Imperial Star Destroyer. You never know what to do with depth until you need it.
After the Cubs reacquired Dexter Fowler in March, there was rampant speculation that they would trade Jorge Soler for starting pitching. He was, after all, a spare part; the Cubs had four starting-caliber outfielders, and it seemed like a waste of resources to keep Soler on the bench. It also, frankly, seemed unfair. Here's a young guy who is good enough to start, who did fine (.262/.324/.399) in 400 plate appearances as a 23 year old last year, but who was getting squeezed out. It also presumably wouldn't help his development. Chicago also had Javier Baez in the fold, and then went out and signed Shane Victorino to a minor league deal, increasing their depth even further.
There were rumors about the Cubs shipping him to Cleveland, as part of a deal to get Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco. The Rays were discussed at one point. But nothing happened. The Cubs sat on their prospect. We were baffled. Why wouldn't the Cubs be trying to maximize the value of the players they had on hand. Was this a missed opportunity? Apparently not.
Last night, Kyle Schwarber and Dexter Fowler ran into one another. It looked ugly when it happened, and even uglier in the immediate aftermath, as Schwarber was then carted off of the field holding his leg:
Reports today confirm that he did not break any bones, but the Cubs are still worried about the youngster, according to Buster Olney:
A lot of concern within the Cubs organization today about Kyle Schwarber's injury, and there is more concern about his knee than his ankle.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 8, 2016
If he has a tear, he'll be out for months. If it's a sprain, a couple weeks. Either way, with Schwarber out, and Javier Baez still on the DL, Soler will step back into the lineup. Now, Schwarber's a fantastic hitter, better than Soler. As a rookie, he hit .246/.355/.487 and demonstrated pretty amazing power. But he doesn't help in the field, and the Cubs will barely miss a beat in the short term by handing the reins over.
We spend so much time every offseason worrying about where all the pieces are going to fit that we don't properly appreciate the depth clubs need over the course of 162 games. Having a 24 year old who can at least provide league average offense, and who has significantly more upside, hanging around isn't a nuisance. It's a luxury. And the Cubs' front office didn't receive nearly enough credit for holding onto Soler just in case this very thing happened.