(Cue John Fogerty)
With fieldfield as a need position and without the funds to buy back Nicholas Castellanos, thus forcing Jason Heyward back in the middle, the Cubs are probably open to several possibilities. None of their main options as it stands - Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ - really jumps out of the page and shouts for a daily role, and the Cubs are not going to suddenly distribute their first guaranteed MLB contract of the winter to a free agent capable of taking a regular place in the programming.
Enter Bryant, who has played a lot on the field during his baseball life. Hell, her old man played there during the day and could offer a little defensive guardianship in addition to the extensive father-son cage work for which the Bryants are known.
Before I start here, I want to recognize how tricky this situation is when you take into account all of the different pieces. It’s like a sliding tile puzzle by M.C. Escher Relativity, the famous lithograph with seven different staircases subjected to three distinct sources of gravity. In other words, there is no simple solution in which one movement does not impact many others.
The first and most obvious aspect of all of this is whether playing Bryant at the center as something other than a gadget is really a viable option. I will never forget the first time I saw him patrolling the center like a big leaguer, mainly because I was watching the game with the man Bryant had replaced in the third goal less than a week earlier.
Bryant actually started in the center of the next game and then moved to the left for the first time after that, but ended up playing just 98 innings in the outside field as a rookie. Only 18 of them came to the center, and this aforementioned departure was the only one he has made there this season. The balance of his playing time changed radically in 2016 Kyle SchwarberThe early injury left the Cubs in need of help to the left.
Bryant ended up making 48 starts and played 75 times in the field during his MVP campaign, although he only played one run in the middle. But since transferring twice for a total of six innings in 2017, he has seen no action in the middle of the grass. So, since there is no recent data and very little overall experience from which to draw many conclusions, we will have fun with small samples.
If we ignore the idea that defensive measures are far from panoptical even if they are given enough time to stabilize, it is at least a little interesting that Bryant's 28.3 UZR / 150 in the center is by far the best at any position. The -7.7 he placed on the right is actually his worst by a large margin, so this is something to consider for those who think it would be a good idea to put it right with Jason Heyward in the center .
While we are already working with circumstantial and / or anecdotal evidence, what do you think of the idea that Wrigley Field is not the most difficult park in the world to play at the center. A defensive player with strong instincts can play very well, but the relatively comfortable dimensions mean that a decent athlete can compensate for inexperience and some bad jumps. I mean, just look Dexter fowler.
Before coming to Chicago, Fowler had never posted a better than -4.3 UZR in a full season and had an average of -8.63 over six seasons. Adjustments to positioning helped, but playing Wrigley was much easier than patrolling more cavernous areas in Denver and Houston, and Fowler posted -3 UZR over two years. Didn't you know, he was back at -7.4 in his first season in St. Louis. The 0.2 that he put in place in 2016 marks the only time he has been positive in the center for more than 377 innings played.
While it is unfair to compare a guy who has played his entire career in this position with a guy who has less than three full games of experience there, the fact is that the center is a little more forgiving in Wrigley. That means Bryant would probably be fine there, especially with those long strides munching on the floor and Heyward flanking him to the right. Ah, but it’s far from the only thing that matters here.
Even if Bryant can play skillfully at the center, which I think he can, the question is whether he can play him more competently than a combination of Happ and Almora. Or, more precisely, if the programming is optimized by playing Bryant in center and installing David Bote as the third basic player every day. We could go further and say it depends on whether you prefer to have Bote or Happ as your regular entry.
Things get really interesting when you launch Nico Hoerner in the mix, because he could actually play in the second or center. If not part of the spring squad, it seems likely that Bote will manage the right side of the inside field with Bryant in the third and a peloton in the center. If Hoerner is in place, however, he plans to play the supporting role for most and will move if necessary. So we come back to Happ or Bote.
If I were given the opportunity to write the line-up, I would have Happ as a main defensive player with Bryant in the third and Hoerner in the second. Bote would serve as an inner depth and I would like to see him do a little run in the outer field so that it can become something like Ben zobrist Lightweight. Happ is best suited for this from a defensive standpoint, so maybe you'd rather see him in this role. Anyway, I'm leaning away from Bryant in the center.
If what Levine heard is correct, however, the Cubs can lean the other way. Or is it just a little smoke as they seek to conceal their intentions and increase the perceived value of Bryant? I guarantee you can find people ready to go up and die on every hill presented here, as well as those I didn't want or couldn't approach. If you don't believe me, stay and watch the comments on the site or on our Facebook page.
Wait, no, it would be unreasonable for me to encourage you to wade through this last abyss of despair. My argument, if there really is one, is that this situation is neither static nor obvious and that much remains to be understood. As if Bryant is even going to be there in 2020. If they can't find the right deal to move him to another team, the spring training parties should tell us if moving him to a new position is really around.