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Cubs Mailbag: Baez, Harper, and the search for a leadoff man

Welcome to the latest edition of the Cubs mailbag!
We’ll be answering your burning Cubs questions once a week throughout the offseason, so stay tuned to @NBCSCubs, where we’ll be prompting you for your questions every week.
As the MLB GM meetings wrap up this week in California, we’re addressing Javy Baez losing out on a Gold Glove, the potential for the Cubs to move some payroll around in order to pursue Bryce Harper, and some prototypical leadoff hitters that could be available on the market this offseason.

I’m sure LeMahieu had a great season but how did Baez not win a gold glove?
-Brian (@brianbhmd)

One day, Brian, the baseball world may honor Javier Baez and those few rare players who have an insane ability to defend multiple positions…but this year was not the year.  Those who watch Baez, a human highlight reel, on a consistent basis would easily hand the Gold Glove over based on the human eye test, but that’s not how Rawlings determines the winner.  

The Gold Glove recipients were determined by a combination of votes submitted by Major League managers and coaches, and a sabermetric index provided by SABR.  Without going into too much detail, DJ LeMahieu led all NL defenders in the SABR Defensive Index in 2018.  LeMahieu started 127 games at second, had a .993 fielding percentage and an .859 zone rating while Baez made 75 starts at second with a .984 fielding percentage & .761 zone rating.  

If it’s any consolation Brian, with or without hardware, you still get to watch Baez show off all over the field for your Cubs.

Are we going to try and move Schwarber, Happ, Russell to sign Harper or try and go after another pitching ace?
-Chi-town-Hustler (@dachitownhustlr)

So here’s the deal Chi-town-Hustler, moving Schwarber, Happ, or Russell doesn’t really change or assist in the financial commitment it would take for the Cubs to land Harper (who reportedly turned down $300 million over 10 years from the Nats.)  Baller Bryce is gonna get PAID, plain and simple.  And, as you likely know, the biggest obstacle in pursuing one of the biggest free agents this offseason is the Northsiders’ payroll that was the third-highest in MLB on Opening Day last year at $181 million.  Does moving one of those aforementioned players open up an outfield spot? Sure, but again, this is about the Benjamins…and lots of them.  That’s not to say that Theo & Co. won’t try to get creative and shed some payroll numbers, but the names you mentioned aren’t the ones attached to the big-dollar salaries they would want to drop.  

To the second part of your question, Schwarber, Happ, or Russell could be moved with another arm in mind.  Beefing up the bullpen and even adding another potential closer to the Strop/Morrow mix could be done, but it will certainly mean moving a fan favorite or two.

Are there any prototypical lead-off hitters on the market that might fit into the Cubs needs/plans?
-Boyd Murray (@BoydPMurray)

First of all, the 2018 free agent list of “lead-off hitters” is not a real deep pool.  Could be the year, could be the philosophy that you “really only lead off once,” as Maddon would say.  Either way, A.J. Pollock, DJ LeMahieu & Michael Brantley are likely the closest “prototypical” lead-off hitters out there. For argument’s sake, we’ll go with career stats just to have a larger sample size.  

Pollock, who manned centerfield for the D-Backs, has led off 178 games, batting .283 with a .343 OBP. Meanwhile, LeMahieu has really spent most of his career hitting 2nd, but has set the table in 93 games.  63 of those came last season, where he hit .277 with a .313 OBP.  Of the three, Brantley has spent the most time at the top of the lineup throughout his 10-year big league career. In 213 games leading off, the 31-year-old has hit .274, with a .322 OBP.
But, if you’re a firm believer the Cubs HAVE to get a lead-off guy this offseason, then the “best fit” might require a trade for Whit Merrifield. Last season, the Royals’ 2nd baseman led off 112 times and hit .384 with a matching OBP.  The cost-controlled 29-year-old served as the primary leadoff hitter in Kansas City each of the last two seasons, and produced some of the best numbers in baseball.  And just to throw this in there, he’s a plus defender with heads-up baserunning skills as well. Obviously this thought is all contingent on the Royals’ willingness to deal Merrifield, and you better believe he won’t come cheap.

Thank you all for your questions! Once again, keep your eye on @NBCSCubs for our weekly mailbag prompt, or tweet us your thoughts and questions at any time. We’ll be back next week with our next installment, but in the meantime, visit or download the MyTeams by NBC Sports app for the latest and greatest Cubs coverage. 

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