2012 Cubs recap: First base

Bryan LaHair took his demotion in stride once Anthony Rizzo was called up from Iowa. AP Photo/David Goldman

Doug Padilla reviews the Cubs by position this week. Today he focuses on first base.

When Anthony Rizzo arrived on the scene in late June to join a floundering Chicago Cubs team, one skeptic marveled at all the fuss.

"So um, what exactly is Rizzo supposed to do for the Cubs?" it was asked.

Well, starting with the representation of a brighter future, it turned out there was plenty Rizzo could do outside of vaulting the club into contention, which apparently is what really was being asked.

Rizzo could hit the other way, he could hit for power, he could play defense and in turn he could help make the pitching staff a little better by making the tough play that might have extended innings had it not been made. He could get his Cubs debut out of the way and overcome his first slump by figuring out how to make adjustments.

And, as it turns out, he also has leadership skills, which is pretty heady stuff for a 23-year-old.

His arrival to the Cubs certainly didn't come cheap. Andrew Cashner, who could have helped solidify the bullpen or taken a rotation spot at some point, is now a member of the San Diego Padres. Currently on the Cubs' wish list is a young live arm, which Cashner possesses.

But in Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro, the Cubs now have a young core to build around. The lefty swinger batted .285 with 15 home runs, 48 RBIs and a sparkling .805 OPS.

"I always believed (I belonged)," Rizzo said on the last day of the season. "Just coming up and doing it, the more the at-bats piled up and more the numbers evened out it was a better feeling week in and week out. Just want to build off it and put up better numbers next year and be a better teammate and be better all around."

Yet the Rizzo story wasn't the only one with intrigue at first base this season. Bryan LaHair was the original Rizzo when he went on a first-half tear.

Getting his first real chance to establish himself on the major league level at age 29, LaHair reached base safely in 32 consecutive games from April 8-May 15, the second longest such streak from a Cubs first baseman since 1945.

By the end of June he wasn't as productive, had been bumped off of first base by Rizzo and was trying to find his way in right field. But he was still voted onto the National League All-Star team by his peers.

Less than a month later his playing time would diminish to a trickle as Brett Jackson was called up to play center field every day and David DeJesus was moved to right field.

What looked to be his first chance to really prove himself in the major leagues turned to fool's gold not long after the season reached the midway point. To LaHair's credit, he didn't lash out, but accepted his role and eventually adapted to a pinch-hitter assignment.

"I'm not going to look at it as I'm a victim," LaHair said. "It was probably a good decision. I think deep down they kind of know what they have in me. They know I can handle the big-league pitching and hit for power, and I've showed them I can play at an elite level. I think it was a good decision to get some young guys in here. Unfortunately, it affected me."

Everybody, including LaHair, knows that Rizzo is the first baseman of the future, and if LaHair ultimately gets traded this offseason he can head to his new team with this small feather in his cap: In 340 at-bats this season, LaHair hit 16 home runs. In 337 at-bats, Rizzo hit 15.

The other side of the coin, though, and the reason that Rizzo is an offensive force to be reckoned with: Rizzo struck out 62 times, LaHair struck out 124 times.

FRIDAY: Second base