KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bryan LaHair's long road to Tuesday’s All-Star Game would have taken a detour East if not for an intervention by Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein last winter.
“I was on my way to play in Japan this year,” said LaHair, who will play in his first All-Star Game in his first full major league season at age 29. “Theo basically eliminated me going to Japan by his conviction that I had a place in their plans.”
After nine seasons trying to become a major league starter, LaHair and his family had a big decision to make over the winter. He was coming off a monster offensive season at Triple-A Iowa, leading the Pacific Coast League in home runs (38) and RBIs (109) en route to being named the league MVP. LaHair and his agent were listening to offers from six Japanese teams.
“My agent and I decided that when we talked to Theo if there was any doubt in his mind or any hesitation that I would be a part of it we were going to take an offer from Japan,” LaHair said. “(Theo) told us he was excited about me getting an opportunity and showing I could play for the Cubs every day so we were convinced.”
The decision paid off on the field but was costly financially for LaHair. According to a scout who works in the United States for one of the teams interested in LaHair at the time, the former journeyman minor leaguer turned down a two-year deal that would have paid between $2.8 million and $3 million in Japan. LaHair is making the major league minimum of $500,000 with the Cubs in 2012.
“My first obligation is to my family so I had to think hard about playing in Japan, but when I heard Theo say I would have a real chance to be a starter we decided to stay,” LaHair said. “I am happy I did and now look where I am at.”
LaHair knows that his near future is in the outfield for the Cubs as a platoon player against right-handed pitching now that top prospect Anthony Rizzo has taken over at first base. There is also a chance LaHair will get traded to a contender in need of a left-handed power bat for the stretch run.
“I have heard both, but until I hear I am being traded I will concentrate on getting better and enjoy being a Chicago Cub,” he said.