<
>

How Albert Almora Jr. might fit with Cubs when others get healthy

CHICAGO -- With a solid start to his major league career, what are the chances Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. will stick around when the player he replaced comes off the disabled list?

As expected, Cubs manager Joe Maddon says he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it. But as Jorge Soler and Tommy La Stella progress from their hamstring injuries -- and Almora impresses -- the Cubs have something to think about. There are two schools of thought: Almora can help the Cubs even in a part-time role because of his outstanding defense; or he needs everyday at-bats, either in the majors or minors.

“I haven’t even thought about that,” Maddon said Wednesday. “I honestly don’t know.”

But in the next sentence, Maddon gave at least a small indication what the organization might be thinking.

“A guy like Almora, you want some opportunity to give him some playing time,” Maddon stated. “You don’t want him to sit.”

Some might be surprised the Cubs haven’t given Almora those everyday at-bats since calling him up, instead choosing to trade for lefty Chris Coghlan days later and starting him several times. But that’s the Cubs' way of doing business unless your name is Kris Bryant. They want to give Almora a taste of the big leagues when they think the matchup is right. So far so good, as Almora is 6-for-17 (.353) with three doubles, including some hits in a few late-inning, high-pressure at-bats. See Tuesday’s big victory in Washington for evidence, as his pinch-hit double in the ninth inning drove in the go-ahead run.

“At the end of the day it’s about him and what’s best for him,” Maddon said.

That was a surprising statement, considering this year it should be about what’s best for the team more than the individual, but if the Cubs don’t believe he can be a part-time contributor – and are unwilling to give him every day at-bats – then they should send him down.

“There are too many moving parts for me to be concerned,” Maddon said. “Those are the type of questions you have to wait until the moment to figure out what you want to do.”

So the door is open for anything, really. Perhaps Almora’s emergence puts Soler back on the trade block. The Cubs probably don’t have to trade from their major league team to get a deal done, but if a team insists on a big-leaguer to be included, Soler could be the piece. The Cubs would lose something on offense, but with Almora, Coghlan and even Matt Szczur still around, they might be able to get by. One thing is for sure: Maddon could finish games with a heck of an outfield defense, something he didn’t have a year ago.

“It normally takes care of itself,” Maddon reiterated about roster decisions.

A new injury or two could pop up, or someone else could play himself out of a job. Third catcher Tim Federowicz is hardly playing these days, so that's one roster spot that could be used for Soler or La Stella, but what do the Cubs do with the other one and how does that effect Almora? Could he stick?

“Only if you think you could still get him into games on a regular basis,” Maddon said.

So Almora has some time to prove he can be more than a defensive replacement and worthy of every day at-bats. Even if he goes back down to Triple-A Iowa, its doubtful he'll be there long. His glove is too valuable and his bat might prove to be as well.