Inbox: What is the plan for LaHair in 2013?
Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from fans
What is the Cubs' plan for Bryan LaHair? I've never seen a team bench an All-Star like they did. I know he struggles against lefties but in a season that was about training new players, how come he didn't get any at-bats against lefties for practice? He couldn't have done any worse than Brett Jackson or Josh Vitters did. LaHair did carry the offense in the first half of the season and he can hit right-handed pitching with power. If he could bat .260 against lefties and over .300 against right-handers, he would be a valuable starter. Why aren't the Cubs working more with him?
-- Jeremy M., Atlanta
The Cubs did work with LaHair but the simple answer as to why he lost playing time is Anthony Rizzo. Cubs manager Dale Sveum moved LaHair to right field after Rizzo's arrival, but I think you'd agree LaHair is a better first baseman than outfielder. If LaHair batted .260 against lefties, he would be valuable. But he was 3-for-48 (.063) this season against left-handers. For now, LaHair, who batted .278 as a pinch-hitter, is valuable in a new role.
You can't compare his situation with Jackson or Vitters, and you can't really compare Jackson with Vitters. Jackson is ready defensively, but his swing needs work. He was promoted because Sveum wanted to see him first-hand, and being in the big leagues gave Jackson a chance to see for himself that he needs to make some changes. Vitters, on the other hand, has struggled initially at every level he's advanced to. The Cubs are hoping he is more comfortable next season, and makes some adjustments. Both Jackson and Vitters were told during their season reviews with Sveum that they would likely open at Triple-A Iowa in 2013.
With the Cubs clearly having no one who can play third base to the level of Aramis Ramirez, are there any free-agent options? Or will the Cubs continue a third baseman by committee with stop gaps until someone in the Minors is ready?
-- Dale L., Durango, Iowa
I don't know if the Cubs have enough third basemen to form a committee. As noted above, they don't think Vitters is ready. They did like Ian Stewart's defensive skills, his left-handed bat, and the potential for power. But they have to decide if he can bounce back from his wrist injury by studying medical reports. Luis Valbuena did fine defensively, but the Cubs want more offense. Sveum likes Valbuena, but projected him more as a utility player. Junior Lake, who is playing for Estrellas in the Dominican Republic, is another option. He batted .279 in 103 games at Double-A Tennessee.
Here's the list of potential free-agent third basemen: Geoff Blum, Miguel Cairo, Eric Chavez, Mark DeRosa, Brandon Inge, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Placido Polanco, Mark Reynolds, Scott Rolen, David Wright and Kevin Youkilis. Inge, Reynolds, Wright and Youkilis each have contracts that include an option for 2013. Not excited about any of them? Let's wait and see.
I'm happy to see the progress Javier Baez is having in the Minor Leagues and the Arizona Fall League this year. Hopefully, he will be ready to help the Cubs in the near future. However, the obvious question is where does Baez fit? Are there plans to play him at third? I know he would bring a lot on the trade market but can we afford to lose a potential impact player like him?
-- Don W., Simpsonville, S.C.
It's a baseball cliche, but these things have a way of working themselves out. In the first week of the Arizona Fall League, Baez did play one game at third base and didn't look comfortable. Maybe Starlin Castro could move? Those decisions don't have to be made today. One thing that is certain is Baez won't be traded. He's one of the potential impact players president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer dream of. If you get a chance, check him out in the AFL.
I read that the Cubs have to make a decision regarding having Shawn Camp return. He impressed me as the only dependable Cubs pitcher at the end of the season. I'm puzzled as to why the team would even consider losing its only reliable pitcher. Theo [Epstein] was quoted as saying the team had money to spend this offseason. Can you provide any insight re: the thinking behind Camp's status?
-- Mike N., Chicago
They have to make a decision because Camp is the only free agent on the Cubs roster. Camp, who turns 37 in November, did set a career high in appearances, pitching in 80 games. He did not give up a run in 10 appearances in September. What the Cubs have to consider is that Camp had a 4.76 ERA in 49 home games compared to 1.95 ERA in 31 road games. Teams batted .229 off him before the All-Star break, when Sveum tabbed him as the team's Most Valuable Player, but batted .301 post break. His experience is needed in the 'pen and he was durable. They may look at the list of free agent relievers and simply prefer someone else.
I love Darwin Barney as a player but he hit way too many fly balls, which more often than not, will result in outs. Why don't the Cubs emphasize to Barney that he needs to hit down on the ball so he hits more grounders and line drives? He is a heady player and great defensively but we need him to hit more than .250 with limited power to be effective in the Cubs' lineup.
-- Barry R., Round Lake Park, Ill.
He may have passed Ryne Sandberg's single-season defensive record for error-less games, but Barney isn't going to hit like the Hall of Famer. I'd agree the Cubs want more than .254, but would also note that Barney ranked 14th in the National League in ground ball/fly ball ratio, and set career highs in home runs, doubles, and runs scored, and cut down on his strikeouts. They're working with him.
Is there any information about the new Spring Training complex that is being built in Mesa, Ariz.? I haven't read anything in some time.
-- Kitty H., Elephant Butte, N.M.
I was in Mesa last week, and saw lots of dirt, and trucks moving the dirt at the site. I'm told they may be close to pouring concrete for the buildings and the stadium foundations. The new facility is not scheduled to open until 2014 Spring Training.
I heard the Cubs Convention will not be held at the Hilton in Chicago -- is that true?
-- Dave R., St. Louis, Mo.
The 2013 Cubs Convention is moving, and will be at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, 301 E. North Water Street, Chicago, on Jan. 18-20.
What will be Cubs management's No. 1 priority this offseason?
-- Michael F., Raleigh, N.C.
Pitching, pitching and more pitching, and a third baseman.