My initial thought upon seeing the news that the Cubs had traded Arismendy Alcantara for Chris Coghlan was that either the headline was 70-ish days late or that someone was having a little fun on an off day. Alas, it was true and the Cubs had indeed re-acquired the man whose trade preceded the re-signing of Dexter Fowler during spring training.
First things first, let’s discuss the loss of Alcantara, which many are no doubt lamenting. I get that, as we all have our little prospect crushes and ‘Mendy was a dude with a cool name who came up looking like lightning in a bottle. Thing is, though, he was really more like a flash in the pan who wasn’t going to see the field in Chicago again. Even if the firmly entrenched starting middle infielders weren’t blocking his path, his objectively awful plate approach would have.
Now that we’ve established that, we can move on to Coghlan, who has been the worst player in Major League Baseball this season. No, seriously, his -1.7 fWAR ranks dead last among all active players. Okay, so why would I guarantee the trade is going to work?
Simple. Given how bad he’s been to this point in the season, Coghlan can only get better. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping.
There’s plenty to hate about what’s happened to Coghlan’s game in Oakland, namely the 27.3% strikeout rate that is a full 50% higher than his career average. The guy is slashing only .146/.215/.272 and has a wRC+ of 31, none of which really screams “bounce-back candidate.” Then again, his .170 BABIP is lower than everyone other than Ryan Howard (.154) with at least 100 plate appearances in 2016.
I’d be lying if I told you I’d seen enough of Chris Coghlan this season — the reality is that I’d pretty much forgotten about him altogether — to know what he’s doing differently, so I’m really just scouting a stat line here. Still, one has to figure that hitting 136 points below his career average on balls in play is pretty unsustainable. What I’m saying is that you have to assume Captain Positive Regression will be swooping in to save the day here pretty soon.
You also need to consider that, while Cogs had some pretty rough campaigns in Florida, a reasonable argument could be made that he was the best fourth outfielder in baseball last year. It’d be a considerable stretch to expect anything close to the same performance moving forward, but the Cubs don’t need that from him either. What they need is a guy to pinch-hit on occasion and maybe provide a lefty platoon bat in left field.
I had feared that the Cubs made the move to bring Coghlan back as insurance against Jorge Soler being out longer than anticipated, but then word came down that Tommy La Stella had been placed on the DL with a hamstring strain of his own. Ah, now things are really starting to make sense. Albert Almora and Matt Szczur will be taking up most of Soler’s innings, now Coghlan slots into the role of lefty bench bat that La Stella had occupied.
Swapping the worst hitter in the game for 3AM might seem like a big step back, but it’s such situational and incremental difference that it shouldn’t be terribly noticeable. Not over the course of a couple weeks anyway. And again, there’s the possibility that a return to form produces some positive results in the near future. Who knows, maybe Cogs’ funk was brought on by the unexpected trade and coming back will reignite the spark we saw in him previously. A boy can dream.
Listen, this isn’t the kind of move that is going to have any meaningful impact on the Cubs’ future, at least not that I can see at this point. It is, however, a no-brainer from an organizational standpoint. They bring back a guy who had performed really well in Chicago over the past two seasons and all they had to give up in return was a prospect whose limited ceiling has likely already been reached.
Though the overall reward here will be mitigated by the respective returns to health of Soler and La Stella, there’s so little risk involved with the move that underwriting their short term insurance policy with Coghlan only makes sense. This is going to work out really well for the Cubs because it just makes too much sense.
And because I said so.