CHICAGO -- The eventual promotion of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the Chicago Cubs’ top prospect, to the major league club will be predicated by time and space.
The right time can be at whatever point the Cubs’ organization feels Rizzo has learned the proper plate discipline to be the team’s everyday first baseman. After having much success at Triple-A, major league pitchers had little trouble handling Rizzo when he was called up by the Padres last season (the Cubs acquired him via trade this offseason). Rizzo hit just .141 and struck out 46 times in that short big league stint.
Roster space is another factor. Both team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have told me that when Rizzo is deemed ready, he will be the first baseman every day. That move would make Bryan LaHair and Alfonso Soriano expendable. The fact that LaHair is a power-hitter making only $500,000 makes him worth keeping around if the team can play him in left field. It also makes him an attractive player to trade in exchange for young talent.
As for Soriano, he is still a productive run-producer who could thrive in the American League as a DH. The Cubs are going to have to pay most of the $48 million still owed on Soriano's deal that runs through 2014. Both Soriano and the Cubs would be best served if a deal can be consummated. Epstein and Hoyer spent the entire winter meetings in Dallas last December trying to peddle the left fielder to no avail.
The Baltimore Orioles had one of their top talent evaluators watching Cubs starting pitchers and Soriano on Wednesday night. Toronto, which is also watching the Cubs this week, could be looking for a bundle deal that might include pitchers and hitters.
The major league clock will begin ticking again for Rizzo sometime after June 23 – the date after which he would not accrue a season of service toward arbitration. But the team would benefit from having a clean slate -- without any disgruntled veterans to deal with -- when it comes to promoting blue-chip prospects like Rizzo. Plugging in the right players, at the right time, in the right atmosphere is an essential piece of the plan set going forward.