CHICAGO -- With Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline approaching, the value of Chicago Cubs utility man Emilio Bonifacio may never be higher since he started the season as one of the hottest hitters in baseball.
"I'm not focused on that," Bonifacio said before collecting two more hits in a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night. "I have enough to worry about facing the pitchers."
Bonifacio may not be focused on it, but many are focused on him. The Cubs and Rockies aren't exactly a marquee matchup in the standings, but for pro scouts, the two cellar dwellers have plenty to offer. Bonifacio is on their lists. All the American League East and West contenders have had scouts at Cubs games as have National League East and West teams.
When the Cubs signed Bonifacio during spring training, general manager Jed Hoyer declared him a "perfect fit" for an NL team due to his versatility. That attribute makes predicting where Bonifacio will end up nearly impossible. Some may use him in the outfield, others in the infield. The bottom line is if players such as Darwin Barney and Dan Uggla found new homes, then Bonifacio could as well. He's far more attractive.
After missing more than a month with an oblique strain, Bonifacio has found his groove again. He has a hit in six of seven games, going 10-for-28 (.357) in that span and batting .271 for the season.
"I don't know," Bonifacio said. "Maybe the time off got me some new energy."
Either by design or coincidence, Bonifacio played third base Monday, adding to his defensive duties, which have mostly limited him to second base and center field. His versatility and hot bat make him attractive to a number of contending teams. One NL executive believed he would be a perfect "last-minute deal on Thursday" as teams move on from bigger trade possibilities.
"I don't pay attention to it," Russell said Monday. "I hear it from you [media] guys."
Many of the Cubs' potential trade chips were on display in Monday's win. Russell threw a third of an inning, outfielder Justin Ruggiano had a hit and an RBI, Chris Coghlan struck out twice but made a couple of nice catches in left field, and Bonifacio made a difference on offense with his bat and legs.
"I really don't get into the possibilities or the chances of any movement," manager Rick Renteria said of trades. "I concern myself more with the guys that we have and how we'll move forward."
One school of thought has the Cubs holding on to their outfielders like Ruggiano and Coghlan, as they are under team control and the Cubs will need some bodies out there next season as they continue a transition to more talented prospects. But that strategy came back to bite them as right fielder Nate Schierholtz has followed up a career-best 21 homers in 2013 with a subpar 2014, making him practically untradable. Before the season, of the position players, Schierholtz was a sure thing to be moved by the deadline since he will be a free agent at season's end. But his .203 batting average and six home runs has kept his name out of the headlines.
"He's just not the same hitter he was last year," one NL scout said.
Schierholtz could still be moved in August when players have to clear waivers. Several Cubs will undoubtedly be put through the process as David DeJesus was last season. He ended up with the Tampa Bay Rays after a short stay with the Washington Nationals.
This whole process is becoming all too familiar in the Cubs clubhouse, and players are doing their best to deal with the talk.
"One of our strengths is sometimes our lack of intelligence when it comes to what's going on in the baseball world," catcher John Baker said. "Everybody seems to think that after they get three or four hits they're going to be the next guy that's going to be traded. For me, I tend to laugh at that stuff."
Bonifacio's situation could have a trickle-down effect on other players. It could lead to the anticipated call-up of Triple-A Iowa infielder Javier Baez. Since moving to second base after the All-Star break, Baez is hitting .367 with five home runs and 18 RBIs.
If Baez is called up and plays mostly second base, Arismendy Alcantara will move to the outfield on a more permanent basis, at least for this season. Several players could see time at third base since the Cubs will have only one third baseman on the roster, Luis Valbuena.
Essentially, a trade of a position player will lead to more focus on call-ups rather than the players the Cubs get in return.