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Is the Cubs 2020 Outfield Picture Finally in Focus?

Pic: Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Yesterday the Cubs finalized their actual, real major league deal with Steven Souza Jr., a one year, $1 million contract with incentives for both health and performance that could max out at $3 million. So, let's look at Souza's history...

Souza's breakout year with the Rays in 2017 saw him post a 121 wRC+ with 30 HR before being traded to the Diamondbacks the following offseason as part of an extremely wonky 3-team deal between those two teams and the New York Yankees. His 2018 season with Arizona saw him fighting a pectoral injury for more than half the season, leaving him with a wholly unspectacular 72-game slash line of .220/.309/.369 and and 85 wRC+. Souza injured his knee during spring training in March of 2019 and wouldn't play a single inning during the entire 2019 season. In short--we have no idea what we're getting from Souza in 2020.

But hear me out--this isn't a bad deal. First, because he's cheap. Soooo super cheap. Second, because we've already gone over the reasons why bringing back Nick Castellanos (he's apparently back to being "Nick" now, so I'm rolling with it) could've been actually bad over the long term, including the fact that the Cubs probably already have a good solution for their every day OF alignment in this guy:

Oh hai again, Ian!

The Cubs OF was 19th out of 30 MLB teams in defensive UZR/150 in 2019 at -0.4. As you might guess, this is, uh, not ideal. They were 19th in CF, 13th in RF and 16th in LF. Compare that to their IF defense, where they ranked 3rd at 1B, 11th at 2B, 7th at SS, and... oh, 3B wasn't good either... they ranked 21st there (SHUT UP ABOUT TRADING SPARKLES!).


But you get the picture--the OF needs cleanup. Ultimately, they need to keep Jason Heyward in RF as much as possible, as opposed to moving him to CF where his defense suffers. We already talked about Happ's potential in CF, where he posted a positive UZR/150 in 2019, so a Schwarber/Happ/Heyward OF alignment has a lot of potential, especially if what we saw from Schwarbs and Happer offensively in the second half of 2019 was even kind of legit.

Here's where things get interesting with Souza. In his 2017 breakout year, before he got hit with all The Inflammation, he was a plus defender in RF--he posted a 3.8 UZR/150 for the Rays that season. If he's fully healthy, not only is there some platoon potential with Heyward against tough lefties, but he can also take most of the ABs Albert Almora had been getting while Al maybe figures some things out in Iowa.

You're adorable and I love you, but we all know it needs to happen.

Not to mention the OF is where the Cubs are thinnest on the depth chart, currently. You might be able to count Bryant there if he's still in the fold come spring training, but with Souza added, you've got all of, uh, six players to man the outfield--Heyward, Schwarber, Happ, Souza, Almora and Bryant. Yes, Contreras and even Hoerner can play there, but we don't know if Nico will be on the 26-man roster to start the year, and I'd rather Willson get his rest and not risk injury diving around in the outfield, thanks.

Even if the Cubs do trade Bryant before spring training (a real possibility now that the grievance is settled), passing on Castellanos and picking up Souza was still probably the right call for the long term. Even if it doesn't feel like it just yet.


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