Despite their first-place standing at the break, the Cubs are in need of an upgrade or three if they want to be serious threats down the stretch and into the postseason. Their grasp on the division lead is tenuous at best and the entire Central is separated by only 4.5 games. To put that in perspective, no other division in baseball has that small a gap between first and second place.
Theo Epstein said recently that “a ton of change is in order” if the Cubs keep playing the way they have, which is to say dropping six of their last 10 games heading into the break. It’s beyond just a recent trend, though, as they are 10-16 since June 9 and 22-29 since May 14. That they’ve somehow managed to lose only two games off their division lead in that time is a minor miracle.
Jed Hoyer wasn’t as down in the dumps as Epstein when he talked about the Cubs’ search for help, though he did admit that they weren’t playing well enough to rule anything out. He also said the Cubs would be looking for external help to mend an offense that still hasn’t recovered from breaking somewhere along the line last season.
While it’s hard to imagine them parting with one of their core four — Javy Báez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras — the Cubs have probably reached the point at which some of their other top draft picks are expendable. That may well be the case if Ken Rosenthal is correct about the Cubs being interested in David Peralta should the Diamondbacks look to sell at the deadline.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 6, 2019
“The Cubs are among the teams that will be interested if the D-backs sell and make Peralta available,” Rosenthal said (starting at 1:20 mark). “Peralta is the type of professional hitter the Cubs need. He would increase their outfield depth, bolster their lineup against right-handed pitching, and he has one more year of control remaining after this one.”
The 31-year-old Peralta is indeed the kind of hitter the Cubs could use, a career .292 hitter who crushes right-handed pitching (career .884 OPS, 132 wRC+). But there are some complicating factors here, not the least of which is that the outfielder is currently in the IL with a shoulder issue that already forced him to sit out about two weeks at the end of May.
After hitting .309/.357/.524 with seven homers and a 124 wRC+ through May 21 (207 PA), Peralta has dropped to .252/.342/.388 with two homers and a 91 wRC+ since (117 PA). With Kris Bryant’s 2018 struggles still quite fresh in their memory, the Cubs have reason to worry about Peralta’s health. There’s also the matter of redundancy, since they already have a lefty-batting left fielder.
Peralta has played left field exclusively this season and spent all but 27.1 innings there last season, so he doesn’t exactly offer a new dynamic. He’s also under control for just one more season, while Schwarber is controlled through 2021. If the Cubs were to get serious about acquiring Peralta, it seems they’d be moving on from Schwarber at the same time.
Even with those depressed numbers between IL stints, Peralta’s .342 OBP is 22 points higher than what Schwarber has this season. And the difference is even bigger since when we see that Schwarber has dropped to a .307 OBP since moving to the leadoff spot. That said, Schwarber’s 104 wRC+ at leadoff is 13 points higher than Peralta has managed with a bum wing.
The moral of the story is that Peralta is a much better — or at least safer and more consistent — hitter than Schwarber…when healthy. Shoulder injuries are not to be trifled with and that has to be a major concern with any move that would displace a current member of the everyday lineup.
It’s possible the Cubs could part with Albert Almora Jr. or Ian Happ or someone else other than Schwarber, but that doesn’t necessarily help with the lineup. Going with an all-lefty outfield would leaved them very susceptible to southpaws, so they’ve got to keep a righty around for at least platoon duty.
If nothing else, this is something to monitor as the second half opens. The Diamondbacks are just 1.5 games out of the Wild Card at the break and have not yet determined whether or not to sell. Between that and the need to establish Peralta’s health status, this may be one of those situations that takes right up until the deadline to resolve.