We’ll know a little more about Seiya Suzuki‘s oblique issue on Tuesday morning, perhaps shortly after this is published, but I wanted to run through a quick exploration of the Cubs’ options in the meantime. Oblique injuries can be particularly troublesome in a rotational sport and it’s possible the right fielder could miss several weeks based on the severity. Nico Hoerner missed nearly two months due to an oblique problem in 2021, and you have to think the Cubs will be very cautious given the timing and the fact that the weather early in the season isn’t great for muscles.
Update: Suzuki has been diagnosed with a moderate left oblique strain, but the Cubs have not provided a timeline for his return.
“I know a lot of people were kind of excited to see me out there playing,” Suzuki told reporters through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “So it’s just a really unfortunate decision. It’s just very unfortunate.”
Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki has been diagnosed with a moderate left oblique strain, according to the team. There is no immediate timetable for his return to game action.
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) February 28, 2023
So while I want to maintain a positive outlook by assuming Suzuki will be able to return at some point this spring, the Cubs are certainly weighing their options to replace him in right field on a temporary basis at the minimum. There are several possibilities available, so let’s take a look at them.
David Ross mentioned that Wisdom, who has made eight starts and played 10 games in right, could fill in if Suzuki is shut down. However, Wisdom was just scratched from Monday’s game with left groin soreness and probably only makes sense out there on a very limited basis during spring training as the Cubs look to get one of their 15 other third baseman some reps.
Ol’ Boom-Boom has logged nearly 800 innings in right over the course of his career, though all but 99 of those came in 2019. He did make 11 starts there last season between Baltimore and Houston, putting up a very passable 0 DRS with a 26.1 UZR/150. Even though that’s not enough of a sample to be indicative of his overall capabilities there (he had -7 DRS in that ’19 season), Mancini has plenty of experience in the corner spots and he’s already on the roster.
Suzuki starting the season on the IL would open the door to Velázquez breaking camp with the Cubs, though he wasn’t exactly stellar with the glove in either right or center last season. The other issue is that this doesn’t figure to be an everyday role — and it’s certainly not permanent — so the organization may see fit to give him more everyday playing time at Triple-A.
This is probably the option most fans want to see, but it brings up the same issue as Velázquez in that Davis really needs to build up his reps after missing most of last season due to back issues. He’s never had more than 416 plate appearances in a season and I’m not sure calling him up for a limited time would be in the best interest of his continued development. That said, he could force his way into a promotion with a strong spring, plus he’s already on the 40-man.
The lefty-batting Palatine native might end up being the best fit simply because, to put it bluntly, he’s the most expendable. There are no developmental concerns because he’s 32 years old and doesn’t factor into the organization’s long-term plans, plus he’s proven himself to be a very capable outfielder across more than 1,400 innings in the majors. It would also make for an awesome story since Tauchman grew up a Cubs fan. Not that the front office would select him just for that reason, but it can’t hurt.
My personal preference would be for the Cubs to opt for either Wisdom or Mancini because that might spur them to add Matt Mervis to the roster for DH/first base duties. But then we run into the same issue of regular playing time and the potential for little more than a cup of coffee. Roster space shouldn’t be a problem because they can figure out another 60-day IL stint, ideally not for Suzuki, which leads me back to Tauchman.
Not only is the journeyman blessed with a good glove and decent speed, but he’s got a 12% career walk rate and is coming off of a really strong season in the KBO. If we’re looking at needing a gap-filler for a few weeks to two months, Tauchman makes a lot of sense. Anything longer, however, could see the Cubs turning their attention to a younger player.
Ed. note: I neglected to include Ben DeLuzio and should have noted that because I think he’s got a good shot to make the roster. However, his combination of speed and pop makes him seem more like a defensive replacement type more than a semi-everyday corner man.