Leadoff hitter crying need for runs-challenged Cubs
By GORDON WITTENMYER Staff reporter September 12, 2013 10:32PM
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:25AM
PITTSBURGH — Forget the middle-of-the-order hitter. If Cubs manager Dale Sveum gets one hitter on his wish list this winter, it’s a leadoff man, Sveum said Thursday.
The front office already plans to explore that in the free-agent market, but some team sources are skeptical they will have the resources and will to pay what it will take to land Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury — the top two leadoff hitters on the market, both represented by Scott Boras.
Sveum said his moribund lineup — which probably is at least two years away from significant help from the farm system — could use a leadoff guy and a fifth hitter, but he sees 5-hole options in possible holdovers such as Ryan Sweeney.
“It definitely helps to have a bona fide leadoff guy,” Sveum said, before his lineup proved it with another meager effort in a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“You see what Choo does,” Sveum said. “He’s a little different because he drives the ball out of the ballpark. But that .400 on-base percentage, that accumulates to a lot of runs and a lot of runs sometimes in the first inning.”
Choo, 31, has a career .389 on-base percentage, .424 in a 2013 season for the Reds in which he is making $7.4 million. Ellsbury, 30, has a .350 career OBP and is making $9 million with the Red Sox this year.
The Cubs rank second from the bottom in the National League in team OBP at .303 and rank 10th in leadoff OBP only because since-traded David DeJesus spent most of the season there.
If the Cubs don’t sign a legitimate leadoff man?
“If that doesn’t happen, [Starlin] Castro’s swung the bat and done well in that spot,” Sveum said of the guy whose two-out hit in the third drove in the Cubs’ only run. “He could be that guy. That’s where he obviously seems to hit the best and all that.”
Castro has a career .322 OBP, including .350 in 97 starts in the leadoff spot.
“But you’re talking about [seeking] the perfect scenario,” Sveum said. “Just look throughout all of baseball, it’s not the easiest thing to find a bona fide leadoff guy.”