PITTSBURGH – If Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer want a gift idea for Dale Sveum this winter, they can skip the middle-of-the-order aisle in the free agent market.
The Cubs manager prefers a leadoff hitter – which happens to be something the front office is expected to explore through free agency and trade.
Whether they’ll have the resources and will to pay what it’ll take to land Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury – the top two leadoff guys on the market, both represented by Scott Boras – is another matter.
The Cubs manager said Thursday his moribund lineup – which is probably 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. “You see what Choo does. 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’s 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 as high as 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. “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 still talking about [trying to get] the prefect scenario,” Sveum said. “Just look throughout all of baseball, it’s not the easiest thing to find a bona fide leadoff guy.”