Cubs right-fielder Seiya Suzuki is currently sidelined with a “moderate” oblique strain. The club has yet to provide an estimated timeline for his absence, but Suzuki has already withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic. It’s unclear if he will still be injured when Opening Day rolls around, but Patrick Mooney of The Athletic reports that the club is looking to use Trey Mancini as the right fielder for any time Suzuki needs to miss.
Mancini was primarily a first baseman coming up through the minors but starting playing the outfield corners with the Orioles due to Chris Davis having the cold corner spoken for. That’s allowed Mancini to log 2,480 1/3 innings of outfield experience, but most of that came in the 2017-2019 period. Mancini missed the 2020 season while in treatment for colon cancer but has primarily been at first base since his return. That was the only position he played in 2021 and he only spent 248 innings on the grass last year.
Mancini’s outfield defense hasn’t been especially well graded in his career, but it’s possible it would only be a part-time solution anyhow, with Suzuki eventually coming back to retake the position. In the meantime, the alignment could allow the club to have both Mancini and Eric Hosmer in the lineup, with the designated hitter slot available for one of the club’s many younger infielders. Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner should be in the middle with Hosmer at first, but the third base and utility/backup infield positions figure to be shared by Patrick Wisdom, Nick Madrigal, Christopher Morel, Zach McKinstry, Miles Mastrobuoni and Edwin Ríos.
Some other notes from around the National League…
- Lefty Sean Doolittle is in camp with the Nationals on a minor league deal, looking to return to health after he dealt with an elbow sprain last year that eventually led to an internal brace procedure. It was reported a few weeks ago that he seemed on track to be ready for Opening Day, but that might no longer be the case. Doolittle tells Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com that there was no real setback, just that the club’s medical team advised him to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach. “Nothing specifically happened,” Doolittle said. “I think when we started to look at what it was going to take to ramp up, and where I was at, I was ahead of schedule probably by almost a month. I did have some days when I was a little more sore than I had been throwing in the offseason. Nothing bad, but we started thinking about it. We’re so far ahead, let’s slow it down a little bit.” It seems that he may no longer be an option for Opening Day, but the slowed-down approach is fine by him. “Let’s be smart about it. It’s not a race,” he added. Manager Dave Martinez is onboard with the plan as well. “When he’s ready, we want him to be 100 percent ready,” Martinez said. “We need left-handed pitchers in our bullpen. When he’s healthy, he’ll be that guy.” Doolittle had a 3.02 career ERA through the end of 2019 but has missed significant time in two of the past three years, in addition to posting a 4.53 ERA in 2021. The Nats’ only southpaw relievers on the 40-man are Matt Cronin and Jose Ferrer, neither of whom have MLB experience yet. Once Doolittle is fully healthy, he should have a path open to get back on the roster.
- It was reported in mid-December that the Red Sox were interested in a reunion with slugger J.D. Martinez, but he agreed to a deal with the Dodgers that very same day while the Sox agreed with Justin Turner the day after. However, it doesn’t seem as though Boston’s interest was ever that strong, at least according to Martinez, who spoke with Rob Bradford of WEEI about the situation. “The way they made it sound was that they were in on it,” Martinez said. “During the season we never talked. Just basic talk with Chaim, and stuff. It was one of those things where we never moved forward with it.” The alignment of his deal and Turner’s doesn’t seem to have been coincidental. “A situation occurred where at the time they had the offer out to JT… Everybody talks… This was an offer that came up seeing if it was something I was interested in doing. Obviously, it was a little bit of a pay cut, but if I held up maybe I could have gotten more. We were confident about that. But at the same time I wanted a team that was going to be in October, be in the swing of things all year and give me a chance to win.” MLBTR predicted Martinez to secure a two-year, $30MM, so it’s possible he’s correct that he could have gotten more than the one-year, $10MM deal he ultimately agreed to. However, it seems he placed a priority on competition by moving from a Boston club that won 78 games last year to the 111-win Dodgers.
- Sticking with the Dodgers, they will have to consider backup plans at shortstop now that Gavin Lux is out for the year. Miguel Rojas will now be the atop the depth chart there, with super utility player Chris Taylor behind him. Manager Dave Roberts tells Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times that Taylor will play shortstop about 20-25% of the time. Taylor says he’s ready for the move, having started an infield throwing program prior to the Lux injury. “I’ve been throwing from the infield and the outfield,” Taylor said. “I was trying to anticipate something happening. So I was prepared.” Getting part-time work at shortstop will be nothing new for Taylor. He only got one inning there last year but averaged more than 250 innings per year over the previous four seasons. He’ll be looking to bounce back from a down year at the plate, as he missed a month with a foot fracture and hit .221/.304/.373 for a wRC+ of 93. Moving Taylor in from the grass on occasion will subtract from an outfield mix that’s a bit more uncertain for the club than in recent years. Mookie Betts should be excellent in right, with Trayce Thompson, David Peralta and Jason Heyward potentially taking the other spots, as younger players like James Outman and Andy Pages try to break in.