The last game and a half notwithstanding, the Cubs’ offense has been firing on all cylinders so far this year. But outfielder Jorge Soler continues to be the weak link in the Cubs’ lineup. After wearing the golden sombrero – going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts – during Wednesday night’s 1-0 loss to the Padres, Soler’s batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage line stands at a woeful .175/.261/.275.
With many of the Cubs’ hitters playing so well, it’s often easy to hide one or two struggling players. But situations will occur where such weaknesses are exposed. On Wednesday night, trailing 1-0, the Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, thanks largely to Padres shortstop Alexei Ramirez dropping a routine pop-up earlier in the inning. But Soler struck out to end the inning, looking terrible in the process.
Soler lately looks like he has no confidence swinging the bat and doesn’t seem to be able to put a good swing on almost anything. It’s hard to believe that this is the same player who was scorching hot during the postseason last year, reaching base in his first nine consecutive plate appearances. It wasn’t that long ago that Soler was considered a key piece in the Cubs’ rebuilding process, but he was surrounded by trade rumors this offseason that figure to resurface if he continues to struggle.
I’ve seen some suggestions in the media this morning that manager Joe Maddon should have pinch-hit for Soler in that spot. I don’t think they should have. The team – as it is currently constructed – needs Soler to contribute. Injuries to Kyle Schwarber, Miguel Montero, and Matt Szczur have tested the Cubs’ depth early on, and while they’ve passed the test for the most part, on Wednesday night they did not. It happens, even to the best of teams. But as the season goes on, this could become more of a problem. Putting Kris Bryant in the outfield and playing Javier Baez or Tommy La Stella at third are decent alternatives, though it remains to be seen how well that will work over an entire season. Plus, it leaves the Cubs’ bench thin.
So how patient should the Cubs be with Soler? Should they try to trade him in their efforts to upgrade the offense as we near the trade deadline? Should they send him to the minors for a while? It’s still early, and with the team playing so well, I think it’s too early to pull the plug on him quite yet. He’s still young enough, and there’s still plenty of time, to turn things around. But the Cubs are in win now mode, and if he’s still struggling a month from now, they should consider sending him to the minors and trading to upgrade the outfield offense. I really don’t think they are at the point where they should give up and trade him. At least not yet.
I’ve always been a big fan of Soler. But I’m an even bigger fan of winning a championship. I really hope Soler snaps out of it and becomes a solid major league player, but Cubs management may be forced to make a tough decision on him soon. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.