How Do the Cubs Solve the Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Candelario Conundrum?
I don’t think there’s any question that the Cubs value the talent they have in Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Candelario. The two young third baseman have slowly climbed the ladder and are on the precipice of getting more than just a cup of coffee (you may remember the latter getting 14 at-bats over five games with the Cubs in 2016). Last year, a broken ankle sidelined Villanueva for the whole year while Candelario tore it up in spring training and again at AAA Iowa in the second half of the season.
Now that 2017 is upon us, both are staring at the majors and reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant is staring right back. Or maybe it’s more of a side-eyed look, complete with knowing smirk. Either way, there are questions aplenty about what to do with the twosome.
Can the Cubs keep both?
Sure, technically, they could. But that would not be doing either prospect any favors, nor would it be maximizing the value of either. At 25 years old, Villanueva could still make it to the majors and have a long and successful career. Thing is, though, he’s out of options and his only real chance to make it with the Cubs is in a backup role. Candelario, 23, is not going to mature much after June or July in AAA Iowa. But he too figures to be either an injury replacement or a bench bat in Chicago at this point.
If the Cubs could keep just one, who do they keep?
I can see Villanueva as a bench player who can man first, second, and third and give you a good at-bat with the potential for power late in games. Pretty much the same holds true for Candelario. At the same time, I don’t think that’s what either was made for and that’s probably not where they provide the most value. It’s almost impossible to choose between the two because you really don’t have a place to put them except on the bench and they are just too good to be relegated to backup roles. At this point, I don’t see how you can keep either. And if you do keep one, you are not going to keep him for very long.
Are position changes in order?
Candelario did play some first base last year in Iowa. You would think he might be able to play some left field as well, though I’m not too sure about that. While he is an excellent hitter with an very solid arm (like Villanueva), the learning curve to figure out a new position so close to the majors is pretty steep. To make a change requires not only unique athleticism, but also lots of instructional time. Not everyone is as gifted as Javy Baez when it comes to picking up a new position so easily. If this was a possibility, both would’ve been doing it this winter in Mexico or the Dominican winter leagues.
So, are they both destined to be traded?
Yes. By the middle of the summer, both will hopefully have been a part brought back something substantial. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been patient enough to wait for the right deal to come along for both the Cubs and the players involved. In each of the cases in question, the two young third baseman have earned the respect of the front office with the way they’ve handled themselves at the minor-league level while waiting for their turn. Those turns are just not going to come in Chicago.
As for the timing of potential moves, I don’t think we see both of them gone this offseason. If I had to guess, I’d say we see one moved in the spring and the other in the summer. As to which is which, Candelario probably goes first because of the talent level and the fact that he was healthy last year. Other teams are going to want to see Villanueva play before a deal is brokered. Then again, with no options to go back to AAA, Villanueva could be first.
You hate to lose two good players with excellent pedigrees, but if they can bring back something to help you win, you make the deal.