It’s hard to find any major league player who went through a 2012 season quite like Bryan LaHair did with the Cubs.
After being installed as the first baseman in spring training, LaHair got his first real shot at proving himself in the majors at 29. A hot start helped LaHair get voted onto the National League All-Star squad by his peers, even though he already had moved from first base to right field to accommodate Anthony Rizzo.
Then came the downfall, an over-the-cliff type of finish that only Wile E. Coyote could appreciate.
After the break, LaHair started for a while in right before the Cubs brought up Brett Jackson in early August, forcing David DeJesus to right field and LaHair to the bench. He had only 109 at-bats after the All-Star game, hitting .202 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.
Manager Dale Sveum admitted in September that playing time would be hard to find for LaHair next year, basically suggesting it was up to the player to force his hand and put him in the lineup. LaHair didn’t do that in the second half, though he didn’t get as much of a chance as Jackson or Josh Vitters, who struggled even more than he did.
The only realistic spot for LaHair in 2013 would be right field, unless they manage to trade left fielder Alfonso Soriano this winter.
But even if LaHair gets another chance, it probably will be in a platoon situation. He hit a meager .063 (3-for-48) against left-handers and his overall .159 average with runners in scoring position would give any manager pause before putting him in the lineup.
So if LaHair isn’t the answer, right field is one spot the Cubs will need to fill, unless they move DeJesus over. The Cubs always could trade DeJesus and get a young prospect in return, though the Cubs want to keep him and DeJesus wants to stay despite the rebuild.
“I want to win as well, but I love playing here, I’m from here,” DeJesus said. “I’d love to be on a winning team from here, and really that’s all I can do — keep preparing myself (to stay) and hope for the best.”
The Cubs also figure to give Dave Sappelt a chance in right, at least as a reserve, after the acquisition from the Reds looked impressive at the plate during his September audition. Sappelt, who turns 26 in January, had an .800 OPS in 26 games and batted .440 (11-for-25) against left-handers.
Whether that small sample size is enough to convince the Cubs to give him the spot is doubtful, so free agency is the most likely route they will take in filling right field. Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher might be a good fit if he doesn’t re-sign with them, though Swisher probably is looking for a big payday and might not relish a return to Chicago, where he spent one miserable season on the South Side.
There aren’t a lot of prime-time right fielders on the free agent market, so the Cubs could look for a trade to find what they need.