Clint Frazier fit the mold of what the Chicago Cubs roster could have used this year.
For a big-league roster that needs an overhaul to become a contender again, Frazier represented upside. When the Cubs signed the outfielder to a one-year deal in December, Frazier figured to be in the mix for playing time, a chance for the organization to unlock his full potential and consistency that had evaded the 2013 first-round pick (fifth overall). Aside from Frazier’s age (27), he would be under team control through 2024 because of his remaining arbitration years.
If the Cubs found something in Frazier, he would provide low-cost offense and allow them to address other lineup needs. Frazier’s time Chicago didn’t play out that way, however. The Cubs designated Frazier for assignment before Friday’s series opener against his former team, the New York Yankees. It was a corresponding 40-man roster move for right-hander Chris Martin to come off the restricted list.
Frazier hit .216 with three doubles, no home runs, one RBI, a .356 on-base percentage and 87 OPS+ in 19 games with the Cubs. An appendectomy sidelined Frazier for more than a month.
Manager David Ross said Frazier was upset and emotional when he received the news.
“It’s a spot where we haven’t been able to give him real opportunities to watch him succeed right now,” Ross said. “I think he believes in his baseball skills, which we do too. It’s just one of those really tough decisions we have to make sometimes which stink and nobody wants to make those. It’s part of this business.”
Rookie Christopher Morel’s emergence over the last three weeks and his ability to play center field lessens the need for a fifth outfielder. Right fielder Seiya Suzuki (strained left ring finger) appears on track to come off the injured list this weekend, but as of Friday, he was not ready to return. Ross said it feels like a day-to-day situation, but “it’s a slow process right now.”
Suzuki took batting practice Friday, and the Cubs will see how he feels Saturday. The issue remains how Suzuki’s finger feels when hitting.
“Like, how much pain we can tolerate and how much we want to push it and is there any real damage that we can do long term with pushing it,” Ross said. “Right now I think we’re testing all boundaries.”
Frazier’s time might have been running out anyway as the Cubs will need a roster move once Suzuki is ready.
“His ability to show what he’s capable of, that hasn’t really panned out,” Ross said. “With how our roster is constructed it just was really tough to find him a spot. We all believe that Clint Frazier has got a lot of really good baseball still. … Him getting the opportunity to go out there and prove it is the hard part right now.
“Sometimes it’s the big picture from the front-office standpoint and day to day from my standpoint.”
There is, of course, the Jason Heyward question: How does he fit on this roster over a young, less proven outfielder with potential upside when the Cubs are looking to the future? Clearly the Cubs are not inclined to part ways with Heyward at this time.
Asked about Heyward on Friday, Ross said the veteran will get at-bats against right-handers. He started in right field Friday with Yankees right-hander Luis Severino on the mound. Heyward hit his first home run of the season on a 1-2 pitch from Severino in the fifth inning to tie the game. It marked his second extra-base hit in the Cubs’ 2-1 loss in 13 innings.
“Just staying with it, keep working at-bats,” Heyward said after the loss. “Just keep going. They’re going to make pitches. … Good to catch a couple and one of them put us on the board.”