By R.J. Anderson //
Although the Cubs chose against moving Carlos Pena at the deadline, don’t be surprised if someone else on their roster is in the running for becoming the team’s starting first baseman in 2012. The dark horse candidate is a fellow by the name of Bryan LaHair, and because he could become an intriguing option heading into the winter, here’s what you should know about him.
LaHair, who turns 29 in November, was drafted by the Mariners in 2002 out of Holy Name Central Catholic in Worcester, Massachusetts. Until January 2010, LaHair had spent the entirety of his career within the Mariners organization, and even reached the majors in 2008 for 150 plate appearances (during that span he hit .250/.315/.346). After the 2009 season, LaHair became a minor league free agent and signed with the Cubs, with whom he has played for since.
After an impressive 2010 season in Triple-A Iowa, LaHair raised the stakes further in 2011 by hitting 38 home runs and driving in 109 runs. Those numbers came in the Pacific Coast League, but so ha the numbers LaHair had accumulated over much of the previous five seasons, and nothing quite stuck out like his 2011 campaign. The question then becomes whether LaHair has legitimately improved, or if enough repetition and familiarity can lead to some unsustainable success. Perhaps, as is so often the case, reality has it as a mixture of both.
LaHair exited the 2007 season with a .156 ISO, and yet his ISO has increased in each subsequent season; from .156 to .202, from .202 to .241, from .241 to .249, and then from .249 to .333. It could be the league’s offensive-friendly environment playing tricks, but it’s rare to see ballparks provide a steady improvement like the one LaHair is experiencing with his power outputs. That is a reason for optimism. Now, whether the power will translate to the major leagues is another question, and a question without a known answer.
There are murmurs that the Cubs will re-sign Pena, but given the Cubs willingness to slot LaHair into the lineup as an outfielder, he could still become a fantasy contributor if given the playing time.
For more on potential 2012 bargains, check out Bloomberg Sports.