As Cubs sell off pieces, Schierholtz hopes to be a keeper

As Cubs sell off pieces, Schierholtz hopes to be a keeper
July 8, 2013, 10:00 pm
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Nate Schierholtz could be a keeper for Theo Epstein’s front office, the free-agent exception who isn’t flipped by the trade deadline.

With almost a week left until the All-Star break, the Cubs have already moved pitcher Scott Feldman and outfielder Scott Hairston. But Schierholtz fits the mold as a left-handed bat and a plus defender in right field. He’s only 29 years old and under club control next season as an arbitration-eligible player.

When Schierholtz signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal last December, he turned down multi-year offers as well as interest from contenders like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. He wanted the platform that would come on the North Side.

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“I just thought coming here was the best opportunity for me to play on more of a daily basis,” Schierholtz said Monday at U.S. Cellular Field. “You never know what can happen if you go to a team like New York or Boston. I’m sure those are great places to play, too. But for me, Chicago just felt like the right fit. I always enjoyed playing at Wrigley.

“It was a pretty easy decision and I don’t look back for one minute. I wouldn’t have done anything different.”

Schierholtz began the day hitting .273 with 11 homers, 34 RBI and an .833 OPS. He’s drawn mentions from manager Dale Sveum as a worthy All-Star candidate – even though he’s not a true everyday player – and emerged as a trade target on Twitter.

“There’s rumors every year, it seems like, about almost everyone,” Schierholtz said. “I don’t pay attention to any of it. I just try to take care of what I can control on the field. I’m happy here, so ideally I want to stay here.”

Late Sunday night, news broke that the Cubs were trading Hairston to the Washington Nationals, who needed someone to produce off the bench and crush left-handed pitching. Hairston didn’t get a single at-bat during the team’s recent road trip through Milwaukee, Seattle and Oakland. He was hitting .172 with eight homers in 99 at-bats.

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The Cubs were happy to acquire a 21-year-old minor-league pitcher (Ivan Pineyro) and clear almost the entire remaining balance of Hairston’s two-year, $5 million contract from their payroll. The Nationals will pay most of Hairston’s $2.5 million salary next season, saving the Cubs roughly $500,000.

“(That) was a little bit shocking to all of us,” Schierholtz said. “But I guess they’re doing what they feel is right and we’re here to perform on the field.

“They’ve given me every opportunity here to play a lot more than I ever have in my career, so I feel very fortunate to be here. I love it here. I’m happy here.”

Schierholtz has been better than advertised, showing he’s more than just the part-time player/defensive replacement who helped the San Francisco Giants during their 2010 World Series run.

“We projected him to hopefully hit 20 homers and play good defense,” Epstein said. “He’s exceeded our expectations just with the overall quality of the at-bats (and the ability) to hit him in the three hole. He does a nice job because he can handle different kinds of pitching and give you a real tough at-bat. He’s a threat to go deep if they make a mistake in certain parts of the zone. He runs the bases well and he’s been really reliable defensively, so we’re really happy.”

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Schierholtz got another World Series ring and was voted a full playoff share, even after being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on July 31 last year in the Hunter Pence deal. The Cubs have a clear deadline strategy and don’t seem to be waiting until the last minute. No one’s untouchable, but not every free agent has to be flipped.

“I felt at the time that I needed a way out of San Francisco,” Schierholtz said. “I just wasn’t going to ever get an opportunity there. I didn’t know if anything was going to happen – or when – and it happened the day of the deadline.

“I was shocked getting a call that morning because I went to bed not thinking it was going to ever happen. You never know when it can happen. It seems like it’s happening earlier this year, or at least around here.”