No, Emilio Bonifacio is not the next superstar player for the Chicago Cubs and no, he’s not the type of young player with upside that the Cubs have been targeting recently. But Bonifacio has been a spark offense and a key component of a clubhouse that has stayed light and lively despite having the worst record in MLB.
Sometimes, the intangibles a player brings to the stadium everyday can be oversold, but in the case of Bonifacio, that does not appear to be true. Bonifacio has taken Starlin Castro under his wing, and his infectious attitude seems to spill over to everyone else in the dugout. Normally, this is the type of player who best fits on a winning team as the final piece of a championship puzzle.
But in the case of the Cubs, Bonifacio has served as the player who has helped to bring the clubhouse together as they mature and grow as a team.
It also doesn’t hurt that Bonifacio has been productive on the field as well. Through his first 40 games of the season, Bonifacio has locked down the leadoff spot in the lineup and has put up a line of .295/.339/.367 with 11 stolen bases. According to FanGraphs, Bonifacio has already been worth 1.2 WAR and with the value of a marginal win in free agency costing an average of $6 million, it’s safe to say that the Cubs have already gotten their money’s worth on his one-year, $2.5 million deal.
At 29 years old, Bonifacio is one of the older members of the Cubs, but he also has a few productive years left in which he can use his speed as a weapon. Currently, his defense is a plus in center field. and his versatility to move around the diamond is a huge advantage for a Cubs team that does not have many established position players. In order to show a commitment towards winning sooner rather than later, the Cubs should offer Bonifacio a three-year contract worth around $12-15 million to be their everyday center fielder.
Top prospect Albert Almora will be the eventual successor in center field, but he is currently at high-A Daytona, where his bat is just now coming around. He will not be ready to take over in 2015, and even 2016 may be optimistic. However, whenever Almora is fully ready to take over the job, Bonifacio can simply move back into a utility role.
Continuity and a commitment to winning are two of the areas that Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija has openly complained about when discussing a possible extension with the Cubs, and extending a pleasant surprise like Bonifacio would send a message to both the team and the fans that the Cubs do care about rewarding their current players and are not caught in a vicious cycle of acquiring and then promptly trading away any player who comes to the team and has success.
Bonifacio is not going to put the Cubs over the top in 2015 and he may be a bench player when the Cubs eventually make a long-awaited playoff appearance, but he is the type of player who endears himself to both fans and teammates with a positive energy that radiates throughout the stadium.
Extending him gives the Cubs the perfect opportunity to show that they are finally working towards building up a winning team at the major league level, and that would be a welcome change of direction for fans and players alike.