The Chicago Cubs are a team in transition this season, bringing aboard fresh-faced prospects and high-priced free agent veterans alike as they try to turn over a new leaf with manager Joe Maddon.
On Monday at Cubs camp in Mesa, Maddon discussed the team’s plans for one of the prospects who will be looking to make an impact this season, saying that Kris Bryant will play at both third base and in the outfield as the team plays its Cactus League schedule.
“He gets it,” Maddon told the media. “I think he understands the work involved that’s necessary to being great.”
Bryant had an incredible 2014 season, skyrocketing through both the double-A and triple-A levels. In 594 plate appearances, he slugged 43 home runs and drove in 110 RBI, and he stole 15 bases in 19 attempts for good measure as he established himself as the top prospect in not only the Cubs’ system, but in all of baseball.
While speculation that Bryant could end up as the team’s left fielder (depending on what happens with Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, and Addison Russell in the infield) has been bandied about quite a bit, he hasn’t played any outfield since he was drafted by the Cubs in 2013. He has played all 177 of his career minor league games at third base, putting up a respectable fielding percentage of 94.6 percent while improving on his defense at each stop along the way.
It will be something worth keeping an eye on as Bryant works out the kinks in left field, and even though the odds are that he’ll begin the season in triple-A to avoid starting his big league service clock, it’s possible this move will give him even more versatility when he finally does make the jump.
The Chicago Cubs bolstered the top of their rotation this offseason with the acquisitions of Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, but the back end of their rotation is still a big question mark, with several hurlers competing for the final spot in the five-man group.
One of those pitchers that will be competing for a job will apparently be Edwin Jackson, as manager Joe Maddon revealed on Friday that the pitcher will be stretched back out to compete as a starting pitcher. The last two years haven’t been kind to Jackson after he signed a four year deal with the club prior to the 2013 season. In those years, Jackson has a 14-33 record, a 5.58 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.54.
Last season was especially bad for Jackson, as he struggled through poor play, an inability to keep the ball in the yard (he gave up 1.2 home runs per nine innings, his worst number since he made eight starts for the 2003 Los Angeles Dodgers.
With those kinds of numbers, and with players like Travis Wood, Felix Doubront, Eric Jokisch, and Tsuyoshi Wada all competing for a spot, it’s going to be a tough slog for Jackson to crack the rotation, but he’s feeling confident even in spite of the obstacles in front of him.
“I’ve been just looking forward. I haven’t really looked back in the past too much,” he told MLB.com. “Those two years, they were what they were. I’ve been ready, getting in shape and ready to go.”
Jackson was also asked about what it was like to play under Maddon, who managed Jackson during his brief stop in Tampa Bay earlier in his career.
“It’s definitely cool having a good manager,” he told Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
That last statement stirred up a bit of resentment on social media, as some fans took it as unwarranted criticism of the job that Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria have done in the past two years as Cubs manager. Most fans who criticized Jackson blasted him for being cruel about previous managers while seemingly glossing over his own failures on the mound for the Cubs.
That is one way to look at it, but it all feels a bit overhyped. Jackson has struggled with the Cubs, and there’s no way that he’s going to be guaranteed a roster spot even though the team is stretching him back out as a starter. He’s merely expressing confidence that he can win the job, knowing full well that there is an open competition for it.
As for the Maddon quote, Jackson is merely saying what everyone in the organization has said and inferred since Renteria was dumped and Joe was brought aboard. Maddon’s hire represents a shift in the focus of the Cubs away from competing to avoid the NL Central cellar to competing for a division title.
In Part One of our conversation with new Chicago Cubs pre-and-postgame host Mark Grote, we discussed what the interview process was like, and what drew him to the job. In Part Two, we’ll discuss the on-field issues that the team will have to address in the coming year.
WCH: Now that we’ve covered the broadcast part of the equation, let’s talk a bit about the team. After seeing Javier Baez make his debut last season, what are your expectations for him in the new year?
Grote: Baez is that guy that took your breath away at times when he connected with that ferocious and wonderfully untamed swing, but the strikeouts are too much. I think the Cubs’ coaching staff has a very delicate task as it pertains to Baez. You don’t want to turn this guy into a doubles hitter, but striking out half the time is unacceptable. He could be a monster at Wrigley Field if he makes slight changes to his approach.
WCH: The other big prospect story with the Cubs concerns whether or not Kris Bryant will start the season at the big-league level. Do you think he’ll be on the team’s roster when they leave Mesa, or do you see him going back to triple-A?
Grote: I believe that Kris Bryant will be on the Cubs’ opening day roster IF he tears it up in spring training. I respect and understand the money clock, but there is a point where a baseball player becomes undeniable. Where the player means actual wins at the big league level now. And, if this is to be the next phase of the Cubs’ “rebuild,” they are going to have to act accordingly.
WCH: When he does make his way up here, do you see him staying at third base or shifting to the outfield?
Grote: I’d like to see him get a crack at third base. I realize his height is not ideal for the position, but it would be easy to rearrange pieces if necessary.
WCH: Out of the Cubs’ big offseason moves, which one do you think is the one that will make the biggest impact?
Grote: The answer is Jon Lester. Not just because of his immense skills, but because he allows the rest of the rotation to fall into place. He legitimizes things, as I like to say. Remember last year when everybody was asking if Jake Arrieta was a number one guy? No need for further inquiry.
A comfortable number two spot is where he can thrive. The jovial Jason Hammel seems tailor-made for the three, and where Lester really works his magic is with Kyle Hendricks, who was a pleasant surprise in his first year. Now he can continue to play it cool and perhaps take the next step without everybody EXPECTING him to take the next step.
It also puts Travis Wood in a perfect spot, and I do believe Wood will have a turnaround season (assuming he’s not traded).
WCH: What do you think this team’s biggest need is as they head to Mesa for spring training?
Dexter Fowler smoothed out the outfield situation, but what about left field? My vote is to give Chris Coghlan a shot. The former rookie of the year was fantastically consistent last season. I really like him, and not every position has to be ‘Cubs super-prospect.’ Coghlan could be one of those guys who is just now figuring it out. It happens.
WCH: Outside of the big stars and hotshot prospects, which player do you see being a surprise for the team this year?
Grote: I already alluded to my faith in Chris Coghlan to be something real. The other I keep thinking that may be ready to pounce is Jason Motte. He had 42 saves in 2012, and Joe Maddon is uniquely qualified to make those bullpen guys jump.
WCH: There’s one last question that absolutely has to be asked: do you, Mark Grote, think that the Cubs will win the World Series in 2015?
Grote: Let’s see. I was just named the Cubs pre and postgame host. I’m going to be on the team plane, and around these guys 24/7.
OF COURSE THE CUBS ARE GOING TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES IN 2015!!
The real answer is that I would not predict the Cubs to win the World Series this season, but there is life. Real life. What one can begin to predict again is good things. It is safe to go back into the water.
The Chicago Cubs have been picked by The Sporting News to win the World Series, and guys like Joe Maddon and Jon Lester are talking championships on the north side, so it’s not surprising that some fans are going to extra lengths to get fired up for the 2015 season.
With that preface in mind, here is one such video that should get you good and amped for the season to start:
The callbacks to Harry Caray, as well as video of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, definitely hammer home what it would mean to see the Cubs return to relevance this year, and with young players and new faces, it’s going to be a fun year to be a Cubs fan, and it all gets started this week when the team begins reporting to Mesa for spring training.
The Chicago Cubs are done adding pitchers with hefty price tags this offseason, but with the price tag on one free agent dropping down to more reasonable levels, the team could be pulling the trigger on a move after all.
For those that can’t read the tweet, here’s the gist of Kaplan’s argument: the Cubs have been waiting for the market to take shape for Shields, and it’s becoming apparent at this point that he’s not going to get a contract worth more than $100 million this close to spring training. With teams preparing to report in two weeks (!), he’s looking to make a decision by the end of the week, and his history with Joe Maddon could make Chicago an attractive landing spot.
With those things in mind, a Shields signing would make perfect sense for the Cubs under the right parameters. If the deal is going to be in the three year range, the Cubs should jump on it and offer him as much money yearly as they want. A four-year deal would still work too, but going over $20 million per season would probably be a bit much.
The reason for an aggressive push if the term of the deal is right is simple: the Cubs don’t have a ton of salary on the books for the next few years as some of their impact players have cheap deals. Guys like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Addison Russell are all on really cheap deals during that time, and if two or three of them pan out as advertised (still a sizable if, but a much more reasonable thought than the notion that all four will be stars), having a guy like Shields added to the rotation could make the Cubs a serious contender during that time.
If Shields was paired up with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, the Cubs would have a rotation that would rival anything that an NL Central foe could throw out there, and they’d likely have one of the top five or six rotations in all of baseball. When coupled with the offense that the team is potentially going to have with guys like Miguel Montero added to the fold, and their dreams of making Back to the Future 2 could be much closer to reality than fans dare hope.
* = Kaplan is fairly plugged in with the Cubs, but he also has occasional misses (as do most reporters), so take this and all reports of activity on the North Side with a grain of salt.
Stay tuned to the blog over the next few weeks, as we prepare for a website relaunch in time for spring training. We’ve got a lot of cool stuff in the works, and we’re hopeful that you’ll want to see it in action.
The Chicago Cubs have made a ton of moves this offseason that have put them in a position to be competitive sooner rather than later, but if one national publication is to be believed, that ability to compete for a playoff spot may come sooner than a lot of us think.
In an article published on their website, The Sporting News revealed that the Cubs are their pick to win the World Series in 2015. That’s right. A team that went 73-89 and finished in the NL Central basement in 2014 is the team that SN is picking to win its first championship in 107 years.
Here is what Jesse Spector had to say about the Cubs, and why the publication picked them to win it all:
“The Cubs have the talent in place to make a quick jump in the standings. Once playoff time comes, it’s just about making the right plays at the right times and getting good pitching performances. Several teams are capable of winning the World Series this year – as the Giants and Royals both showed last year, if you get into the playoffs, you can make some noise. The Cubs are the pick to win the 2015 World Series because, after 107 years, they’re good enough to get there and, honestly, aren’t they due a couple of breaks?”
While we appreciate Spector’s enthusiasm, it’s probably best to pump the brakes just a bit. The Cubs are almost assuredly going to be a lot better than they were last season, but with teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates to jump over in their own division (and not to mention teams like the Nationals, Padres, Giants, and Dodgers to jump over in the rest of the National League too), it’s going to be a tough hill to climb for Chicago to even make the postseason, much less win a championship.
That isn’t to say that Spector didn’t make several good points, such as the potential emergence of Kris Bryant, their hugely-improved pitching staff, and their solid bullpen. Those are all things that could help the Cubs turn around their record quickly, but it still seems slightly premature to crown them as predicted champions.
Of course, what the heck do we know. This team has underperformed for so long that they may just be due to overperform after all.
The Chicago White Sox have been stocking up on bullpen arms like it’s going out of style this offseason, but the Chicago Cubs joined the fray on Monday night as they agreed to terms with former St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte.
Motte, who missed all of 2013 thanks to Tommy John surgery, had 42 saves for the Cardinals in the 2012 season, and while he only pitched 29 games in 2014, he showed little of the promise he had displayed in his breakout year. He had a 4.68 ERA in his appearances with the Cardinals, and his WHIP of 1.52 and K/9 of 6.1 were both well off the pace from his year as a closer. He was ultimately left off the Cardinals’ postseason roster as a result of his struggles.
On the plus side of the ledger, Motte’s velocity didn’t seem to be an issue during the season, as he averaged 94 MPH with his fastball.
According to reports, Motte will be paid $4.5 million during the 2015 season, and his signing illustrates that the Cubs aren’t going to take any chances that their bullpen will continue their success from last year. It’s unclear where Motte will fit in at this point, but it wouldn’t be impossible to imagine him in a seventh or eighth inning role to start with under the guidance of Joe Maddon and Chris Bosio.