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 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 Cubs unveiled their 2015 schedule on Monday afternoon, and while things are pretty standard for the most part, there were a couple of things that stood out on the slate.
First and foremost on that list was the fact that the Cubs will open the season against the St. Louis Cardinals on the Monday after Easter. Welcoming a big rival to Wrigley Field for Opening Day has the potential to really get the season off to a rollicking start at the Friendly Confines, and it will be interesting to see what kind of crowds the team draws.
Another interesting decision made by MLB was to once again have the Cubs play six games against the Chicago White Sox in 2015. Those series, which will take place in July (at Wrigley) and August (at US Cellular Field) are both weekend series, and should draw good crowds to both parks.
Outside of those interesting developments on the slate, there are five home series that are worth checking out if you’re going to be buying tickets to see the team at Wrigley next year.
May 25-27: Washington Nationals
The thought of the Cubs going up against players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg is one thing, but to see those kind of power players go up against the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo will be even cooler. Expect some fireworks in this series.
May 29-31: Kansas City Royals
It is going to be an awesome homestand at the Friendly Confines as the Royals follow the Nationals into town. The Royals are in serious contention to win the AL Central this season, and with a young lineup and rotation, they should be in the conversation as one of the top teams in the junior circuit for years to come.
July 3-5: Miami Marlins
The Marlins are a team that has already alienated a lot of fans in South Florida because of their spendthrift ways, but with an opportunity to see Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez roll through the Windy City, Cubs fans shouldn’t miss this holiday weekend series.
August 18-19: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are only in town for two days, but with pitchers like David Price (who knows if he could be wearing a Cubs uniform in 2016) and Justin Verlander, odds are strong that the Cubs could see some of the best pitchers in the game in those contests.
September 25-27: Pittsburgh Pirates
The last home series of the season will be played against the Buccos, and even though the two teams are on opposite ends of the divisional race this year, it’s entirely possible that the Cubs could still be angling for a playoff spot when the rivals meet again.
The Chicago Cubs are not only starting to make some real progress on the field, but apparently the emergence of players like Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, and Jorge Soler this season has caused more fans to tune into games. Here is what Ed Sherman had to say on the subject:
“With the three young players leading the way, the Cubs’ 6-3 victory over Milwaukee did a 3.20 rating on Comcast SportsNet Wednesday. That means an estimated 115,000 homes tuned into an otherwise meaningless September game for the Cubs.”
The Cubs ended up being the third-highest viewed program in the Chicago area on Wednesday night, and those ratings spikes are coming at a good time. With renegotiation with WGN ongoing for their TV rights, as well as the possibility of a massive new TV deal in 2019, the Cubs are going to be looking to increase their footprint, and this is a good start.
Theo Epstein has also brought up how getting more money from television and other sources will impact the team’s ability to compete when he discussed their plans for the year ahead:
“As we get closer to a new television deal, and as we realize some of the revenues associated with a renovated Wrigley Field, I believe that will only enhance our flexibility.”
With work set to begin on those renovations in the next few weeks, and with players like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell still primed to be called up next season, things are about to start accelerating quickly for the Cubs on multiple fronts, and clearly fans are tuning in to see the progress that the team has made over three lackluster seasons.
Over the past several seasons, the Chicago Cubs haven’t really been in a position where they’ve had to jettison players to make room for others, as their young talent was still spread out throughout the minor league system.
Beginning next year however, some of those decisions are going to start popping up. Kris Bryant is all but a shoe-in to start the year as the Cubs’ third baseman, Arismendy Alcantara will either be playing second base or center field for the north siders, and players like Albert Almora and Billy McKinney will soon be vying for outfield spots for the team.
All of those youngsters coming up through the system are obviously great for the club, but the news isn’t as good for players like Luis Valbuena. He has 16 home runs and 46 RBI in 540 plate appearances this season, and he’s already got career highs in both of those categories. He does strike out a lot, with 97 punchouts this season, but he does walk quite a bit, and his .325 OBP isn’t exactly terrible when you consider the amount of power that he provides at the dish.
Valbuena once again showed off his value on Monday afternoon as the Cubs tried to knock the Milwaukee Brewers out of first place. After watching Starlin Castro strike out looking to lead off the eighth inning against Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress, Valbuena deposited a 1-1 pitch into the center field bleachers to give the Cubs a critical insurance run. That breathing room allowed Hector Rondon to come in and nail down the save against the heart of the Milwaukee order, and the Cubs were able to knock off their rivals to the north 4-2.
Valbuena’s bat is a really good asset for the Cubs, and his glove is as well. With plays like the one he made Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals (he took a step back on a sharply hit grounder, picked it cleanly, and started a 5-4-3 double play), Valbuena is capable of turning a game with the leather too.
Unfortunately for him, none of that is going to matter when the 2015 season comes around. The fact of the matter is that Valbuena might be too talented of a player to simply use in a utility role, and the Cubs might be better off trading him away. There are plenty of teams who could use a slick fielding third baseman with the potential to hit 20 home runs a season (the fact he’s under team control until 2017 is another selling point), and the Cubs could enrich their pitching rotation or bullpen if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer play their cards right.
Losing Valbuena would stink, especially considering how much he’s done for the Cubs while they’ve been mired in mediocrity while waiting for their youngsters to make it to the big leagues, but it would be equally unfair to him to make him a bench player as other players come into the fold. Trading him would be the most fair way to go about things, and both parties would benefit in the long run from that kind of move.
Ever since the Chicago Cubs were eliminated from the 2008 playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers, every new season has come complete with a ton of disappointment for fans of the team. Whether it was the acquisition of Milton Bradley, the complete meltdown of Carlos Marmol, or the wasted last few seasons of Alfonso Soriano, there has been plenty for Cubs fans to be sad about in recent years.
Beginning in 2012 however, Cubs fans began to see signs of life. Whether it was the decision to trade for Anthony Rizzo in 2012, draft Kris Bryant in the 2013 MLB Draft, or the trade that netted the Cubs Addison Russell in 2014, or the signing of Jorge Soler, the Cubs’ front office has made a ton of moves that have strengthened the team for the long-term.
Obviously, those moves have come at a cost, but the benefits are finally beginning to show themselves with the emergence of Javier Baez on the scene for Chicago. Fans who have tuned out because of the lean years that have followed Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s arrival in the city find themselves glued to the TV once again as Baez has gotten off to his torrid start, and in equal measure the fans who have ridden out this rough road are being rewarded for their patience with the way Baez has arrived on the scene.
Perhaps more importantly than just the call-up itself or the way he’s started his career with the team, Baez has already shown he is capable of changing the way fans perceive the team. Against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night, nobody would have blamed fans for tuning out from the game after Hector Rondon blew his fourth save opportunity of the season by surrendering a run in the bottom of the 11th inning. If they decided to stick with the game though, they were instantly rewarded when Baez ripped an opposite field home run to give the Cubs back a lead that they would never relinquish.
On Thursday afternoon, a similar thing happened for the team as they won yet another game. Leading 4-2 in the top of the 8th inning, Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer were discussing how important it was for the Cubs to get an insurance run or two in the frame (perhaps remembering the Rondon and Wesley Wright struggles in Tuesday’s game). Sure enough, Baez strode to the plate, and somehow muscled a ball that was below his knees over the right field fence to make it a 6-2 game.
With just those two games, Baez has shown that his potential isn’t just as a power hitter; his potential could also be to be the opening salvo in a barrage of new weapons that are making their way to the North Side. A player who can do the things Baez has already shown himself capable of doing has the power to turn around a team’s entire mentality, and Baez’s no-quit attitude and prodigious power are already yielding positive results for the Cubs.
If he can keep this up, and if the Cubs continue to stick to their plan in terms of stockpiling bats, then the fans at Wrigley are going to have a lot to cheer about in coming seasons. Needless to say, the opening act has been a sight to behold.