The Rundown: Hosmer’s Big Deal, Several Cubs Banking on Improvements, Zo Knows His Role

Good Morning and happy Monday! How’s everybody doing today? The stretch of sports that starts with the Daytona 500 and includes spring training baseball games and college basketball’s March Madness is really the light at the end of winter’s long tunnel, isn’t it? Opening Day is only 38 days away.

Busy weekend for baseball, status quo for the Cubs. In fact, barring anything unusual, it looks like the team’s roster is set. There had really only been two question marks when it came to who would break camp when the Cubs head to Miami for their opener March 29th, but Joe Maddon pretty much answered them over the weekend.

The big news in baseball this weekend centered on free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer, who signed an eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres on Saturday. It’s heavily front-loaded, with $105 million paid out in the first five years, after which Hosmer has an opt-out. Theoretically, the structure of the contract limits the back-end downside for the Padres. The hope is that the surplus value created by the first half-decade of the deal will cover the club for the last three, less-costly campaigns. But that depends how those first few seasons are valued.

Hosmer was one of the youngest free agents available, so an eight-year deal doesn’t seem to be as risky. But he is also one of the more analytically polarizing players of the offseason. In seven seasons, his cumulative WAR is only 14.1 so the Padres could be overpaying during those first five years.

The Padres, led by general manager A.J. Preller, are an analytics-first team. They aren’t ignorant of Hosmer’s true value. In fact, just last month, Preller hired former FanGraphs writer Dave Cameron to work in his front office. If Cameron is on board with this move, they see value in Hosmer where others do not.

Cubs News & Notes

When the Cubs acquired Justin Wilson at last season’s trade deadline, it seemed obvious the team was getting one of the better lefty power pitchers in baseball. The idea was that he would strengthen the bullpen for the playoffs and possibly replace Wade Davis as closer. Things went south pretty quickly, though, and Wilson was so terrible after the trade that he was left off the NLCS roster.

GM Jed Hoyer accepted responsibility for Wilson’s struggles, blaming the team’s onboarding process (subscription required/recommended) Meanwhile, Wilson has made a few adjustments of his own in an attempt to recapture his former level of production. Joe Maddon is a believer, though I’d pump the brakes slightly. It’s only the first week of camp.

If Wilson reverts to the pitcher he was with the Tigers in 2017, the Cubs bullpen could be downright scary. The Cubs appear, on paper, to have one of the most dominating group of pitchers in all off baseball. New pitching coach Jim Hickey will be tasked to help the staff meet those lofty expectations.

Addison Russell is looking for a resurgence this season as well. Injuries to his foot and throwing shoulder — not to mention some very unsavory off-field issues — limited him to 110 games in 2017. He wound up batting just .239 with 12 home runs and 43 RBI, hardly what was expected of him. Maddon said he feels the 24-year-old Russell is in a good place after seeing him rebound toward the end of the regular season.

Russell is similarly positive. “I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I stay healthy for a full season. If I stay on the field, I’m going to produce.”

Kris Bryant is implementing a new process to help with pitch recognition and zone coverage this year. The Cubs third baseman is always working to improve himself, and that’s bad news for opponents.

Ben Zobrist realizes at-bats will be distributed to the best players and at times the 36-year old super utility player may be asked to take a seat on the bench. Concerns with entropy notwithstanding, rust never sleeps. It’s better to burn out than to fade away, right?

“We’ve got a lot of great players, and there are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench on our team at times,” said Zobrist. “But no one ever rusts because you know how Joe uses everybody. You’re still going to play. Even if you don’t start, you’re probably going to play later in the game. It’s just part of the way Joe Maddon manages.”

Weekend Stove

Quick note: Rundown articles may be sporadic next week as I have to travel for business. The nature of this column prevents me from creating posts in advance, so please accept my apologies. I love doing this, but my real gig keeps the kids in college, so, borrowing a phrase used by my children that I dislike a great deal, “it is what it is.”

The Mets have agreed to a contract with free agent starting pitcher Jason Vargas and said they do not expect to make any further moves this spring.

The Rays made some puzzling moves over the weekend. The team traded SP Jake Odorizzi, released 1B Corey Dickerson, and acquired 1B C.J. Cron from the Angels. This may be the beginning stages of yet another MLB tank job. Stay tuned.

With the teams offseason moves designed to cut payroll, Evan Longoria feels sorry for Rays fans. Longoria was traded to the Giants last month.

The Angels made two moves this weekend, agreeing to a one-year contract with outfielder Chris Young and a minor league contract with first baseman Chris Carter.

The Rangers ended negotiations with free agent RP Seung-hwan Oh, forcing the team to search internally for a solution. The Rangers struggled to find consistency at the back end of their bullpen in 2017, as seven pitchers earned saves for them last season.

Bryce Harper’s brother Bryan is in his first big league camp with the Nationals. The 28-year-old pitcher hopes to stick as part of the team’s bullpen.

In a refreshing change, Reds first baseman and 2010 MVP winner Joey Votto has admitted to kinda-sorta being in the worst shape of his life.

Monday Walk Up Song

Mr. Blue Sky by ELO. Spring training games start Thursday.

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