I’ve said it so often this winter that I tire of repeating it. The Cubs won 95 games in 2018, despite:
- Having scored one or zero runs in 40 games.
- Getting a half of season, if that, from Kris Bryant.
- Having had a monster season from just a single player, MVP runner-up Javy Baez.
- Losing Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop for significant parts of the season.
- Poor production from Anthony Rizzo in April other parts of the first half.
- Overtaxing a bullpen whose pitchers looked a lot longer in the tooth than they really are. Steve Cishek only looks 55 years old after Joe Maddon rode him like a rented mule all season.
- Maddon lacked any semblance of consistent motivation, which resonated through the clubhouse, and was overly creative in a too-cutesy way during the team’s most important games of the season. Yes, he really pulled Rizzo in the wild card game against the Rockies. Sorry to make you relive that nightmare.
If the front office can correct all of those flaws internally, then there is no reason to shop the Michigan Avenue boutiques in free agency. Yes, it would be really, really, really cool to have Bryce Harper, but unless he signs with the Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, or Nationals, he’s really a non-factor as far as the Cubs are concerned.
The Cubs are built to win and to win a lot, and they should save any significant moves until the trade deadline. In fact, the Reds should have a big Cubbie Blue target on their uniform backs. Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Scooter Gennett, and Alex Wood are all going into their walk years. I think the Reds’ strategy has been to maybe win this year, but to have a number of flip candidates to get better and younger next season.
Let’s be honest, their front office knows they aren’t going to win the division and a wild card is unlikely, which is why I find their alleged pursuit of Corey Kluber so amusing. If, that is, the cost to acquire the Indians ace is Nick Senzel.
And if things go south, which they shouldn’t, the Cubs have their own flip candidates: Cole Hamels, Ben Zobrist, Morrow, Cishek, Strop, Daniel Descalso, and Jose Quintana (if they believe Kendall Graveman can make an impact in 2020). Add Tyler Chatwood if he can find the strike zone.
You know, Theo Epstein’s comments at the end of the season may have been nothing more than a loud message to his manager and his clubhouse: Tend to your business and know that another season lacking urgency means we start finding replacements.
And besides, with Harper seemingly not part of the organization’s plans for 2019, we can start the early speculation about next year’s free agent class, one that includes Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, and Gerrit Cole.
Cubs News & Notes
- Maddon said yesterday that Harper is not coming to the Cubs. I was unaware he was serving as de facto GM this winter. That may explain the lack of urgency by the front office to acquire reinforcements.
- Still, when it comes to Harper, the Cubs and Giants are speculated to be mystery teams that could potentially sign the right fielder.
- A thick cloud of consternation hovers over the Cubs as the team’s annual fan convention approaches. Aside from a coaching staff overhaul, the front office has had a very dormant winter. Here are five topics of genuine interest heading into CubsCon ’19.
- The Cubs rotation could be dominant this year, or simply run-of-the-mill. It certainly doesn’t lack for star power.
- The farm system has taken a bit of a hit in recent years due to promotions and trades, but many baseball analysts believe prospects Nico Hoerner and Cole Roederer could be impact players in the near future.
- Like it or not, all signs point to Addison Russell manning shortstop for the Cubs once his suspension ends after May 1, so it may be time to [unfortunately] curb that denial.
- What’s the deal with those waffle irons in the dugout last season?
Waffles? In the @Cubs' dugout?
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) January 15, 2019
Not a story for those of you with weak stomachs: Former Rangers closer John Wetteland was arrested on charges of child sex abuse that took place over a period of two years with a then four-year-old child.
The most lasting relic from the early-to-mid-decade Orioles clubs that now seem a distant memory was established three years ago Wednesday: the seven-year, $161 million contract the team agreed to with two-time home run king Chris Davis. That may be ground zero for the changes to free agency spending the past two winters.
Kyler Murray officially declared for the NFL Draft.
The Phillies “have visions” of signing Harper, starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, and closer Craig Kimbrel. They must have barrels of cash saved up. Harper will cost at least $300 million, Keuchel is estimated to get a four-year deal worth $70-80 million, and Kimbrel is looking for six figures.
Ozzie Guillen, who led the White Sox to their first World Series Title in 88 years back in 2005, will attend SoxFest for the first time since 2011. The event will be held at the Chicago Hilton January 25-27.
The World Champion Red Sox will be guests of Donald Trump at the White House on February 15. Local fast food franchises are lining up to provide lunch. The NCAA National Champion Clemson Tigers visited Trump Monday and were treated to “great American food” from Wendy’s. Trump called it “cheat day” for the athletes. There is something apropos there, but I can’t put my finger on it.
A month to go before the start of spring training, and there are dozens and dozens and dozens of unsigned free agents: https://t.co/ShHDLv7ut7
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 13, 2019
We now have sunsets after 5 pm! It’s almost baseball…
1 minute and 28 seconds of bat flips pic.twitter.com/iAP4VKLL0O
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) January 15, 2019
Jeff Borris, former agent of all-time home run leader Barry Bonds, believes owners are currently colluding against players, though it would be extremely difficult to prove.
“The cost of labor should hand-in-hand go up as well,” said Borris. “When that doesn’t happen, I think that is an indication of a tremendous collusive effort on behalf of the owners to suppress salaries for the players. The owners over the years have gotten more sophisticated in the methodology in how they go about doing that, and I think that’s what you’re seeing right now.”
This Week’s New Spins
Didn’t get to it yesterday but here are my bargain bin treasures for this week, all purchased for $2 apiece!
- Jackrabbit Slim by Steve Forbert – Once considered the “next Bob Dylan,” most only remember Forbert for his lone Top 40 hit, Romeo’s Tune, which can also be found on the soundtrack to the Richard Linklater film, Everybody Wants Some. If you get the chance, take a deep dive into this long player; it’s really, really good. Oh yeah, if you have’t seen it yet, watch the film.
- Nothin’ Matters and What If it Did? by John Mellencamp – The Indiana native was known as Johnny Cougar when this was released, a marketing idea that perturbed Mellencamp a great deal. He wasn’t fond of the album, either. “I take no credit for that record. It wasn’t like the title was made up – it wasn’t supposed to be punky or cocky like some people thought. It was the most expensive record I ever made. It cost $280,000 – do you believe that? PolyGram loved Nothin’ Matters. They thought I was going to turn into the next Neil Diamond.” Ouch. For the record, artists earn no royalty payments for resale merchandise. I sent the same $2 I spent on the album to Mellencamp’s offices. I figured I owed the man that much, at least.
- Bloodshot by The J. Geils Band – When it comes to percussion in rock music, Michael Shrieve of Santana sets the high water mark with his performance of Soul Sacrifice at Woodstcock in 1969. Chicago is another band with a pronounced percussive aspect to their music. The not-so-obvious group in that team photo is the song Give it to Me from this album. The last half of the song is blissfully sublime and a great summer jam. Goes great with a view of Lake Shore Drive heading north from the South Shore area.
Wednesday Walk Up Song
Romeo’s Tune by Steve Forbert.