The Rundown: Spring Training Winds Down, Cubs Roster Basically Set, Strop Set to Close, Javy Heating Up
Good morning, and let me start your week with a few column notes:
- Starting today I will be changing to my regular season format since games will be starting this week.
- Columns may be pretty light this week, too. I think all of us are done with spring training stories, and as glorious as Opening Day is, there is the obligatory off day that follows so news is generally slow. Besides, this is the week of my birthday,l and I intend to truly enjoy the final few days of this trip around the sun. I officially reach middle-age on the last day of this month and I am not happy about that.
- I will be making a big announcement on the day after my birthday, so make sure you look for hints in my posts this week ahead of next Monday’s jaw-dropping news.
- I will continue doing Saturday columns except for Memorial Day weekend.
- I desperately need owners for our AL and NL fantasy baseball leagues. Both are dynasty leagues with minor league drafts and all kinds of fun stuff, and each pays good prize money for the top four finishers. Contact me via email if you are interested in playing. I’ll give you all the details, show you some sample rosters, and get you in touch with our commissioner.
Cubs News & Notes
- Javier Báez had an uneventful start to spring training. Then the last eleven games happened.
Towering home run from Javy Baez in the third inning vs. the Rockies tonight. Including his first two ABs of the night, he's hit .419 (13-31) over his last 11 Cactus League games. pic.twitter.com/xPdjpJahyT
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 24, 2019
- The Cubs dropped 24 runs on the Padres yesterday and I’m sure Bears head coach Matt Nagy was more than slightly envious. Continued outbursts like that will go a long way toward removing any inclination of over-managing by Joe Maddon. But let’s be honest, if the Cubs were up by three touchdowns in the ’16 World Series, Aroldis Chapman still would have been called on to get 11 outs.
- Ian Happ found out firsthand what Theo Epstein meant when he said earlier this winter that players would be held more accountable this year. Through 17 games this spring, Happ hit .135 (7-for-52) with a .389 OPS and 14 strikeouts. So he’ll take his high strikeout rate back to Iowa to work on making more consistent contact.
- I can neither confirm nor deny that Happ was given a bucket of chicken and a sixer of Old Style as parting gifts.
- Brian Duensing also found out what accountability means. The relief pitcher will spend this week searching for a new team, and if he fails to find one, he has the option to join Happ in Iowa.
- David Bote spent the offseason trying to figure out how to hold up his approach over a larger sample size, especially now that the league has figured out his weaknesses.
- The Cubs and Tim Collins have agreed to terms on a 2019 contract. The reliever has been optioned to Iowa, for now. Epstein said the Cubs had pursued the 5-foot-7 left-hander dating to last August when he pitched for the Nationals.
- If you’re not worried about Brad Brach, you should be. He has yet to see an uptick in his velocity ($). Brach isn’t worried though. He won’t need to be if the Cubs offense keeps putting up 20+ runs.
- Pedro Strop will likely be the designated closer to start the season. For what it’s worth, a guy in my fantasy baseball league thinks Carl Edwards Jr. will lead the team with 30+ saves this season.
- Yu Darvish is hoping to get a start against the Rangers this weekend.
- The Cubs’ entire rotation has sort of a throwback feel heading into this season.
- Jon Lester just gets it.
- Have you ever wondered what happens in Arizona after the Cactus League season ends?
- I believe by the All-Star break most Cubs fans will have no regrets that the team wouldn’t spend the money to sign Bryce Harper.
- I spent most of the day on Sunday at Barnes & Noble reading the Baseball America Prospect Handbook. The Cubs have the 28th best farm system in baseball according to the publication and their number one prospect last season, shortstop Aramis Ademan, is 10th this season. The farm system needs a lot of work, but at least it is trending upward.
- The Tony Barnette signing is starting to feel an awful lot like the Tommy Hottovy signing a few years ago. More on that later this week.
How About That!
Justin Verlander and the Astros have agreed to a two-year extension that will guarantee him an extra $66 million.
Mike Trout said that the extended free agencies of Harper and Manny Machado were the red flags that helped dictate the terms of his contract extension with the Angels. A number of premium free agents-to-be have followed Trout’s lead.
Tyler Wade was all but certain to make the Yankees’ 25-man roster out of camp…until he suddenly wasn’t. Happ can relate.
Indians third baseman José Ramirez bruised his left knee when he fouled a ball off himself Sunday, and will likely miss Opening Day.
Aaron Boone thinks this year’s Yankees team is much better than the team that broke camp last season.
The Giants acquired catcher Erik Kratz from the Brewers.
Noah Syndergaard has some advice for Mets’ GM Brodie van Wagenan: pay Jacob deGrom his due. The GM used to be the agent for both pitchers.
Though the Cubs have yet to officially announce who will start and when beyond Opening Day, it appears Maddon will go with Lester, Darvish and Kyle Hendricks in the three game series against the Rangers in Texas starting Thursday. Cole Hamels will then pitch Monday against the Braves in Atlanta.
Final rosters aren’t due until Thursday morning, but it looks like Mark Zagunis, a third-round pick in the 2014 draft, will make the team. The outfielder is batting .357 with four home runs this spring and has a fan in Epstein. There have always been high hopes for Zagunis since he was drafted, and the demotion of Happ leaves an outfield spot available.
They Said It
- “I won’t declare anybody the closer. I didn’t even declare Stropy the closer. Once Brandon’s out, we’ve got to figure it out. Once Morrow comes back, he will be the closer. But until we get to that point, I like the idea of using guys in the higher-leverage moment that suits their abilities better. I don’t want to run away from a moment, just because I classified somebody as the ninth-inning pitcher.” – joe Maddon
- “I love [Collins’] competitiveness. He’s someone who never backs down and goes right after guys. He really has a ton of self-belief and he’s got legitimate stuff too. He’s got an above-average fastball and knows how to use it up in the zone.” – Theo Epstein
- “I know there was a lot of talk about going back East, but I enjoy every minute being here. This is my home. I love it. I think the direction of the franchise, if it was going the other way, I would have had to consider going. But it never crossed my mind. I was going to be an Angel for life, sure.” – Mike Trout
Monday Walk Up Song
Down on Me by Aslan – I’ll forgive you of you’ve never heard this amazing song before, which features sharp saxophone and harp interplay. Aslan is basically Ireland’s counterpoint to the Housemartins from England. The working-class band took their name from the fictional lion in C.S. Lewis’s series of books chronicling the land of Narnia. If you want a special treat, find their cover of the Stones’ Angie.