I’ve been trying to stifle any negative thoughts about the lack of playing time David Ross gave Alexander Canario and Pete Crow-Armstrong during the Cubs’ stretch run. Though I was never fully on board, I saw the logic in the manager’s decisions. Ross is a guy who will be remembered more for his veteran leadership as a player and several singular moments than for his overall body of work, and he leans on Chicago’s older and more experienced players because of his own late-career contributions.
At the same time, I can’t help but watch in awe as rookie outfielders Evan Carter and Corbin Carroll storm through the playoffs as two of baseball’s hottest players. Carroll has reached base safely 14 times in Arizona’s six playoff games, while Carter reached base 12 times in the Rangers’ first four contests. Most managers like to run a hot hand, but Ross benched Canario the day after he hit a late September grand slam.
I spent most of the last week reading all of the Cubs Insider game recaps and by my count, Ross directly cost the Cubs 3-6 wins as a strategist. The Sunday lineups and bullpen misuse were excused because I can’t account for nagging injuries or illness during the regular season. I still don’t understand the manager’s proclivity to deploy the sacrifice bunt, nor can I explain why Matt Mervis was given such a short leash when Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini weren’t much better. One could make a strong argument that Mervis was about to bust out just as Ross had given up on him.
Those 3-6 wins would have given the Cubs a Wild Card entry this year and, as this postseason has proved, a legitimate chance for an extended run. A lot of fans are looking to the promise of Chicago’s future, but the potential losses of Cody Bellinger, Jeimer Candelario, Marcus Stroman, and Kyle Hendricks will force Ross to rely more on first- and second-year players. That depends, of course, on the moves the front office makes this winter. Will they bring Bellinger back? Will Stroman opt out? Does Hendricks get his option picked up?
Ross seemed to prefer tired legs over fresh ones, especially with shortstop Dansby Swanson and outfielder Mike Tauchman, which is almost solely to blame for Chicago’s mediocre September play. He was praised by Tom Ricketts and Jed Hoyer for his overall performance, though the dismissals of strategy coach Craig Driver and bullpen coach Chris Young certainly tighten the screws on the 2024 season.
The Cubs beat the Pirates 14-1 on the night Canario hit his historic grand slam. They lost 13-7 the next night while the rookie outfielder sat on the bench. Tauchman batted .218 during the final four weeks of the season while Swanson batted .191 from September 17 to October 1. You would think that might have earned Canario a few more starts.
We’ll never know if Chicago’s rookie outfielders would have lit up the postseason on a national stage the way Carroll and Carter have. We do know, however, that a single win during a 162-game season is the painful difference between playing in October or making golf reservations and planning vacations. I will agree that blaming Ross is little more than grabbing at the low-hanging fruit, but he can’t be pardoned either.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs are reportedly scouting Japanese closer Yuki Matsui, though eight other teams are said to be interested in the 28-year-old lefty.
- Keith Law of The Athletic, who rarely praises Cubs prospects, had a few nice words ($) about the AFL performances of Kevin Alcántara, James Triantos, and Christian Franklin.
- Triantos has been one of the best hitters in AFL play.
- Alcántara is one of the league’s most well-rounded prospects.
- I agree with Evan Altman that Ian Happ is Chicago’s most underrated player, and I’d add that he’s also the least appreciated Cub.
- Yan Gomes and Miguel Amaya should be the Cubs’ catching tandem next season, though Tucker Barnhart is still owed $3.25 million.
- Jason Heyward is no longer being paid by the Cubs but could have a future as a manager once he retires.
- Just Baseball dropped its final 2023 Top Prospect list and it’s great news for Cubs’ fans. Crow-Armstrong, Alcántara, Cade Horton, and Owen Caissie are top-50 players. Matt Shaw, this year’s first-round selection, is ranked No. 51.
Odds & Sods
I was sad to hear that Suzanne Somers passed. Nobody looked better driving a T-Bird. A baseball with her signature was available for $129.99, but it sold within the last 24 hours.
Funny and beautiful.
Rest in Peace, Suzanne Somers.
I had the pleasure of meeting her several times. Her scenes in American Graffiti inspired me to get a T-Bird. pic.twitter.com/nYktqzkEo4
— Erin Murphy (@Erin_Murphy) October 15, 2023
Climbing the Ladder
Let me take a way-too-early stab at predicting the destinations for MLB’s top 10 free agents. As you’ll see, I am assuming Stroman opts out.
- Shohei Ohtani – Giants (but he won’t get $500 million).
- Yoshinobu Yamamoto – Yankees
- Blake Snell – Dodgers
- Bellinger – Cubs (if Bellinger leaves, I expect the Cubs to trade for Pete Alonso).
- Matt Chapman – Blue Jays
- Aaron Nola – Cubs
- Josh Hader – Rangers
- Stroman – White Sox
- Eduardo Rodríguez – Rays
- Sonny Gray – Cardinals
Who will be starting at third base for the Cubs next season? How about José Ramírez? He’s owed $105 million, signed through 2028, and will cost the Cubs two prospects. I’d prefer Shaw, but I do love Ramírez.
How About That!
Bryce Harper celebrated his birthday by crushing a home run, then “blew out the candles” as he crossed home plate. Harper joined Willie Aikens, Evan Longoria, and Kolten Wong as the only players to homer on their birthdays in the postseason.
Nick Castellanos has hit five homers across three consecutive postseason games. The Phillies outfielder joins Mr. October Reggie Jackson as the only MLB player to obliterate baseballs at that pace.
The Rangers return home up 2-0 over the Astros after last night’s 5-4 win.
Kim Ng will not return as the Marlins GM next season. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the Marlins were planning to hire a president of baseball operations, making Ng second in command.
Alyssa Nakken, who became the first woman named to an MLB coaching staff in 2020, has interviewed for the Giants’ open managerial position. Both stories are covered in the link above. Nakken is the first female to bid for an open MLB managerial position.
Hot Stove News & Notes
The Cardinals are expected to pursue Gray and/or Nola.
Apropos of Nothing
I apologize for my diminished presence here lately, but there isn’t a lot of Cubs news to comment on right now. I am genuinely looking forward to the start of free agency because this winter promises to be a very active one for the Cubs and several other big-market teams.
Alcántara should have a path to the majors at some point next season.
Kevin Alcantara walked it it off in the Arizona Fall League last night. Made a great catch in center field earlier in the game as well.
— CHGO Cubs (@CHGO_Cubs) October 17, 2023
They Said It
- “From a transaction perspective, you want to make deals with some sort of — to steal a value-investing term — margin of safety. Basically where you are acquiring the thing for less than what you think the true value of that thing is. Jed’s talked about this a lot. Just with the baserunning and defense, we felt like you had a margin of safety with [the Bellinger] acquisition. But at the same time, we weren’t going to just take that for what it’s worth. It’s like, ‘All right, what can we do to get the offense going, too?’” – Carter Hawkins
- “[Bellinger] feels good at Wrigley. He feels supported by the guys around him. It’s not like he came out of nowhere. He was an MVP not that long ago. Really, it’s the health and the (consistent approach) that probably put it all together. It’s maturity as a player, right? Guys have awful years sometimes. Five, six years into his career, he understands how people are trying to attack him. He understands what a two-strike approach looks like. He understands what he’s able to do with the bat control that he has.” – Hawkins
- “Cody was our top target going into [last] offseason. That was one where all that planning at this time of year really paid off.” – Hoyer
- “I don’t know that there’s anybody in the game who plays two positions as well as [Bellinger] does. He brings defense every single day. His love for playing baseball and trying to figure out a way to win is unique. He wants to play every single day. He loves coming to the clubhouse and interacting with the guys. Whether that’s giving guys a hard time, or talking about winning (baseball) or fantasy football, he’s wired the right way.” – Ross
- “Cody had a great summer. He’s a great teammate. Any team would like to have him, including us. But the free-agent markets, we’ll see where that goes. That will be up to Jed on how he puts those resources to work.” – Ricketts
Tuesday Walk-Up Song
The River, a sprawling Americana double LP by Bruce Springsteen, was released on this date in 1980. Most of the songs on that album were already concert staples by the time it dropped.