Cubs

After changing perceptions, could Aroldis Chapman return to Cubs next year?

After changing perceptions, could Aroldis Chapman return to Cubs next year?

CLEVELAND – A Cubs official admitted that it almost feels wrong to think about next season when this could still be The Year. But Theo Epstein’s front office has quietly been having those discussions during the downtime in an exhilarating, high-stress, emotionally draining playoff run. 

Reputations can be made in October and November, and until this World Series it looked like Aroldis Chapman could not – or would not – do what Andrew Miller did for the Cleveland Indians, springing into the middle of games and working multiple innings, even if it wasn’t the ninth.

But Chapman’s high-maintenance vibes faded into the background when he stepped forward and got eight outs in Game 5 and four more in Game 6, helping push the Cubs to the brink of their first World Series title in 108 years.  

Chapman – who will become a free agent after Wednesday night’s Game 7 at Progressive Field – showcased the ideal flexibility that had been in doubt ever since the Cubs made that blockbuster deal with the New York Yankees in late July.

“Of course,” manager Joe Maddon said, he would like to have Chapman back in 2017. “He’s been an extremely large reason why we’re in this moment right now. I think the perception has to have changed with him – and bully for him.

“We’ve done a lot of conversations over the last two months. In the beginning, you’re all well aware that I tried to do it (this way). Then we talked and he preferred not, so we got away from it, with the understanding that when we got to this point that it would change.

“Industry-wide, I would have to believe his stock has risen dramatically for what he’s done and how he’s done it. Total team guy right now.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Chapman – a physical specimen with a left arm that has a 100-mph default setting – already expected to smash the four-year, $50 million contract the Philadelphia Phillies gave Jonathan Papelbon after the 2011 season.

Chapman has so far appeared in 12 out of 16 possible playoff games, going 1-0 with four saves, a 2.51 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14-plus innings. Maddon credited Chapman’s personal assistant – Santiago Mateo travels with the team and hangs around the clubhouse – for being the conduit between the coaching staff and the superstar closer after a rocky start in Chicago.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be communicative with these guys,” Maddon said. “They are definitely luxury items. They are the best sports car. They’re the yacht. They’re the coolest, hottest plane in the air right now.

“It really requires a lot of communication to definitely be on the same page. And I think we achieved that.”

This class of free agents also includes Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, though Epstein’s overall philosophy for constructing bullpens revolves around growing from within, looking for change-of-scenery/bounce-back guys and staying away from the big contracts for relievers.

The Cubs spent nearly $290 million on free agents during the last offseason, essentially combining two winters into one with the knowledge that this class would be particularly weak. Chapman also comes with off-the-field baggage, serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy at the start of this season.

“I don’t know what our financial structure is,” Maddon said. “But I know that ‘Chappy’ has made a great impression on all of us.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”