Cubs

Cubs could think big by making Kyle Schwarber their DH

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Cubs could think big by making Kyle Schwarber their DH

WASHINGTON – This would be outside-the-box thinking for the Cubs, an aggressive move to get a big left-handed bat in the lineup: Kyle Schwarber, designated hitter.

It could all be lining up for Schwarber, the No. 4 overall pick out of Indiana University at this time last year. The hard-edged catcher is dominating at Double-A Tennessee (1.033 OPS), putting himself on the fast track to at least become a September call-up.

Beginning Tuesday in Detroit, the Cubs will play seven games in 13 days in American League stadiums. Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t know what moves are coming next until he breaks it all down with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

But the idea of Schwarber – who’s hitting .326 with 12 homers and 37 RBI through 51 games and getting on base almost 45 percent of the time – has to be tempting.

[MORE: Cubs show win-now urgency in pulling closer Hector Rondon]

Will Schwarber’s name be in the conversation?

“He could be,” Maddon said before Sunday’s 6-3 win at Nationals Park. “I would think (so). Based on what he’s done, it would make sense that he would be. But, again, I don’t know what we’re willing to do.

“I just try to do my job, and if the guys think that’s the right thing to do, then I would be on board with it.”

[MORE: Why the Cubs once passed on Addison Russell in the draft]

The Cubs already strengthened their roster by activating veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia and optioning Matt Szczur to Triple-A Iowa. The numbers also suggest the Cubs may not need three left-handers in the bullpen against a Tigers lineup that can handle lefties (.764 OPS).

The Cubs are preparing for those two interleague games at Comerica Park and will be traveling to Cleveland and Minnesota next week. A player optioned to Iowa would have to spend 10 days in the minors before becoming eligible to be called up again (barring injury).

“I am going to talk to Theo about all of this,” Maddon said. “You got that window of opportunity. If you want to do something, there it is.

“It’s a perfect window of opportunity. If you want to manipulate, there it is.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs are also confident Schwarber will be a long-term answer at catcher, so there could be benefits to giving him more exposure to Miguel Montero, David Ross and the team’s game-planning system.

Sooner or later, Schwarber will join a talented young core that already includes Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Starlin Castro and Addison Russell.

“I don’t want to just get a look at him,” Rizzo said. “I want someone – if they’re going to get called up – to stay up. But those at-bats are important in the minor leagues. It’s proven over track records of guys getting a certain amount of at-bats. I know he’s doing well, but he hasn’t hit the dog days of summer yet. Your first full season professionally can get to you a little bit.

“But it’s whoever can help this team, whether it’s someone off the streets or one of our top prospects.” 

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: