Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon won’t put ‘injury-prone’ label on Jorge Soler

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Cubs: Joe Maddon won’t put ‘injury-prone’ label on Jorge Soler

The Cubs don’t have a timetable for Jorge Soler yet, but the rookie outfielder doesn’t believe his strained oblique muscle will become a season-ending injury.

“I’m going to be back,” Soler said Wednesday at Wrigley Field through interpreter/coach Franklin Font.

While the Cubs miss Soler’s presence in the lineup right now, this could also be a much bigger-picture issue for a franchise that gave him a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012.

That turned out to be a shrewd investment in the Cuban market for Theo Epstein’s front office, because there’s no denying the talent. Staying healthy and getting on the field has been the biggest concern with Soler.

“I’m not ready to label him as ‘accident-prone’ or ‘injury-prone’ or whatever,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Let it just play out. Let’s see how it goes. And as he gains more major-league (experience) with playing baseball on a 162-game schedule, he might be able to stay healthier as he gets older.”

[MORE: Javier Baez returns to Cubs with something to prove]

Soler played only 151 games across parts of the last three seasons in the minors while dealing with a series of leg injuries. He is built more like an NFL linebacker, the type of athlete that typically doesn’t play baseball at a high level anymore in this country.

The Cubs monitored Soler’s workload in spring training and then had him go 49-for-49 in games played before he sprained his ankle in early June, awkwardly landing on first base while trying to hustle for an infield single.

“It happens,” Maddon said. “But a lot of times, my experience has been guys that maybe as they’re younger fall into this trap. And as they gain more experience, it kind of goes away.”

Soler hoped to maybe swing a bat on Friday, but oblique injuries are particularly difficult to project (see Tommy La Stella). The Cubs placed Soler on the disabled list on Aug. 24, but he said he first felt something two days earlier on a throw to second base.

The Cubs had been seeing signs that Soler’s power might finally start to emerge. Overall, he’s hitting .265 with seven homers, 42 RBI and a .710 OPS in 90 games this season.

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Soler’s extended absence helped drive this week’s Austin Jackson deal with the Seattle Mariners. Jackson – a right-handed hitter who can move all over the outfield – played in seven postseason series with the Detroit Tigers between 2011 and 2013.

“There’s definitely the mitigating factor,” Maddon said. “Austin is a good baseball player, man. He’s having a good year and he’s really been hot. Furthermore, he’s been there and done that in this time of the year, and that really helps, also. So I thought it was an outstanding move on the part of our guys to get him here under these circumstances.

“Losing George at this moment was not very good. But I think we’ve done a nice job of trying to fix it up a little bit. So I’m really excited about Austin and what he can do here.”

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: