Cubs

Cubs see Soto living up to his potential

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Cubs see Soto living up to his potential

Monday, Sept. 6, 2010
Updated 6:50 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Geovany Soto pointed at the board in the Cubs clubhouse and announced: That is not a misprint. He smiled as he walked away on Monday morning, turning his back and flexing his arms above his head.

Minutes later, a teammate looked at the posted lineup card that had the catcher batting fourth, and a confused look spread across his face: Soto? Really?

It doesnt matter to Soto where he hits now, even if the team is no longer anchored by Derrek Lee, and is trying to compensate for a diminished Aramis Ramirez. Coming into 2010, the Cubs couldnt be certain what they had in Soto, and they have struggled with run production for almost the entire season.

But by Labor Day, weve learned that Soto is profiling much closer to the player who was the National Leagues Rookie of the Year in 2008. The 27-year-old has distanced himself from last years disappointing line: .218 average11 homers47 RBI.

After rededicating himself back home in Puerto Rico, he transformed a body he described as fat, shedding weight down to a number thats listed at 218 pounds.

After last season I looked myself in the mirror, Soto said. I needed to make some adjustments and pick it up. I worked hard and now its paying off. Hopefully it will keep paying off.

The dividends could be seen as Sotos game-winning shot traveled out of Wrigley Field and onto Waveland Avenue. The solo home run with two outs in the eight inning cemented Mondays 5-4 comeback victory over the Houston Astros in front of 31,647 fans.

The Cubs (60-78) have conceded almost the entire second half of the season to player development. All the rookies in the room could probably learn something about consistency and professionalism from Soto, who looks like hes beginning to figure it out himself.

Hes a lot tougher than people know, manager Mike Quade said. Hes getting himself back to where he was his rookie year.

Soto stood his ground in the fourth inning, when Michael Bourn sprinted home on a groundball to third. Jeff Baker threw home, and Bourn was in Sotos airspace before the catcher could fully brace himself.

Bourn ran Soto over, but the catcher held onto the ball after the collision, making sure the Astros (64-73) didnt add an extra run to their 4-3 lead. Soto got up and continued to guide Casey Coleman through the fourth big-league start of his career. The 23-year-old right-hander walked five and gave up four runs in the second, but that was it as he lasted for six innings.

The goal is to keep the team in the game, Coleman said. You got to be able to move on. You got to be able to put some zeroes up. Even though it was a struggle, (Soto) settled me down, the defense made a few nice plays and the offense stepped up and really bailed me out.

As a group, the pitchers like working with Soto, who played for Quade at Triple-A Iowa in 2005 and 2006. But Soto didnt break out until his Pacific Coast League MVP season of 2007, which he finished with a .353 average, 26 homers and 109 RBI and playoff starts for the Cubs.

Soto did a really nice job for me, but didnt put up the offensive numbers, Quade said. He always blocked well. His throwing was ok. He called a good game. I liked everything about him defensively.

But offensively you were kind of wondering how good he was going to be or what he was going to be. At that position, he didnt need to hit .320 with 40 home runs. But you werent quite sure how we could (fit him in).

Soto recently dealt with shoulder and knee issues that have limited his numbers, but hes still on pace to be among the most productive catchers in baseball (.2841751 through 97 games). If he stays healthy and in the right frame of mind, that would be one less thing for the front office to worry about during what promises to be a long offseason.

I try to play hard, Soto said. I try to play the game the right way, even if its a blowout or a one-run game. Put it that way Im not selfish. Ill take a walk and just do anything to help my teammates out.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.