Cubs

Five guys the Cubs should not trade

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Five guys the Cubs should not trade

With the Cubs in complete rebuild mode, they appear to be willing to listen to offers on anybody and everybody. The Sean Marshall trade proved that (though he was also their second-best trade chip behind Matt Garza).

That stands to reason. If this new-look front office is looking to build from the ground up, loading up on prospects and young players is the way to go. Trades are sometimes the easiest way to do that.

But who should Epstoyer (remember, the celebrity name for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer) not deal?

1. Starlin Castro

This one's pretty obvious. In a dismal 2011 season, Castro was the lone consistent bright spot on the Cubs. He's growing as a player and will continue to improve his power, baserunning ability and fielding. There's no doubt he is the most marketable player on this franchise and that may not change for decades.

In 2012, he will again be the main reason fans show up to Wrigley Field. Unless, of course, there is some miracle and the Cubs actually contend.

2. Andrew Cashner

Cashner won't turn 26 until the final month of the '12 season and is the team's best young pitcher. The only issue is his shoulder injury last season and how he bounces back. He figures to slot in as a solid member of the rotation in 2013 and beyond, but could wind up making some starts next season if his shoulder holds up.

Cashner may not become an ace, but he should be an integral part of the team's pitching staff nonetheless.

3. Brett Jackson

The Cubs' top prospect is said to be above average in every aspect of his game, but not stellar in any area. Because of that, there's some question if he will ever become a star. But even if he doesn't, I'll take a 23-year-old (he will turn 24 Aug. 2) who will get on base, score runs, drive in runs, steal bases and hit the ball out of the ballpark while playing good -- but not great -- defense.

No way the Cubs should deal this guy. He's getting close to big-league ready and probably figures to make his debut sometime in 2012.

4. Trey McNutt

He has the same birthday as Jackson, but is a year younger. McNutt was selected in the 32nd round of the same '09 draft, but was never expected to be an elite prospect. However, a stellar 2010 season put him on the map. He struggled badly at Double-A in '11, but is the team's best pitching prospect. Maybe that says some bad things about the shape of the minor leagues.

Either way, if the team is looking for young pitching with high upside, there's no point in trading a guy they already have that fits that same bill.

5. Matt Szczur

The Cubs' fifth round pick of the 2010 draft appears to be on a rapid ascent through the team's minor league system. He starred in rookie ball and two levels of Class-A after being drafted and then was a delight at two levels last season.

The freakishly athletic Szczur will probably start 2012 in Double-A, but is already on the 40-man roster (as per an agreement in his contract) and could have an impact on the Cubs as early as 2013.

When the offseason started, I would have put Matt Garza and Sean Marshall on this list. A left-handed reliever who can get righties out consistently is extremely hard to come by and a guy with the makeup and talent of Garza is exactly what the Cubs need in their rotation.

But I've now come to realize they are the two best trade chips the Cubs have. Marshall already proved it, as he had a very nice return for a relief pitcher.

Could Garza be next? Toronto is looking for a starter and they have plenty of prospects to give up.

The sad part about this list is it includes just one guy who had an impact in 2011 (Castro) and only Castro may have a huge impact next season. Cashner is coming off a serious shoulder injury and could wind up as just a sixth-inning guy for most of the year while McNutt and Jackson need strong spring trainings to break camp with the big-league club.

Just shows how important this rebuilding process is for the Cubs.

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 the 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 episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

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.”