Javier Baez takes off while Cubs brace for possibility Addison Russell could miss rest of season

Javier Baez takes off while Cubs brace for possibility Addison Russell could miss rest of season

PITTSBURGH – While Javier Baez takes his game to another level, the Cubs are bracing for the possibility that All-Star shortstop Addison Russell could miss the rest of the season as he deals with a strained right foot and plantar fasciitis.

“There’s no assumption,” manager Joe Maddon said Thursday at PNC Park. “He could be out the rest of the year. He could be back. I don’t know.”

Do the math: An MRI on Aug. 31 revealed a re-aggravation of the plantar fasciitis that has been part of the nagging issues that pushed Russell onto the disabled list on Aug. 3. The Cubs are one week into a three-week recovery period, though at this point it’s unclear whether that means jumping back into the lineup or ramping up baseball activities again. The playoff window would likely be the National League divisional round that begins Oct. 6.

MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo made an interesting observation during a state-of-the-team conversation in the middle of this four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs watched Jake Arrieta (strained right hamstring) hobble off the mound and catcher Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) leave to join advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League playoffs.

“The feeling is that it’s not season-ending for anyone,” Rizzo said. “Addie’s been out for a while now. His chances of coming back are kind of growing slim now.

“But with Jake, it’s optimism. He’s going to come back and make a couple starts. (With) Willson, hopefully he’ll be back in a few days now after he goes out for rehab. But it’s part of the game.”

Baez has maximized this opportunity, showing that he can be a dynamic, two-way, big-league shortstop, leaving Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella and Mike Freeman as part of the jigsaw puzzle at second base.

“Javy’s shored up that spot really well,” Maddon said. “My bigger concern right now would be in the latter part of the game: Where do you want to go at second base? Based on who’s available, everybody else who’s in the game that night, love Tommy coming off the bench to pinch-hit, there’s all different things to consider.

“So if, in fact, Addie can’t make it back, I think it’s going to be important to figure out who is the best defensive second baseman to run with in the latter part of a game.”

Ever since their first spring training together in 2015, Maddon saw the possibilities with Baez and appreciated his unique skills, lobbying for him to make the Opening Day roster. The Cubs opted for more development at Triple-A Iowa, and Maddon purposely avoided anointing Baez and allowing him to get too comfortable.

After this extended look – starting 32 of 33 games at shortstop in the middle of a 21-homer, 67-RBI, age-24 season – is Baez an everyday player now? 

“First of all, you just got to get Addie back,” Maddon said. “Don’t forget, he’s missed a lot of time. When I was talking about it before, I anticipated he would be back for this entire month. I just don’t know where he’s going to be when he shows up. It’s going to be hard to just say automatically: ‘Here, you go play shortstop.’

“Because I don’t know that answer right now. I think it would be great to have Javy and Addie on the field at the same time in the latter part of any game, if, in fact, Addie is ready to do that.

“Moving down the road, heck, Javy’s showing right now that he can be an everyday player. He’s absolutely shown that. And I’ll tell you the thing I’m most impressed with is just his durability. We’ve gone beyond hits and plays and running. He looks fresh.”

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse


Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

Monday’s interview with Jim Hickey in Chicago — roughly 72 hours after the Cubs fired pitching coach Chris Bosio and within a week of manager Joe Maddon saying “of course” he wanted his entire staff back — is a first step in the reboot at Wrigley Field.

Maddon would probably like to have that answer back, knowing he could have softened the language with corporate speak and created some wiggle room in the middle of a National League Championship Series where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game.

But Hickey, the former Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach, is a familiar face and an expert voice at a time when Maddon’s honeymoon period appears to be over, repeatedly first- and second-guessed about his decisions, from the World Series Game 7 the Cubs won last year through a frustrating 43-45 start to this season and deep into another playoff run.

That staff is already in flux, with bench coach Dave Martinez scheduled to interview with the Washington Nationals for Dusty Baker’s old job and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske now leaving to take a lead role with the Los Angeles Angels hitters.

Here’s why the Cubs will probably have to make Hickey an offer he can’t refuse:

— A rival scout noticed how often Maddon looked like a solitary figure in the dugout, standing there looking down at his lineup card. Whatever friction Maddon felt with Bosio — a big presence who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and isn’t afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks — Hickey is someone the manager trusts after their eight seasons together with the Rays.

Maddon insisted he wasn’t maneuvering behind the scenes when he reached out after Hickey surprisingly parted ways with Tampa Bay in October, but it still showed the depth of their relationship: “I called him to console a friend.”

— While working for the Boston Red Sox, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer got an up-close look at what Hickey did in the American League East, helping build the small-market contender that advanced to the 2008 World Series, the beginning of five seasons with at least 90 wins in six years.

Between his time with the Rays and Houston Astros, look at the All-Star pitchers Hickey has worked with: Chris Archer, David Price, Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Matt Moore, Fernando Rodney, James Shields, Rafael Soriano, Scott Kazmir, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Roger Clemens.

— Hickey can also offer unique insight into Alex Cobb, a free agent the Cubs will have to do more background work on as they try to replace 40 percent of their rotation. Cobb — who went 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 career starts for the Rays — just turned 30 and has only 700 innings on his major-league odometer after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the middle of the 2015 season.

“He has a talent that most organizations search for relentlessly,” Cobb told the Tampa Bay Times after Hickey left the Rays with a year remaining on his contract. “He will have a great time being a free agent.

“I’m not going to try to explain how great Jim Hickey is. There’s really nothing I can say that would speak louder than his track record. All I can say is how fortunate I was to have him when I got to the big leagues. No one could have prepared me better.”

— Beyond the connection to Maddon, Hickey is someone who knows Chicago after growing up on the South Side, and that hometown draw will probably matter at a time when the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are among several marquee teams in the market for a new pitching coach that now might be thinking: "Better Call Boz."

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job


In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

Dave Martinez – Joe Maddon’s bench coach during unprecedented runs of success with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – is ready to step outside of the star manager’s shadow and run his own big-league team.

A Washington Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back division titles – while having some big personalities in the clubhouse and obvious internal issues – could still be that ideal opportunity.

The Nationals have reached out to set up an interview with Martinez, a source said Monday, confirming a Washington Post report in the wake of Dusty Baker’s messy exit, eight days after a massively disappointing playoff loss to the Cubs.

Martinez had been an X-factor in Washington’s search two years ago, when negotiations broke down with Bud Black and the Nationals eventually circled back to Baker, the former Cubs manager.

Martinez has the built-in credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues, which would be an asset for a team that has Bryce Harper entering his final season before free agency and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation.    

Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish and analytics, spent the last 10 years working as the bench coach for two data-driven organizations, putting him at the cutting edge of defensive shifts, bullpen management and game-planning systems.    

While Maddon thrives in the front-facing aspects of the job, dealing with the media before and after every game and selling a vision to the public, Martinez handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues, putting out clubhouse fires and interacting with the players in one-on-one settings.

The partnership worked to the point where the Rays captured the 2008 American League pennant and the Cubs won last year’s World Series. While the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series for three straight seasons, the Nationals have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs four times since 2012.

In the middle of the grueling five-game playoff series where the Cubs outlasted the Nationals – which may have been a tipping point against Baker for Washington executives – Maddon lobbied for Martinez to be in the manager mix during baseball’s hiring-and-firing season.

“He belongs in the group,” Maddon said. “I know all these people being considered, and I promise you our guy matches up with every one of them.

“He was such a heady, aggressive, gritty kind of player. Bilingual. All that matters. He's not afraid to have the tough conversations (that) people in that position may shy away from.

“Believe me, I see all the names. There are a lot of good names, and I like a lot of these dudes. But I’m just telling you: To not include his name with those other people baffles me.”