Cubs

Joe Maddon sees Javier Baez and Jorge Soler as building blocks – not trade chips – for Cubs

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Joe Maddon sees Javier Baez and Jorge Soler as building blocks – not trade chips – for Cubs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Cubs have discussed the outlines of a Shelby Miller trade with the Atlanta Braves at length, but a source close to the talks insisted the two sides weren’t at all close to a Javier Baez deal as Monday night turned into Tuesday morning at the winter meetings.

Beyond shooting down that Twitter report, multiple sources indicated the Braves have been more focused on Jorge Soler, saying Baez isn’t Atlanta’s type of player, making him a much better match for the San Diego Padres and Tyson Ross, a pitcher the Cubs have targeted at least since the July 31 deadline.

[RELATED - Cubs have Jason Heyward on their radar at winter meetings]

But manager Joe Maddon – whose voice resonates with Theo Epstein’s front office – sees Baez and Soler as building blocks and not trade chips.

“Anything’s possible,” Maddon said during Tuesday’s media session at the Opryland complex. “It’s part of the business. It’s part of the game. As of right now, I don’t anticipate that happening. I really don’t. But if it were to happen, it happens.”

That could obviously change before the Cubs leave Nashville, Tennessee, but Maddon opened some eyes with the way he lobbied for Baez to make last season’s Opening Day roster and used him as a September call-up and in the playoffs.  

The Cubs got exposed as a flawed defensive team and swept by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. Maddon has repeatedly described Baez as one of the best young middle infielders he’s ever seen, and his violent swing has drawn comparisons to Gary Sheffield.

Maddon has called Soler a Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the type of premium talent that would get drafted No. 1 overall if the Cuban outfielder had been born in the United States.

Soler has dealt with injuries throughout his career, but showed so much potential in October, hitting .474 with three homers, three doubles and six walks in seven playoff games. 

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Baez just turned 23 and Soler will be 24 next season and the Cubs seem to understand both players have boom-or-bust potential.   

“My biggest concern would be the kid, the player, (because) Javy is special,” Maddon said. “I really like him a lot personally, and really got to know Soler.

“Soler is another example of a (coaching) staff really impacting a guy in a positive way – Manny (Ramirez and) Johnny Mallee and ‘Ske’ (Eric Hinske) and Davey (Martinez). It’s really wonderful how our group worked together to get the most out of these guys.

“So, yes, of course, anything’s possible, but I really anticipate they’re going to be 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: