Cubs

Kyle Hendricks gets the Game 1 start for Cubs as Joe Maddon sets his NLDS rotation

Kyle Hendricks gets the Game 1 start for Cubs as Joe Maddon sets his NLDS rotation

Kyle Hendricks will get the ball when the Cubs open the NLDS against the Washington Nationals on Friday.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon announced Wednesday that Hendricks will be the team's Game 1 starter. Jon Lester will start Game 2, Jose Quintana will start Game 3, and should it be necessary, Jake Arrieta will pitch Game 4.

Hendricks certainly earned the honor of being the first starting pitcher out of the gate for the Cubs this postseason. He led the starting staff with a 3.03 ERA during the regular season and was especially fantastic after returning from the disabled list, posting a 2.19 ERA in his last 13 starts.

Remember, too, the work Hendricks did last postseason en route to that curse-smashing World Series win. He threw 7.1 shutout innings opposite Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS, a win that won the Cubs their first NL pennant since 1945. Hendricks also got the start in Game 7 of the World Series.

Lester boasts a remarkable career's worth of postseason experience, a three-time World Series champion, but his numbers have not been up to his usual dazzling standards this season. He's got a 4.33 ERA, his highest since 2012.

Quintana, acquired in a midseason blockbuster trade with the White Sox, has been strong for the Cubs down the stretch. He had a 2.52 ERA in five September starts.

Arrieta is dealing with a hamstring injury that required him to miss his final start of the regular season. He has a 3.53 ERA on the season and was especially good over the season's final three months, posting a 2.26 ERA in his last 14 starts.

The Nationals counter with their own formidable starting staff that features reigning NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, along with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

Should the Cubs trade Addison Russell for Manny Machado? Umm...no

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AP

Should the Cubs trade Addison Russell for Manny Machado? Umm...no

Twitter is abuzz with the sound of Manny Machado trade propositions.

There's no harm in that. It's everybody's right as a sports fan to come up with their own ideas for trades — no matter how crazy — and debate proposals with other fans.

But not all trade ideas are equal, of course.

In his recent column for The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal came up with a package for the top teams in baseball to acquire superstar infielder Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles.

From a Cubs perspective, Rosenthal suggests a package of Addison Russell, Mike Montgomery and a prospect for Machado.

Um...no.

Russell-for-Machado straight up is enough to give me pause, but I can at least wrap my head around why that might make sense for the Cubs.

Adding Montgomery and a prospect, however, pushes the trade over the edge into "no way" territory if all the Cubs are getting back is Machado.

For starters, Machado is set to be a free agent after the 2018 season and right now, seems intent on exploring the open market. Why wouldn't he want to? He won't get a $400 million contract like Bryce Harper may be reeling in, but Machado is still one of the very best players in baseball and should be able to fetch $200 million if he so desired.

Any Cubs trade for Machado would signal some sort of all-in notion for 2018 and prompt "World Series or Bust" expectations.

Why would the Cubs need to go that route and feel such urgency? They're positioned to contend for at least the next three years, but the championship window is probably open longer than that. 

The Cubs have been viewing a 7-year stretch of contention for years and discussed that same notion just last week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 2018 only represents Year 4 of that 7-year stretch.

Yes, the Cubs gave up Gleyber Torres (a Top 5 prospect in the game), Adam Warren (a useful swingman arm) and a pair of minor-leaguers for only a half-season of Aroldis Chapman 18 months ago, but that helped end the 108-year championship drought and the 2016 team was just one piece (a dominant closer) away from going over the hump.

The 2018 Cubs are not only one piece away from climbing over the hump if that's the package it takes to acquire Machado.

It would create a short-term pitching need, as Montgomery is currently slated for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Even if the Cubs add another starter, Montgomery is the first guy up if there is an injury to any of the five rotation arms and in the mean time, he's a very valuable bullpen arm as both a long man and in shorter outings. 

Oh yeah, and Montgomery is not a free agent until after the 2021 season.

A Russell-for-Machado straight-up swap would make more sense, but still not an ideal situation for the Cubs' long-term plans.

If you sat here and told Cubs fans in December 2016 that their favorite team would deal Russell in a package for just one year of Machado, they'd probably laugh. And that was when Machado was coming off back-to-back years of Top 5 finishes in AL MVP voting.

Now both players are coming off down years, though they're still so young (Machado turns 26 in July; Russell turns 24 in January).

Russell has not yet lived up to his potential, but he's also only been in the league three years and last season was marred by a foot injury and off-field issues.

It's worth noting Machado needed three big-league seasons before he became the player he is today.

Here are Machado's stats after his third MLB season (2014):

.278/.324/.431
.755 OPS
12 HR
32 RBI
38 R
354 plate appearances
2.3 WAR (Fangraphs)

And here are Russell's stats after his third MLB season (2017):

.239/.304/.418
.722 OPS
12 HR
43 RBI
52 R
385 plate appearances
1.4 WAR (Fangraphs)

Machado is still clearly the better player and he was only 21 in his third season, but it helps illustrate the fact it took him several seasons before he realized his potential, too.

Getting rid of Russell right now would be selling low on a player who was considered one of the top young stars in the game just one year ago.

Dealing Russell — who is under team control for the next four seasons — for only one guaranteed year of a Top 10 player is a great short-term move, but doesn't hold the same appeal long-term.

There is something to be said for auditioning Chicago and the Cubs' young core to Machado as the team tries to work out an early extension, but I guarantee he knows all about both factors even though he's playing his home games in Baltimore.

The Cubs sell themselves right now and the organization surely would have a lot to offer Machado next winter once he hits the open market. And if they wanted to deal Russell before then, they could do so to fill other long-term needs on the roster. 

Should Cubs consider bringing back a familiar face for more pitching depth?

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USA TODAY

Should Cubs consider bringing back a familiar face for more pitching depth?

Travis Wood is no longer employed, so could he be a part of the answer as the Cubs search for pitching?

To start, it's never a good sign when two teams that are not contending get rid of a guy and actually pay him to go somewhere else.

But the Cubs know Wood well, so surely it could be a great buy-low opportunity, right?

Wood helped the Cubs win the first World Series in 108 years and famously stopped wearing shirts after that. 

His final stat line in 2016 was solid — 4-0, 2.95 ERA, 1.13 WHIP — but he was not counted on as much of a factor in the postseason, appearing in 9 games but pitching only 6.1 innings.

The reason for that is Wood essentially became a LOOGY (a Lefty One-Out GuY) in that he struggled mightily against righties. The southpaw finished the 2016 season with a .265 batting average and .865 OPS against vs. right-handers as he and the Cubs searched for answers — to no avail — on how he could get opposite-handed hitters out.

The bad news is, those struggles not only permeated into 2017, but they actually got worse. He allowed a .317 batting average and .935 OPS against righties while posting a 6.80 ERA in 39 games (14 starts) for the Royals and Padres last season.

Wood is still young (he turns 31 in February) and could be signed to something like a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training as a LOOGY with upside. Plus, he'd represent more starting depth, too, which is always valuable and something the Cubs are still currently looking for the week before Christmas.  

Of course fans want him back as well so Joe Maddon could utilize him in ridiculous and awesome ways again like as a left fielder or pinch-hitter.