Looking at Denard Span and how Cubs see center-field options


Looking at Denard Span and how Cubs see center-field options

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Cubs have essentially considered all options in center field, from signing Jason Heyward to a megadeal that would weaken the St. Louis Cardinals, to trading with the Houston Astros again for a one-year rental like Carlos Gomez, to wondering if a young player like Jackie Bradley Jr. could be pried away from the Boston Red Sox.

That only leads to more questions: Is Denard Span healthy? What if Dexter Fowler doesn’t get the big offer the Cubs anticipated and needs a soft landing spot in Chicago? How about letting Ben Zobrist hit leadoff, make defense the priority and go with a low-cost platoon solution that frees up money elsewhere?

On some level, almost any winter-meetings rumor that connects the Cubs to a free-agent outfielder or another team is true, because Theo Epstein’s front office has spoken to pretty much every agent representing those players and keeps running through trade scenarios.

General manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday night that he doesn’t expect another deal to close before the Cubs check out of the Opryland on Thursday and leave Nashville.

Span is another player the Cubs have kept on their radar for a long time, including trade discussions with the Washington Nationals last winter. Span played only 61 games during a massively disappointing year in Washington, though he still put up a .796 OPS while dealing with a series of injuries.

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The Nationals shut down Span in late August, and super-agent Scott Boras said his client is running full speed and doing baseball activities again after undergoing season-ending hip surgery.

“Anybody that’s interested in a center fielder or a leadoff guy has certainly contacted us, no doubt,” Boras said. “The guy’s hit .300 two years in a row (and) he averages 25 stolen bases, so he gives you a very (different look).

“There aren’t a lot of athletes in the game today that are hitting at those levels and giving you center-field defense and stealing bases. It’s been really something that has fallen off in baseball over the last decade or so.”

How about what Boras likes to call a “pillow contract?”

Outside the hotel ballroom where the Cubs just finished the press conference with their new super-utility guy, Boras smirked when a reporter suggested Span wouldn’t be looking for a Zobrist-type deal (four years, $56 million) and might be open to a short-term contract loaded with incentives.

“Well, far be it from me to ever put a ceiling on a player’s value,” Boras said. “But I think certainly he’ll be a guy that’s going to get a multiyear contract. The interest level’s that high for him.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey


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.”