MLB suspends Willson Contreras for two games after ejection; appeal filed

MLB suspends Willson Contreras for two games after ejection; appeal filed

Willson Contreras is facing a two-game suspension from Major League Baseball for his actions Friday at Wrigley Field.

Contreras filed an appeal and he is in the lineup Saturday for an important game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Depending on how long the MLB takes to process the appeal, Contreras may also be able to play in Sunday's game.

"We'll just wait for the appeal to work its way through," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We haven't decided anything beyond that. We'll abide by that, try to figure it out and make the best of it."

The young catcher was thrown out of Friday's game in the fifth inning after he and John Lackey exploded on home plate umpire Jordan Baker following a blown strike three call. 

Immediately after the call, Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez lined an RBI single to right center to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead. 

As Lackey ran in to cover home on the play, he was thrown out. Contreras was thrown out a few seconds later and slammed his catcher's mask down in frustration. The mask bounced and hit Baker, which Contreras insisted was accidental and apologized for after the game.

Does it help that Contreras was contrite about the incident after the game?

"I would hope so," Maddon said. "He was. Listen, he's a wonderful young man. He is emotional. We're all working on attempting to help him curb that a bit. But you don't want to take it all away either. That's a big part of why he's so good. That was a little bit difficult yesterday; I understand that. He does play with his hair on fire."

It was that mask incident that weighed heavily on the MLB's decision to suspend Contreras. He was also fined an undisclosed amount.

Lackey only received a fine and did not make contact with Baker at all.

Maddon and the Cubs are trying to reign in Contreras' emotional style a bit, but they also love the passion in which he plays the game, so they're not trying to go too far in the other direction and lose what makes him so good as a ballplayer. But moving forward, the Cubs know it's important Contreras picks his spots, especially given how important the relationship between catcher and home plate umpire is.

"You're a catcher man, you're working in front of these guys all the time," Maddon said. "Listen, I really believe you're gonna see a nice progression of him. He's still gonna get upset at times. But you're still gonna see a nice progression of him not go from 0-to-60 like that.

"Like I said though, there's a part of it I do like. Just the fact that he does play with that emotion, we love that. But there's a way to curb that a bit. I think as he gets older, he'll do that."

Maddon admitted Friday was a learning experience for the dynamic backstop, but the Cubs manager also made sure to point out Contreras' upbringing in Venezuela and how he wasn't playing baseball in America full-time until 2011.

"We didn't come from where he came from, either," Maddon said. "What's going on in that country right now, it's a different method. To walk a mile — even a hundred feet, a hundred yards in his shoes — I've never done that. So I think it's my responsibilty, our responsibility to continue to talk to him to explain why it's probably a better method to not.

"To still be able to play with that kind of passion and enthusiasm, but when it comes to that moment, let the breathing part get away, walk away, turn your back. Those kinds of things are the kinds of things we're gonna have to get incorporated over the next several years. But, I love his passion. I love his emotion. I love all that stuff. Just with the maturation process, you'll see it come back a little bit."

Are Maddon and the Cubs coaches trying to corral Lackey's temper at all?

"That's impossible," Maddon said. "Willson's in his early 20s. Johnny's almost 40. He's a dad with kids. I would never tell him what to do."

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?


Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger


Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.