Cubs

Proof Sveum is preaching fundamentals

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Proof Sveum is preaching fundamentals

Baseball players are supposed to know all the fundamentals by the time they get to the big leagues.

Hit the cutoff man, set your feet before making a throw (if possible), use two hands on a fly ball, round the inside corner of the bag to cut down on resistance and the time it takes to get from one base to the next. You know, that kind of stuff.

Spring camp serves as a reminder for these men making millions upon millions of dollars. First-year manager Dale Sveum took things a step further in trying to get his players to run the bases the right way.

He spray-painted a blue square on the corner of the otherwise-white bag, indicating where each runner should hit with his foot as he rounds the bases.

This isn't a ground-breaking move by any means. Baseball coaches have been doing something along these lines for years. What's funny is it's probably used more for Little League players than MLB guys.

But hey, any reminder is helpful, right? It's just more proof the Cubs are going to get back to the basics, something this organization desperately needed.

Check out the photo on the right, as well as an entire gallery from CSN's David Kaplan, who is down in Arizona right now. The photos are great, ranging from Kerry Wood facing off against Sveum in the bunting competition to Rick Sutcliffe throwing batting practice to a couple Theo sightings.

Looking to take next step, Ian Happ hoping for more of what fueled his Cubs breakout

Looking to take next step, Ian Happ hoping for more of what fueled his Cubs breakout

Ian Happ knows 2018 is going to be different than 2017. That's why he's hoping it's the same.

Happ will be a big leaguer from Day 1 this season, the obvious biggest difference as he's prepared for the upcoming campaign. Happ didn't make his major league debut until May 13 last year, though he did so with a bang, homering in his first game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He burst onto the scene with a .357/.455/.786 slash line and seven extra-base hits in his first eight games.

But that was all part of proving he belonged at the major league level, something he won't have to worry about now that the calendar has turned.

After slashing .253/.328/.514 and belting 24 homers in his rookie season — one behind the 25 Billy Williams hit in his rookie season and two off the 26 Kris Bryant sent out in his rookie year — Happ's spot is safe, and that made for an entirely different offseason for the 23-year-old former Cincinnati Bearcat.

"Definitely a different offseason for me, just going through the process, getting ready to go to spring training, getting ready for the season instead of getting ready to compete and try to prove that I can be on the team," he said during the Cubs Convention earlier this month at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. "For me, definitely a more relaxed offseason.

"This offseason, just getting in good shape, trying to get ready to really enjoy spring training and mesh with these guys and see how much I can learn again. For me, going into the year, just want to help the team any way I can, same thing as last year, being as versatile as possible."

And so in the different comes hope for the same for Happ, who wants to again show the versatility that resulted in him playing five different positions in 2017.

The rookie became yet another utility man on Joe Maddon's roster full of those kinds of players. The mix-and-match manager values versatility in the field as much as anything, and he took full advantage with Happ, who played 54 games in center field, 44 at second base, 29 in left field, 14 in right field and even four at third base.

The roster, at least from a position-player standpoint, looks much the same as it did in 2017. And coming off a third straight trip to the penultimate round of baseball's postseason — and the World Series hangover that defined the first half of last season — Maddon will surely look to give his players rest where he can. Being able to plug in Happ all over the field helps in that effort.

Happ has actually been an oft-mentioned name this offseason, and not necessarily for what folks are expecting from him in 2018 and beyond. Instead, Happ has been a frequent subject of trade speculation. As of this writing, the Cubs have yet to acquire a top-of-the-line starting pitcher to replace Jake Arrieta, and the suggestion that a young position player — be it Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez or Addison Russell — could be moved for a pitcher has been common.

Unsurprisingly, none of that chatter has affected Happ and he's ready to go with the rest of the Cubs' current roster.

"All of the media speculation, it's part of the deal, it's part of the gig," Happ said. "For me, I'm excited with the guys we've brought in and excited for what they'll put on the field this year."

But whether it's part of his motivation or not, if 2017's performance proved that Happ belonged at the big league level, then what he does in 2018 could go a long way in proving to outsiders that he belongs in the "untouchable" category and nowhere near future trade speculation.

Winter heat in I-94 rivalry: Cubs reportedly in 'active talks' with Yu Darvish after report of Brewers' offer

Winter heat in I-94 rivalry: Cubs reportedly in 'active talks' with Yu Darvish after report of Brewers' offer

Yu Darvish might have more suitors than just the Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers. But a frozen offseason might finally be thawing thanks to the I-94 rivalry.

Hours after it was reported that the Brewers made a contract offer to Darvish, one of the top free-agent starting pitchers on the market, a report from the Associated Press indicated that the Cubs are in "active talks" with the Japanese hurler.

The North Siders have been connected to Darvish — and most other available starting pitchers — throughout the offseason as they seek to plug the holes created by the free-agent departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. So far, those efforts have yielded the signing of Tyler Chatwood and the insertion of Mike Montgomery, not exactly replacements that would be expected to fill an Arrieta-sized hole.

But Darvish would accomplish that goal. He's been stellar since coming over from Japan ahead of the 2012 season, making four American League All-Star teams with the Texas Rangers and last season helping the Los Angeles Dodgers reach the World Series after a midseason trade out of Arlington. Darvish made nine regular-season starts with the Dodgers, posting a 3.44 in those contests. He shut down the Cubs in the National League Championship Series, throwing 6.1 innings of one-run ball in Game 3 of that series. He fared much worse in the World Series, however, surrendering eight earned runs in two starts that lasted just 1.2 innings apiece against that incredibly potent Houston Astros lineup.

Despite faltering in the Fall Classic, Darvish figures to be a top-of-the-line addition to the team that eventually signs him. He has a career 3.42 ERA in five major league seasons and has eclipsed the 200-strikeout mark in three of those, including last year, when his 209 punch outs ranked 12th in baseball.

To add Darvish to a starting staff that already includes Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and the aforementioned Chatwood would perhaps once more give the Cubs the best rotation in the NL. If it's the Brewers, it could go a long way in making them a serious challenger to the Cubs, something they almost accomplished in 2017 as their rebuilding efforts moved ahead of schedule.

Cubs president Theo Epstein said during the team's annual convention earlier this month that his front office planned on adding another starting pitcher, though he made sure to point out that the addition could fit a number of different descriptions. While fans and observers both have been waiting for the team to land one of the high-profile free agents — be that Darvish, Alex Cobb or even bringing back Arrieta — Epstein cautioned that a move could be made to simply add depth, something that doesn't really exist behind Montgomery, the guy currently figuring to be in that fifth spot in the rotation.

The Cubs also made a minor move that could have an impact on where Darvish decides to play, signing catcher Chris Gimenez to a minor league deal Monday. Gimenez and Darvish played together in Texas.