Cubs

Will Dempster be dealt before the trade deadline?

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Will Dempster be dealt before the trade deadline?

Its no secret the Cubs are in a select group of sellers as Major League Baseballs non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

Its also no secret the Cubs prize possession -- right-hander Ryan Dempster -- would be a tremendous addition to any club vying for a playoff spot.

The problem is, with so many teams in contention because of the additional wildcard position, the Cubs arent sure which ones are in position to pull the trigger on a trade before July 31.

When you look at the standings right now, they are so jumbled up, General Manager Jed Hoyer said Saturday prior to the Cubs game against Arizona at Wrigley Field. There are certainly fewer teams that dont feel like they can make a run at that second wildcard than in (past) years.

Dempsters name continues to be bandied about regarding the trade rumors. Dempster makes his second start since a stint on the disabled list today, bringing a 27-inning shutout streak to the mound. Thats the longest shutout stretch for a Cubs starter since 1971 when Ken Holtzman also went 27 consecutive innings.

Hoyer said management hasnt kept him in the loop for any potential trades, instead allowing Dempster to concentrate on his pitching.

Hes very focused on getting through the injury, he pitched well in New York (in a 7-0 victory over the Mets), and hes focused on today, Hoyer said. Hes been pitching and pitching well for the Cubs. When the time comes and we (need to) loop him in, well do that. But he wants -- and we want him -- to focus on pitching well.

Hoyer added Dempster wanted to get back into the rotation as quickly as possible after going on the DL with right lat tightness.

He wants to be out there, and he wants to be a part of this, Hoyer said.

Despite the Cubs improved play of late, Hoyer is realistic about where the team sits. Chicago enters today 34-52, fifth in the NL Central and 14 games out of first. The Cubs are also 13 games behind the second wildcard position.

We made our bed, Hoyer said. That doesnt mean were not happy with how theyve been playing. Its really nice to see a lot of clean games. Were much better offensively. I give the them a lot of credit. When a team is struggling the way we did for a month and half or so, its hard to stay upbeat.

Still, its hard to ignore the Cubs are sellers regardless of the improvement.

Its not a position you want to be in, Hoyer said. Its frustrating because that means your record isnt very good, and it also means the players that are being asked about are good players. Neither one of those is a positive. When youre in this situation you want to do whats best for the organization. You just hope youre not in this position very often.

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

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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

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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.