Cubs

Butterfly Effect: How Evan Longoria helped the Cubs end their World Series drought

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AP

Butterfly Effect: How Evan Longoria helped the Cubs end their World Series drought

Maybe Evan Longoria should've gotten one of the 1,908 World Series rings the Cubs handed out this spring.

After all, he deserves a ton of credit for the end of the 108-year championship drought.

On the day Longoria was dealt from the Tampa Bay Rays to the San Francisco Giants, let's rewind back to Sept. 29, 2011 when he came up to bat in the bottom of the 12th inning to face Buddy Carlyle. 

It was the final regular season game of the season and the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees were deadlocked in a 7-7 tie.

Longoria drilled Carlyle's 2-2 offering just inside the left-field foul pole for one of the most dramatic walk-off homers in baseball history. 

(Check out the shots of Joe Maddon in the Rays uniform in the dugout, sporting his long white locks.)

Amazingly, Longoria and the Rays began the game by falling in a 7-0 hole before clawing all the way back.

With the blast, he handed the Rays the American League wild-card spot and subsequently knocked out Theo Epstein's Boston Red Sox in the process. That completed one of the most epic collapses ever as the Red Sox faded down the stretch in what later became known as the Beer and Fried Chicken Incident (in which Jon Lester and John Lackey were both involved).

Epstein — then the GM of the Red Sox — left Boston in the aftermath, migrating west to join the Cubs front office. 

It was the first domino in the line that led to the end of the longest championship drought in American sports history.

And Cubs fans have Evan Longoria to thank for that...in a roundabout way.

Day after reported offer to Yu Darvish, now Brewers have trade offer for Christian Yelich, too?

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USA TODAY

Day after reported offer to Yu Darvish, now Brewers have trade offer for Christian Yelich, too?

The Milwaukee Brewers apparently mean business.

How much that business will pay off in superstar players remains to be seen, of course, but a day after the Cubs' division rivals to the north reportedly made a contract offer to free-agent starting pitcher Yu Darvish, there's a report out there that they also have put together a trade offer for Miami Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich.

There's been plenty of discussion involving Yelich this offseason as a trade target for just about every team in the game. The Marlins — and more specifically their new regime led by Derek Jeter — sparked speculation that they'll deal just about anyone after trades that shipped Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon out of South Florida. That fueled guesses that Yelich would be next considering how attractive a trade candidate he is, with five seasons of major league success under his belt (including a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger) and a desirable contract that keeps him under team control for another five seasons.

So of course it's no surprise that any team, including the Brewers, would have "strong interest" in acquiring Yelich. The Brewers, however, might be a more attractive trade partner than most considering their rebuilding efforts that have produced a bunch of young talent the Marlins might find appealing. And with the Brew Crew advancing their timeline last season and becoming unexpected competitors with the Cubs in the National League Central, adding a player of Yelich's caliber could change the dynamics in the division.

Social media is home to plenty of Cubs fans who'd like to see Yelich land on the North Side, seeing an opportunity to upgrade in the outfield after less-than-ideal 2017 campaigns from the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. But after the Cubs' own wildly successful rebuild and last summer's trade with the White Sox, the minor league cupboard isn't as fully stocked as it used to be, and that could make crafting a return package difficult. That is, if the Cubs were even interested in acquiring Yelich in the first place. They're pretty happy with their already populous outfield.

The team across town has been involved in plenty of online speculation regarding Yelich, too. But while the White Sox have a tremendous amount of minor league talent, they might not be far enough along in their rebuild to part with any of their highly rated young players until they know exactly what they have.

The Brewers, for what it's worth, had six of the top 100 prospects in baseball as of MLB Pipeline's most recent (and soon to change) rankings: the Nos. 13, 59, 81, 82, 86 and 97 guys. Is that enough to fetch Yelich? And is Yelich enough to put the Crew on even footing with the Cubs in 2018 and beyond? And what if Darvish takes the Brewers up on their offer?

All valid questions. But the biggest question involving the Brewers: Who's going to sponsor the sausage race?

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.