Cubs

Cubs fans shouldn't be too worried about the Brewers...yet

Cubs fans shouldn't be too worried about the Brewers...yet

While the rest of baseball continues to spend the winter chilling, the Milwaukee Brewers have turned up.

The Brew Crew made waves earlier in the week with reports they were linked to Yu Darvish and then Christian Yelich. Sure enough, the Yelich rumor was true and Milwaukee acquired the cost-controlled star outfielder Thursday night. 

In a corresponding move, the Brewers also inked Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million deal.

It had some Cubs fans in a tizzy, and for good reason. Yelich may well be on the verge of superstardom and is owed only $58 million over the next five seasons if the Brewers pick up his 2022 team option. 

That's a heck of a team-friendly contract for a small-market organization — getting five years of a guy's prime for well-under-market value. 

Cain is also a very good player, but will make $22 million more than Yelich in the same five-year span, though he'll be ages 32-36 for that contract and has seen his defensive value in center field decline for four straight seasons.

It's adding two very good hitters to a lineup that already woke up Thursday morning as one of the best in baseball. 

Here's what the Brewers' Opening Day lineup could look like (h/t Roster Resource):

There's no question the job of the Cubs' pitching staff has gotten harder in 2018 with those lineup additions, but this isn't the same kind of ground-shaking series of moves as when the St. Louis Cardinals cleared room in their outfield for Marcell Ozuna.

The Brewers should be a really good team in 2018, but here's why the flurry of moves shouldn't make the Cubs shake in their boots just yet:

That's the Brewers' projected starting rotation for Opening Day. 

Right-hander Jimmy Nelson may be able to join those ranks given that he's reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery from a shoulder injury. That would be a game-changer, but shoulder injuries are notoriously unstable and nobody knows how many starts Nelson could be penciled in for.

That rotation doesn't exactly scream out "October-worthy." 

Zach Davies is a good starter — think a poor man's Kyle Hendricks — and Chase Anderson emerged in 2017 as the ace of the Milwaukee staff with a breakout season.

But beyond that, it's iffy. Junior Guerra regressed badly last season after a breakthrough in 2016; Yovani Gallardo has a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the last two seasons; and Jhoulys Chacin's track record is marred by inconsistency and injury. 

Brent Suter is kind of the Milwaukee version of Mike Montgomery, so Suter very well could become a big part of the Brewers rotation if needed, but still, starting pitching is a clear weak spot. Josh Hader and Brandon Woodruff were two of the top pitching prospects in baseball before 2017, so they could be a factor as well. 

There are so many question marks and very little in terms of track record for any of the options the Brewers have to start every fifth day.

The bullpen has one of the elite arms in the game at the back end (Corey Knebel), but the rest of the group features a young/inexperienced core that has added only journeyman Boone Logan this winter.

Milwaukee made it work and won 86 games with largely the same pitching staff in 2017, but they got career years out of all of their major guys and will need to do so again if they're gonna hang with the Cubs and Cardinals in the divison. 

Yet the Brewers haven't done much to address that clear weakness. Chacin, Gallardo and Logan don't really qualify as making waves to improve in that regard.

The offense was already dynamic in 2017. Adding Yelich helps and Cain is a very good player, but the Brewers already had two very good outfielders — Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana — before Thursday's moves. Now, one of those guys is probably out, and that's likely Santana given Braun is owed at least $60 million more over the next three seasons. 

As mentioned earlier, Cain's skills are already in decline and $80 million is a lot to commit to what was already an area of strength on the Brewers' roster when that money could've been better spent on adding an arm like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb.

Even if the Brewers make a trade for a starting pitcher with Santana as the headliner of the return package, it's a puzzling decision for a small-market team. Why pay an aging veteran (Cain) $16 million/season and then deal away an up-and-coming 25-year-old who is very cheap for the next four seasons and coming off a 30-homer, .875-OPS season?

Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office talk constantly about trying to mitigate risk and spend each offseason aiming to shore up weaknesses and add depth to combat the war of attrition that strikes down a team's pitching staff each year. The Brewers don't have that same approach here, at least not yet. (There are still plenty of moves the Brewers can make, so this winter's chess match is far from over.)

The Brewers aren't going anywhere anytime soon — these moves assured that — but they're still another arm or two away from being a true threat that will make Cubs fans wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

But even if Milwaukee does get to that point, that's a great thing for the Cubs in general. Last September was a whole lot of (stressful) fun for fans as the Cubs had a week straight of games against the Brewers and Cardinals to decide the fate of the NL Central.

Baseball is better when the Cubs are challenged in their own division as opposed to just rolling over the rest of the NL Central and locking a playoff spot up in the first week of September.

*pauses, thinks for a moment*

*realizes the year the Cubs won the World Series, they rolled over the division and locked up a playoff spot in the first week of September*

*realizes also that the Cubs were exhausted and drained by the time they even reached the playoffs in 2017, in part because of that stressful week against the Brewers and Cardinals*

On second thought, maybe Cubs fans should panic...

But hey, the silver lining to this whole Yelich move is — at least the Cubs could jump out to a 4-0 start to the 2018 regular season by opening the year in Miami.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: