Cubs

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Joe Maddon's 2018 coaching staff came into focus Tuesday, with the Cubs officially announcing three moves.

The Cubs made Jim Hickey the team's pitching coach, making official what has been assumed for a while, that Maddon's former pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays would take over for Chris Bosio on the North Side.

Additionally, Brandon Hyde was moved from his role as the team's first base coach to become Maddon's bench coach, taking over for Dave Martinez, who is the new manager of the Washington Nationals.

And the Cubs announced that Will Venable will be the new first base coach after he was recently named a special assistant to president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Hickey, a Chicago native, spent the past 11 seasons as the Rays' pitching coach, presiding over a litany of young arms during and after Maddon's tenure as the manager there, including James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb. Hickey was the pitching coach for a pair of World Series teams: the 2005 Houston Astros and the 2008 Rays.

Hickey's relationship with Cobb could be of particular interest this offseason, as the free-agent pitcher could be a target for the Cubs' front office.

Hyde has served as the Cubs' bench coach before, filling the role on Rick Renteria's staff in 2014. He spent the past three seasons as Maddon's first base coach, part of a staff that appeared in three straight National League Championship Series and won the 2016 World Series.

Venable spent nine seasons in the major leagues, wrapping up his playing career in 2016 after playing for the San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to these moves to lock in Maddon's coaching staff, the Cubs also announced the addition of Jim Benedict as a special assistant. Benedict was most recently the vice president of pitching development for the Miami Marlins and has also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees.

Should the Cubs trade Addison Russell for Manny Machado? Umm...no

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AP

Should the Cubs trade Addison Russell for Manny Machado? Umm...no

Twitter is abuzz with the sound of Manny Machado trade propositions.

There's no harm in that. It's everybody's right as a sports fan to come up with their own ideas for trades — no matter how crazy — and debate proposals with other fans.

But not all trade ideas are equal, of course.

In his recent column for The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal came up with a package for the top teams in baseball to acquire superstar infielder Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles.

From a Cubs perspective, Rosenthal suggests a package of Addison Russell, Mike Montgomery and a prospect for Machado.

Um...no.

Russell-for-Machado straight up is enough to give me pause, but I can at least wrap my head around why that might make sense for the Cubs.

Adding Montgomery and a prospect, however, pushes the trade over the edge into "no way" territory if all the Cubs are getting back is Machado.

For starters, Machado is set to be a free agent after the 2018 season and right now, seems intent on exploring the open market. Why wouldn't he want to? He won't get a $400 million contract like Bryce Harper may be reeling in, but Machado is still one of the very best players in baseball and should be able to fetch $200 million if he so desired.

Any Cubs trade for Machado would signal some sort of all-in notion for 2018 and prompt "World Series or Bust" expectations.

Why would the Cubs need to go that route and feel such urgency? They're positioned to contend for at least the next three years, but the championship window is probably open longer than that. 

The Cubs have been viewing a 7-year stretch of contention for years and discussed that same notion just last week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 2018 only represents Year 4 of that 7-year stretch.

Yes, the Cubs gave up Gleyber Torres (a Top 5 prospect in the game), Adam Warren (a useful swingman arm) and a pair of minor-leaguers for only a half-season of Aroldis Chapman 18 months ago, but that helped end the 108-year championship drought and the 2016 team was just one piece (a dominant closer) away from going over the hump.

The 2018 Cubs are not only one piece away from climbing over the hump if that's the package it takes to acquire Machado.

It would create a short-term pitching need, as Montgomery is currently slated for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Even if the Cubs add another starter, Montgomery is the first guy up if there is an injury to any of the five rotation arms and in the mean time, he's a very valuable bullpen arm as both a long man and in shorter outings. 

Oh yeah, and Montgomery is not a free agent until after the 2021 season.

A Russell-for-Machado straight-up swap would make more sense, but still not an ideal situation for the Cubs' long-term plans.

If you sat here and told Cubs fans in December 2016 that their favorite team would deal Russell in a package for just one year of Machado, they'd probably laugh. And that was when Machado was coming off back-to-back years of Top 5 finishes in AL MVP voting.

Now both players are coming off down years, though they're still so young (Machado turns 26 in July; Russell turns 24 in January).

Russell has not yet lived up to his potential, but he's also only been in the league three years and last season was marred by a foot injury and off-field issues.

It's worth noting Machado needed three big-league seasons before he became the player he is today.

Here are Machado's stats after his third MLB season (2014):

.278/.324/.431
.755 OPS
12 HR
32 RBI
38 R
354 plate appearances
2.3 WAR (Fangraphs)

And here are Russell's stats after his third MLB season (2017):

.239/.304/.418
.722 OPS
12 HR
43 RBI
52 R
385 plate appearances
1.4 WAR (Fangraphs)

Machado is still clearly the better player and he was only 21 in his third season, but it helps illustrate the fact it took him several seasons before he realized his potential, too.

Getting rid of Russell right now would be selling low on a player who was considered one of the top young stars in the game just one year ago.

Dealing Russell — who is under team control for the next four seasons — for only one guaranteed year of a Top 10 player is a great short-term move, but doesn't hold the same appeal long-term.

There is something to be said for auditioning Chicago and the Cubs' young core to Machado as the team tries to work out an early extension, but I guarantee he knows all about both factors even though he's playing his home games in Baltimore.

The Cubs sell themselves right now and the organization surely would have a lot to offer Machado next winter once he hits the open market. And if they wanted to deal Russell before then, they could do so to fill other long-term needs on the roster. 

Should Cubs consider bringing back a familiar face for more pitching depth?

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USA TODAY

Should Cubs consider bringing back a familiar face for more pitching depth?

Travis Wood is no longer employed, so could he be a part of the answer as the Cubs search for pitching?

To start, it's never a good sign when two teams that are not contending get rid of a guy and actually pay him to go somewhere else.

But the Cubs know Wood well, so surely it could be a great buy-low opportunity, right?

Wood helped the Cubs win the first World Series in 108 years and famously stopped wearing shirts after that. 

His final stat line in 2016 was solid — 4-0, 2.95 ERA, 1.13 WHIP — but he was not counted on as much of a factor in the postseason, appearing in 9 games but pitching only 6.1 innings.

The reason for that is Wood essentially became a LOOGY (a Lefty One-Out GuY) in that he struggled mightily against righties. The southpaw finished the 2016 season with a .265 batting average and .865 OPS against vs. right-handers as he and the Cubs searched for answers — to no avail — on how he could get opposite-handed hitters out.

The bad news is, those struggles not only permeated into 2017, but they actually got worse. He allowed a .317 batting average and .935 OPS against righties while posting a 6.80 ERA in 39 games (14 starts) for the Royals and Padres last season.

Wood is still young (he turns 31 in February) and could be signed to something like a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training as a LOOGY with upside. Plus, he'd represent more starting depth, too, which is always valuable and something the Cubs are still currently looking for the week before Christmas.  

Of course fans want him back as well so Joe Maddon could utilize him in ridiculous and awesome ways again like as a left fielder or pinch-hitter.