Cubs

Jason Heyward wins his fifth Gold Glove while trade speculation simmers on hot stove

Jason Heyward wins his fifth Gold Glove while trade speculation simmers on hot stove

The Cubs don’t know if Jason Heyward’s offense will ever return, firing hitting coach John Mallee as part of a broader shake-up and hoping Chili Davis can help unlock the potential they saw when they gave him an eight-year, $184 million megadeal.

Heyward’s name is already being floated in early trade speculation, even though he has full veto power through 2018 and specifically chose this organization and this city, even without necessarily getting the biggest guaranteed offer.

Defense is what the Cubs can always count on, with Heyward winning his fifth career Gold Glove when the results were announced on Tuesday night. Hall of Famer Andre Dawson is the only other outfielder in franchise history to win the award more than once (1987 and 1988).

Heyward is also the first Cub to win the award at any position in consecutive seasons since Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux got three Gold Gloves in a row beginning in 2004 (though he finished the 2006 campaign with the Los Angeles Dodgers).

Heyward’s teammates Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist were also National League finalists, with Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and ex-Cub/Colorado Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu winning Gold Gloves again this year.

In what should be another pivotal offseason after last winter’s overhauled swing, the Cubs are hoping Heyward can still be the 6-WAR player he had been during four of his first six seasons in the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.

From here, it makes no sense for the San Francisco Giants to give up a closer who saved 47 games in 2016 (Mark Melancon) and a 200-inning machine (Jeff Samardzija) — and clear all the financial/no-trade hurdles — for a hitter with a .669 OPS across the last two seasons. Even if Heyward would be a game-changing presence in right field at AT&T Park.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion. 

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.