The Kyle Schwarber offseason circus gets even crazier, but Cubs continue to stand by their man

The Kyle Schwarber offseason circus gets even crazier, but Cubs continue to stand by their man

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The more time that passes, the less it seems likely the Cubs will trade away Kyle Schwarber.

(Feel free to bookmark this story and rub it in my face if a surprise deal gets done with Schwarber this winter.)

When America's Now-Not-So-Large Adult Son showed up to the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort Tuesday, it was easy to see how fans could run rampant with speculation that it may mean he's at the Winter Meetings for a physical or a meeting with another team or anything that could mean a trade is right around the corner.

Jed Hoyer waved that notion off in his meeting with the media in the Cubs suite Tuesday evening.

Schwarber did meet with Hoyer and Theo Epstein for about a half hour, though the Cubs GM joked the slugger's sudden emergence at baseball's hottest offseason gathering was probably more to show off his new chiseled physique.

"Oh, no question," Hoyer said. "There's been a lot of videos out there. He's proud of himself. He's not hiding. He's bummed it's not a little warmer."

Schwarber has kind of a mytical aura around him as a name that instantly engenders a reaction from fans regarding a variety of topics from his weight loss to him leading off to trade rumors to his 2017 struggles or his epic return from a devastating knee injury to play World Series hero.

His Midwest upbringing and blue-collar style resonates perfectly with much of the Chicago fanbase. He clearly also has some staunch supporters within the Cubs organization, from teammates to coaches to front office members to scouts.

To put it simply: The Cubs f--king love the dude.

"He knows how we feel about him," Hoyer said Tuesday.

Epstein admitted Monday there was a lot of interest in Schwarber this winter (his name keeps popping up in Red Sox rumors), though that's not out of the ordinary.

"He's always been somebody teams have interest in," Epstein said. "But we probably have the most interest."

These are just the latest in a long line of public endorsements from Cubs personnel on Schwarber.

The Cubs know Schwarber can handle the trade rumors, in part because this should be old hat for him. He's been linked to AL teams as a DH option for years.

It's also gotta help fuel the Schwarber fire within the Cubs that he's lost 25ish pounds, which will help improve his speed and defense.

"I feel like best shape of their lives becomes this cliche or joke," Hoyer said. "But he actually is. He looks awesome.

"I think Kyle in general is a guy that when you talk to him, he kinda motivates you. I mean, he's so passionate, takes everything so seriously. So Theo and I just sat down with him for like a half an hour and it's hard not to want to play right now listening to him.

"He didn't feel great about his [2017] season, he probably didn't feel great about how he felt all year and give him credit —- he did something about it. It's so obvious when you look at him what great shape he's in.

"I love the fact that he drove over here, in some ways, just to show it off. I don't blame him. I probably would, too."

Yadier Molina claps back at Willson Contreras


Yadier Molina claps back at Willson Contreras

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is heating up early, it appears.

Just a few days after Willson Contreras told Chicago Sun-Times' Steve Greenberg that he believes he's going to be better than Yadier Molina and Buster Posey, Molina clapped back with an Instagram post:

That translates to "respect the ranks" showing Molina standing side-by-side with Posey.

At Cubs Convention over the weekend, Contreras said:

"I used to watch a lot of those guys but now I'm watching myself because I know that I'm going to be better than them. That's my plan. That's my mindset. 

“I know that I have a lot of talent and I thank God every day for giving me this kind of talent that I have. In my mind, I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time — like it was with Yadier Molina, like it is with Buster Posey.”

MLB stoked the flames of this fire by Tweeting out a quote graphic Wednesday morning:

Neither Molina nor Contreras are strangers to keeping it real and saying how they truly feel, so this could get fun.

To be fair, though, it's not like Contreras said anything bad. He's a confident kid who believes he will eventually be the best catcher in the game (though the argument could easily be made that he's already close).

No issue in that. 

Molina has a point, too, that Contreras has only spent the last year-and-a-half in the majors, so maybe not the best time to be making such proclamations, but whatever.

Brian Duensing's return to Cubs is big, but where does he fit in new-look bullpen?

Brian Duensing's return to Cubs is big, but where does he fit in new-look bullpen?

Brian Duensing isn't the marquee pitcher Cubs fans were hoping their team would sign on the morning of Jan. 17, but he is one of the heroes they need.

Duensing is back in the Cubs' bullpen for the next two years at a discount of $7 million. It's a raise for him — he made $2 million in 2017 — but he left a lot of money on the table, joining players like Ben Zobrist who signed for less.

The veteran lefty was somebody the Cubs' "Geek Squad" and scouting department targeted last winter and made a priority to sign a year ago.

That worked out awfully well, as the 34-year-old Duensing put up the best season of his life with a 2.74 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and struck out a career-high 8.8 batters per nine innings.

Even Duensing himself was surprised by the strikeout totals:

"A lot of swings and misses — I don't know what that's about, to be honest," Duensing said back in August when he joined the Cubs Talk Podcast. "I really don't know what's going on there. Just things are working really well right now and hopefully they continue."

Duensing's success didn't quite continue on a linear path from there, as he followed up a stellar August (1.93 ERA) with a 4.82 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in September while striking out only six batters in 9.1 innings.

That poor last month was part of the reason why Duensing fell out of Joe Maddon's circle of trust entering the postseason, and while the veteran southpaw put up a 1.69 ERA and allowed just five baserunners in 5.1 innings, he didn't pitch often in high-leverage situations in October.

As for where Duensing fits in the Cubs bullpen in 2018 and 2019, he provides another reliable arm and helps work toward the front office's goal of getting more strike-throwers in a bullpen that struggled in that department in 2017.

Duensing walked just 18 batters in 62.1 innings and was not a part of the overall problem that saw the Cubs' bullpen post one of the worst BB/9 rates in Major League Baseball.

Of Duensing's 68 appearances in 2017, 15 of them went for more than three outs. While he wasn't a true long-relief option like Mike Montgomery, the former Minnesota Twin does have a background as a starter and can help eat up innings if a Cubs starter is knocked out early or the other bullpen arms need a rest.

He also provides another left-handed option for the 'pen with Justin Wilson a major question mark after his struggles in Chicago and Montgomery currently slotted in as a starter and expected to serve in a swingman capacity for parts of 2018. Reliable left-handed relievers are in short supply in the majors, and the Cubs are investing as much capital as they can in their bullpen.

Duensing probably isn't a guy that would fill in at closer at all if Brandon Morrow is injured or ineffective — Duensing has just two career saves — but he's another glue guy to a bullpen that looks like this:

Brandon Morrow
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Justin Wilson
Steve Cishek
Justin Grimm
Brian Duensing

Another arm — whether that's Montgomery or somebody else — should slot in there by the end of spring training as the Cubs are expected to roll with eight arms in their bullpen for much of the season.

The big question with Duensing is how he'll be used in October, assuming the Cubs make it there again. Maddon's bullpen usage in the postseason has been oft-questioned, but he clearly saw something in Duensing that made him lose trust on the game's biggest stage.

Does that happen again in 2018?