Giancarlo Stanton

Why Joe Maddon still thinks Kyle Schwarber makes sense as a leadoff hitter

Why Joe Maddon still thinks Kyle Schwarber makes sense as a leadoff hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Kyle Schwarber may take the first official at-bat of the 2018 Cubs season. 

When the Cubs take on the Giancarlo Stanton-less Marlins in Miami March 29, Schwarber may very well be the team's leadoff hitter.

Yes, even after that idea didn't pan out so well last year.

As manager Joe Maddon met with the media Tuesday afternoon at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, he admitted he hasn't lined up a batting order for 2018 yet, but when asked about Schwarber, he said he wouldn't run from the idea of using the now-svelt slugger atop the lineup.

"He's probably arguably in the best shape of his life, so it starts there," Maddon said. "Regarding the leadoff thing — it was only failed in the sense that Kyle had a tough time last year. He could have hit 1-9 and still had a tough time last year. It just was not his year, although he rebounded nicely.

"I don't know, I haven't drawn a lot of conclusions with that. Obviously we still got to see what the team's going to look like in its entirety. Schwarber obviously could lead off, if he is hitting like Schwarber and he's accepting his walks and he's got his .250-plus batting average. His on-base percentage is going to be a hundred points over his batting average, I really believe that again.

"I definitely will consider [Schwaber leadoff] again, but I want to see who all the available candidates are first."

Schwarber hitting leadoff was a gigantic storyline entering 2017 and it didn't work out so well when the lefty slugger hit just .190 with a .693 OPS in 36 starts atop the order. 

He was moved lower in the order, but still wound up hitting just .211 with a .782 OPS overall, though he did manage 30 homers despite coming in shy of 500 plate appearances after a midseason stint in the minors.

The Cubs still haven't found a clear choice for the leadoff spot since Dexter Fowler left in free agency following the 2016 World Series championship and unless they make a trade, the 2018 leadoff guy(s) will come from the group already in place.

Among the choices, Schwarber provides maybe the best option, especially against right-handed pitching. He's patient, sees a lot of pitches, can give the team an immediate boost with a first-inning homer and can set the table for MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo immediately behind him.

Ian Happ could also fill that role in his sophomore campaign, though both players strike out a ton.

Maddon wouldn't commit to Schwarber playing more against left-handed pitching in 2018, but even if he sits, Albert Almora Jr. — who hammers southpaws — could be a nice fill-in guy.

Either way, the Cubs aren't stressing about this whole leadoff thing anywhere near as much as the fanbase is.

"It would be a luxury for us," Theo Epstein said. "You can have a really functional offense without a traditional leadoff guy. I think we demonstrated that last year — we scored over 800 runs, second most in the league behind Colorado, without much impact in the leadoff spot.

"I'd sign up for over 800 runs again and the second-most runs in the league. What shape it takes, I don't really care. We'd love to have a prototypical leadoff guy, but not at the expense of the core elements of the team.

"Right now, pitching is more important."

Ex-Cub Starlin Castro reportedly the lone big leaguer leaving Yankees in Stanton swap, but could he quickly return to New York?

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Ex-Cub Starlin Castro reportedly the lone big leaguer leaving Yankees in Stanton swap, but could he quickly return to New York?

It's hard to imagine a bigger baseball headline than the reported trade that will send Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins to the New York Yankees.

And with it comes some interesting info involving the only other major league player in that deal: former Cubs infielder Starlin Castro.

Castro was briefly the face of the Cubs, a highly touted prospect who made his big league debut with a six-RBI game against the Cincinnati Reds in May 2010. He played six seasons on the North Side, making three All-Star appearances and pairing with Anthony Rizzo to form what looked like the 1-2 punch of the future.

He was around for Joe Maddon's first season and the team's trip to the National League Championship Series, but with the arrival of so many other talented young players — such as shortstop Addison Russell, who forced Castro to slide over to second base — Castro became expendable and was moved after the 2015 campaign to make room for Ben Zobrist, who signed a four-year contract and wound up the MVP of the 2016 World Series.

Well, Castro — who hit .300 with a .338 on-base percentage for the Yankees last season and hit a combined 37 home runs in two seasons in the Bronx — is reportedly the only big leaguer leaving New York for Miami in this trade, the other players being prospects in what is essentially a salary dump (and a big one) for the Marlins.

But, if you extrapolate from a Saturday report, Castro's time in South Florida might be brief and he could wind up back in the Big Apple. How? Step right up and meet the Mets.

According to that report, the New York Mets are interested in Castro's services to fill their need at second base. And given that Derek Jeter's new regime running the Marlins seems to be prioritizing cutting spending at the moment, there's no reason to think they wouldn't turn around and trade Castro not long after acquiring him.

That'd make for a crazy offseason for the former Cub, whose career has already had more twists and turns than most.

So stay tuned. "Starlin the Marlin" might not be a thing for very long.

With Giancarlo Stanton's big bat off the market, could White Sox see uptick in Jose Abreu interest?

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With Giancarlo Stanton's big bat off the market, could White Sox see uptick in Jose Abreu interest?

Giancarlo Stanton is off the board. Shohei Ohtani is off the board. So where will teams looking to make a big offseason splash turn next?

Stanton's reported trade to the New York Yankees and Ohtani's decision to sign with the Los Angeles Angels seem to have officially cleared the path for offseason activity to pick up, just in time for the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Florida.

And while a recent report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal said that the White Sox are unlikely to trade Jose Abreu this offseason, you have to wonder if certain teams that missed out on Stanton and Ohtani might give Rick Hahn a call to inquire about the first baseman and his middle-of-the-order bat.

While all these teams aren't necessarily — or even remotely — a fit for Abreu, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals both had trades rejected by Stanton, and the Cubs, Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners all made Ohtani's list of finalists but didn't land the Japanese import. That's a lot of teams that just got a no from one or both of baseball's biggest offseason targets — not to mention the teams that couldn't get into the running in the first place.

Now, there are a lot of bats on the free-agent market, and several of the biggest ones are first basemen, no doubt affecting the market for and the likelihood of an Abreu trade. Still out there for the taking are J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Santana, among others. All those guys cost is money, as opposed to one or multiple top prospects.

But Abreu's numbers over the past four seasons should at least attract the attention of a large number of teams. He's one of just three players ever (along with Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols, which is good company to be in) to hit 25 home runs and rack up 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. Last year, he hit 33 homers, drove in 102 runs, had a career-high 43 doubles, struck out a career-low 119 times and slashed .304/.354/.552. And Abreu is under team control for only two more seasons, meaning that any team that would trade for him wouldn't be taking on a significant amount of long-term risk in having to pay an exorbitant amount for a player moving out of his prime years.

Now, as mentioned, Rosenthal reported just a few days ago that the White Sox are likely to hang on to Abreu this offseason, citing both that aforementioned free-agent market for first basemen and a potentially high asking price. The Boston Red Sox have reportedly been interested, but the White Sox have been reportedly asking for an awful lot in return, with Hahn perhaps looking to acquire a package similar to the ones he got in deals that shipped Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana away from the South Side.

But now there are teams looking to bring in an impact bat that were hoping for Stanton or Ohtani. Without them, does desperation kick in? Does the price seem a little less unreasonable? The Red Sox are especially worth noting, as they just saw their division rivals add a guy who hit 59 home runs last season and team him with another guy who hit 52 home runs last season to create the most formidable middle of the order in baseball. That could provide some extra motivation to make a move for Abreu.

Remember, too, that should Abreu start the 2018 season with the White Sox, it doesn't mean he'll end it with the White Sox — barring a still-to-come announcement of a contract extension, of course. So all these teams that missed out on Stanton and Ohtani could possibly still be looking to add a big bat a few months down the road.

The trade of Stanton has huge implications on every team in baseball, it would seem, with the very least of those being that regular offseason business can officially get started. For the White Sox, the effects could be significantly bigger than that.