Cubs

Campana has big opportunity to play small ball

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Campana has big opportunity to play small ball

CINCINNATI The Cubs dont know exactly where Tony Campana fits into the plans, but theyre willing to find out. And its not like many in the clubhouse have guarantees anymore.

Thats part of the reason why Theo Epsteins front office paid the Boston Red Sox to take on Marlon Byrd and create an opening in center field.

The Cubs are going to make top prospect Brett Jackson earn his promotion and improve his two-strike approach, base-running angles and overall game at Triple-A Iowa.

Its an awesome opportunity for me, Campana said. Bretts a good player down there and everybody knows hes going to be up here when hes ready. But until that comes, hopefully I can be here and prove that I deserve to be here.

Campana was back home at Great American Ball Park before Tuesdays game against the Reds was rained out. Almost a year ago, the old administration promoted Campana, and he instantly became a feel-good story for the local media.

The University of Cincinnati graduate had overcome Hodgkins lymphoma as a kid and was all set to make his big-league debut on May 17, 2011.

The night before, then-manager Mike Quade had seen enough sloppy play and addressed the team in a closed-door meeting. The Cubs responded by committing four errors and giving up seven unearned runs in a 7-5 loss to the Reds. In between, the team announced that Andrew Cashner was being shut down after an MRI revealed right shoulder inflammation.

Thrown into the middle of a team that was unraveling Quade called it pretty damn close to rock bottom Campana made an immediate impact.

Campana entered the game as a pinch-runner and scored, and hit an RBI double in his first major-league at-bat. He may fit in even better now with a new coaching staff that values aggressive running and preaches the idea of capturing bases.

That kind of speed, you cant teach it, manager Dale Sveum said. You cant do anything about it. Sometimes its indefensible. If you do worry about it, then sometimes it gets you in trouble.

Campana, who will turn 26 later this month, is listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. He has game-changing speed, and questions about how high his ceiling will be.

As long as he hits, he can be an everyday player, Sveum said. As long as he can get on base, hes going to be an impact-type guy with that kind of speed. Hes just got to be able to hit and get his bunts down and do the things hes doing right now on an everyday basis.

Hes going to get an opportunity here for a little while.

Campana disrupted Phillies ace Roy Halladay, who likes to work fast, with machine-like efficiency. Campana didnt have to hit the ball out of the infield and went 2-for-5 with a stolen base and two runs scored in Fridays 5-1 victory.

When he gets on first, as a pitcher, you have to change, said Paul Maholm, the winning pitcher that night. You cant have big leg kicks. Hes going to take off and thats a positive in having a guy like that. Thats like having Ichiro or Michael Bourn or one of those guys that can change a game once they get on base.

Campana reached base six times and scored six runs during the four-game series in Philadelphia over the weekend. Since being recalled from Iowa, hes hitting .370 (10-for-27) with two walks and seven stolen bases in his last seven games.

Tonys just been an amazing spark to our lineup, utility man Joe Mather said.

When will it burn out? The Cubs want to see what theyve got in Campana, who didnt earn a job out of spring training. Jacksons coming fast, but this is Campanas big opportunity to play small-ball.

I knew I was going to be back, Campana said. I didnt do well in spring training. I didnt hit enough. I knew I didnt really deserve to split with the team. But I knew that I would get at-bats every day down there in Triple-A and get my swing back.

And I have something that people can use a little bit.

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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