Cubs

Addison Russell, Javy Baez and the state of the Cubs shortstop position

Addison Russell, Javy Baez and the state of the Cubs shortstop position

Addy or Javy?

There isn't quite a position battle brewing at shortstop for the Cubs and Joe Maddon didn't go all Lovie Smith and say something like, "Addison Russell is our shortstop."

But it's also clear who the Cubs' long-term answer is at short, even despite Javy Baez's recent success and Russell's season-long struggles.

Right now, Maddon is just simplifying everything at the shortstop position, rotating the two players on a daily basis.

For the last week (following a string of five straight Russell starts at shortstop), Maddon has penciled in Baez at short one day and Russell the next. 

"It hasn't been complicated," Maddon said. "I've just been going back and forth with them. ... I've just been trying to not run either one into the ground. I've been trying to get them both playing."

Maddon also pointed to the recent play of Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ as determining factors affecting the shortstop spot. 

With the Cubs seeing so many right-handed pitchers lately, Maddon has gone with Happ in center, Jason Heyward in right field and Kyle Schwarber in left, meaning Zobrist has been relegated to second base a lot lately. That's freed Baez up to play more shortstop over the last week.

While he likes how things are playing out right now, Maddon acknowledged the daily shortstop rotation won't stick that way in the long term.

"Once Addy really gets his whole approach going back together again, then everything will come back into place," Maddon said.

Russell has taken a step back offensively this season. He broke out for 21 homers and 95 RBI in his age-22 campaign last year but entered his Sunday night start with a .211 average and .635 OPS.

There is definitely a component of luck to those numbers. 

Russell's batting average on balls in play is only .260, below league average and below the .277 mark he posted last season and .324 BABIP as a rookie.

Russell has also improved on his weak contact, dropping from soft contact 23.7 percent of the time last season to only 14.9 percent in 2017. However, he's also seen a dip in hard-hit balls from 29.3 percent in 2016 to 23.1 percent in two months so far this year.

Overall, Russell's peripheral numbers are right in line with his career marks — or better.

Earlier in the season, Maddon said he would count 2017 as a success for Russell if the young shortstop could cut down on his strikeouts and draw more walks. The Cubs manager thought the rest of the numbers would follow if the plate discipline was good.

Russell's walk rate is down slightly (9.2 percent to 8.7 percent), but he's also cut down on his strikeouts for the second straight season and is only whiffing 21 percent of the time right now.

Against the Cardinals Friday, Russell worked himself into a hitter's count in the fifth inning before striking out and then lined out to right field his next time up in the seventh.

"Keep doin' it," Maddon said. "That's the whole thing — like Schwarbs hitting the grand slam. That's nice; let's do it again. Let's have another couple good at-bats. Just continue to do that."

Meanwhile, Baez is on a tear, hitting .412 with a 1.181 OPS, four homers and 11 RBI over the last 11 games.

But even with those numbers, Baez still has only a .299 on-base percentage for the season and is on pace for just 18 walks compared to 117 strikeouts.

Of course, Baez is also on pace for 27 homers and 75 RBI and his versatility, baseball IQ and age (24) give the Cubs dynamic depth at shortstop until Russell rights the ship.

"It's unusual that we can do that — to have two shortstops that you like to play and that you feel really good about, not many teams can say that," Maddon said. "And that's part of why we can do it.

"If I didn't feel as good about one or the other playing there, the other guy would be playing and you'd just have to wear it if he's having a hard time offensively. But I think Javy's benefitted; Javy's been really good lately.

"And I think I'm seeing better out of Addison also. So let's just keep going. Lotta season left and I think if we do it this way, they're both going to be very fresh at the end of the year."

Joe Girardi steps down as manager for Olympic qualifying team to pursue MLB openings

Joe Girardi steps down as manager for Olympic qualifying team to pursue MLB openings

Joe Girardi’s name has come up for just about every managerial opening in Major League Baseball and it sounds like he is all in on pursuing that opportunity.

Girardi was set to manage USA Baseball’s Olympic qualifying team. He was named the manager of Team USA in August. His first tournament was going to be the upcoming Premier12 tournament, which is the first chance to qualify for the Olympics. Camp was set to begin on Oct. 21 and the U.S.’s first game is Nov. 2.

Instead, Girardi has stepped down. USA Baseball broke the news with a press release that announced Scott Brosius, a former teammate of Girardi’s on the Yankees, will take over.

The reason is the interesting part. He stepped down “as he pursues open managerial opportunities in Major League Baseball.”

At the very least, it sounds like Girardi is interested in at least one of the openings in MLB. He interviewed with the Cubs last week so this won't quell any speculation that he would come back to the North Side as a manager.

David Ross may still be the odds on favorite to fill the Cubs’ vacancy, but Girardi’s apparent interest in rejoining the ranks of MLB managers is certainly noteworthy. One would think if Girardi wants to get back into managing in MLB, at this indicates, he will get a job. Now the question is where he will land.

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Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.