With Addison Russell out for NLCS, Cubs will rely on Javier Baez


With Addison Russell out for NLCS, Cubs will rely on Javier Baez

The trade rumors started from the moment the Cubs acquired Addison Russell, a guessing game of what happens next with Javier Baez and Starlin Castro after last year’s Fourth of July blockbuster.

The New York Mets looked like a match on paper with their stable of young power pitchers. Now four wins away from the World Series, the Cubs will use that shortstop surplus to fill what might have been a huge hole in their middle infield.

Manager Joe Maddon definitively ruled Russell out of the National League Championship Series, a strained left hamstring making Baez and Castro the new double-play combination starting with Saturday’s Game 1 against the Mets at Citi Field.

“Addie right now will not participate in this next round,” Maddon said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “We’re not going to utilize him. We’ll continue to work on him.

“Hopefully, if everything plays properly, and we have another opportunity to play another round, he might be available at that time. But for sure not this one.”

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Maddon didn’t know who would take Russell’s roster spot or if the Cubs would prefer to add another arm to the pitching staff for a seven-game series. But the team has no plans to move Castro – a three-time All-Star shortstop – off second base and back to his old position.

“Baez is our other shortstop,” Maddon said. “We set it up that way.”

Russell leapfrogged Baez this year and stabilized the team’s up-the-middle defense in early August when he moved from second base to shortstop. But the Cubs still have the luxury of swapping one first-round talent out for another.

Russell had been coming off a strained right hamstring when the Cubs made him the centerpiece to the Jeff Samardzija trade with the Oakland A’s. Russell said this issue – which became too much when he hustled for a triple during Monday’s Game 3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals – didn’t feel nearly as serious as that injury.

“The big thing was to ameliorate his mind in a sense that he knows what’s happening next,” Maddon said. “He’s not going to necessarily push it right now. Let’s go on a more normal pace with the training staff, not test it to the point that you injure it again by trying to be too aggressive.

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“This permits us to (make) it more of a planned situation regarding his rehab. And then we’ll work it out from there. He’s such a mature kid, man. The conversation was easy. He understood everything. He got it. I think he was a little bit relieved in a sense that he did not have to push it right now.”

Maddon is a big fan of Russell, who put up 13 homers, 29 doubles and 54 RBI during his rookie season. But the manager has also raved about Baez and his ability to impact games with his speed, defense and instincts.

Baez waited for a September call-up after a difficult season from a personal and professional standpoint. But he helped end the division series, sending the Cardinals home for the winter with a huge swing in Game 4. 

“Addison has played enough here this year to know that he belongs here and he can do this,” Maddon said. “I want to believe that Javy’s arriving at that same point. To hit a three-run homer in a playoff game like that against one of the best pitchers in the National League should boost your confidence.

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“The big thing primarily is the consistency on defense. We have to catch the ball. I talked about that the whole time – pitching it and catching it is really important to us. And I know he can do that.

“But it’s a mental thing. It’s a confidence issue. And when you’re able to get a hit like that under those circumstances, I want to believe it does help.”  

The Cubs kept saying you can never have too many shortstops – while also exploring deals that would have involved Baez or Castro – and they will need both to win their first pennant since 1945. 

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Cubs first round pick Nico Hoerner makes unexpected visit to Wrigley Field


Cubs first round pick Nico Hoerner makes unexpected visit to Wrigley Field

There is nothing quite like visiting Wrigley Field for the first time, and for Cubs 2018 first round draft pick Nico Hoerner, his first visit to his future home park was special despite the circumstances being less than ideal. 

The 21-year-old shortstop drafted out of Stanford will miss the rest of the season due to a left elbow injury, which was examined by Cubs team doctors Thursday morning. It was concluded Hoerner suffered an injury to a ligament in his left elbow, but would not require surgery. 

But after finding out his season was likely done, he figured he'd at least stick around for the Thursday night Cubs game against the Cardinals. 

"I had no idea this was going to happen today," Said Hoerner. "I flew in from the Quad Cities this morning, saw the doctor and said [to the Cubs] 'Hey can I come to the field?" 

Hoerner was able to spend time with the Cubs during batting practice this afternoon, mentioning the conversations he had with the players, in particular, Anthony Rizzo who made a lasting mark on the young Cub prospect. 

"Rizzo pulled me over and introduced me to the group. He actually clumped everyone into guys who were drafted in the first round and guys who weren't." 

Hoerner also got the chance to speak with Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis, who seemed to have struck a chord with the shortstop. Hoerner said the conversation was 'refreshing' and focused less about what he needed to do with his swing and more about competing with the pitcher. 

As for the future for Hoerner, he'll start rehabbing in Arizona and focus on getting right for the start of next season. It wasn't clear if the Cubs planned on trying to get their top pick back on the field in 2018, but Hoerner looked impressive during his short time in the Cubs minor leagues. 

Slashing 327/.450/.571 in 60 professional at-bats, Hoerner was showing he belonged in this league, having just recently being promoted to the Cubs Low-A South Bend Cubs.

But he only managed four games before injuring his left elbow making a diving stop to his left. But Hoerner seemed in good spirits, showing a resiliency that exemplifies his future ballclub. 

"It's always a work in progress. Just like everybody, I'm working to get better."