Cubs

After Javier Baez goes viral again, how will Cubs handle their defensive star?

After Javier Baez goes viral again, how will Cubs handle their defensive star?

MESA, Ariz. – How will Javier Baez handle going from World Series star and viral sensation to utility player and defensive replacement?  

That's a nonissue for manager Joe Maddon when it's not even St. Patrick's Day yet and the Cubs are still more than two weeks out from Opening Night. But it's a question worth asking again after Twitter exploded on Tuesday night with another spectacular Baez highlight – the celebratory point at Team Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina before even catching the ball and the no-look tag in the World Baseball Classic.

"We've already had that (conversation)," Maddon said Wednesday at the Sloan Park complex. "That was part of the meeting that we had with everybody, to talk bluntly about how this is all going to play out. He understood that. And he's fine with it." 

That means no repeat of the breakout playoff performance where Baez started all 17 games at second base and emerged as a National League Championship Series co-MVP. The plan is Baez will help preserve Ben Zobrist – who will turn 36 in May and has played through back-to-back World Series – and give All-Star shortstop Addison Russell some days off this season.

"He's going to play a lot," Maddon said. "But we've already had that method of conversation with him before he even practiced here. We explained everything clearly to him. He was really good about everything. He gets it.

"He will remain ready. Even if he doesn't start a game, he's going to probably play in it at some point. And then he's going to get his share of starts, too." 

That sounds great in theory. But Baez is coming off the high from a World Series run where he proved he's one of the game's most dynamic young players, a whirlwind offseason tour that took him to Disney World, the Latin Grammys and the White House, and now this World Baseball Classic showcase.

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Of course, the Cubs built layers into the roster with versatile players like Baez, Zobrist and Kris Bryant. Maddon plays matchups and believes in the concept of rest. The analytics may show that Baez should play third base on certain nights.
 
It only took until Game 3 last season before the Cubs experienced their first roster crisis here in Arizona, when Kyle Schwarber crashed into Dexter Fowler chasing after a ball blasted into Chase Field's left-center gap.

"These are nice problems to have," Maddon said. "Last year, nothing stands out more significantly than Schwarber and: ‘How are we going to play Dexter? And how are we going to get (Jorge) Soler at-bats?' And then all of a sudden you're getting (Chris) Coghlan back, so all these things happen. 

"We'll let it play. I'm not worried right now. I just want them to all be healthy and then make it a difficult choice. That would be great."

Analyzing Cubs-Nationals Kris Bryant trade packages

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USA TODAY

Analyzing Cubs-Nationals Kris Bryant trade packages

Tuesday, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported the Nationals have inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential trade for third baseman Kris Bryant.

According to Morosi, Bryant isn’t expected to be traded soon, as the market hinges on his unresolved service time grievance and the third base free agent market. It’s also very plausible the Cubs don’t move Bryant. They aren't looking to enter an all-out rebuild and don’t get better by trading him.

Moving Bryant would be to ensure the Cubs get something back for him rather than allowing him to walk in free agency for nothing. However, they may deem any offers as unsatisfactory.

With Morosi’s report in mind, our friends over at NBC Sports Washington put together three potential packages for a Cubs-Nationals Bryant trade. Using those same packages, here’s what they'd look like from a Cubs perspective.

Scenario No. 1

Nationals acquire: 3B Kris Bryant
Cubs acquire: INF Carter Kieboom, RHP Mason Denaburg and LHP Tim Cate

Any Nationals trade proposals must start with Kieboom. The 22-year-old infielder is Washington’s No. 1 prospect and No. 20 overall in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

Kieboom started last season in Triple-A but made his big-league debut in late April after Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon went down with injuries. He struggled at the plate, hitting .128/.209/.282 in 11 games before getting sent back to Triple-A for the rest of 2019.

That sample size is incredibly small and Kieboom had a stellar minor league season. He posted a .303/.409/.493 line with 16 homers and 79 RBIs in 109 games while splitting his time defensively between third base (10 games), second (41) and shortstop (62).

Kieboom would be a fantastic addition because he'd likely join the Cubs big-league roster right away. He could replace Bryant as the starting third baseman, but his defensive versatility presents other possibilities. Along with Nico Hoerner, Kieboom could backup shortstop Javier Báez.

Hoerner may start next season as the Cubs starting second baseman but he can also play some center field. If the latter is the case, Kieboom could play second while someone like David Bote plays third.

Denaburg is Washington’s No. 5 prospect (third-ranked pitching prospect) and Cate is No. 6 (fourth-ranked pitching prospect). Pipeline projects Denaburg to be a No. 3 starter — if everything clicks — and Cate to be a back-of-the-rotation arm.

The duo may not have the ceilings to be top-of-the-rotation guys, but the Cubs have struggled to develop starting pitching under Theo Epstein. Denaburg and Cate are a couple years away from the big leagues, but they’d help replenish the Cubs farm system and could be rotation mainstays going forward.

Scenario No. 2

Nationals acquire: 3B Kris Bryant
Cubs acquire: INF Carter Kieboom,
 RHP Joe Ross and RHP Wil Crowe

The Cubs would get a little bit of everything in this hypothetical package. In Kieboom, they’d acquire a potential franchise cornerstone. In Ross, they’d acquire a pitcher to fill their rotation vacancy opened by Cole Hamels, who departed in free agency. And in Crowe, they’d acquire a pitching prospect, something they covet.

Each player comes with questions, however. The Cubs wouldn’t expect Kieboom to step into their lineup and instantly match Bryant’s production. Kieboom has barely scratched the big-league surface. And as we’ve seen with the Cubs — i.e. Bryant, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr. — player development isn’t linear. The Cubs wouldn’t expect Kieboom to become an offensive force from Day 1.

Ross has had an up-and-down career to date. From 2015-16, he made 35 appearance (32 starts), sporting a 3.52 ERA in 181 2/3 innings. He struck out 162 batters compared to 50 walks over that span, posting a respectable 1.222 WHIP.

Ross started all 16 games he appeared in from 2017-18 but only started nine of 27 in 2019. Across those three seasons, he holds a 5.21 ERA and 1.536 WHIP in 153 2/3 innings. He also underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2017 and is out of options entering 2020.

Nonetheless, Ross is only 26 years old and could afford a fresh start. He showed from 2015-16 he’s capable of being a serviceable MLB starter, and the Cubs could do a lot worse than him as a fifth rotation guy. If they’re lucky, perhaps the 2011 first-round pick turns into something greater.

Crowe, 25, is the Nationals No. 4 prospect and second-ranked pitching prospect (per Pipeline). He underwent Tommy John in 2015 but bounced back to become Washington’s second round pick in 2017. Last season, he posted a 4.70 ERA in 26 starts, though that figure jumped from 3.87 in Double-A (16 starts) to 6.17 in Triple-A (10).

Crowe is projected to be a No. 4 or 5 starter and is knocking on the big-league door. That could be enticing for the Cubs, as José Quintana is a free agent after 2020 and Jon Lester could reach the open market, too, if his option doesn’t vest.

Scenario No. 3

Nationals acquire: 3B Kris Bryant and LF Kyle Schwarber
Cubs acquire: OF Adam Eaton, RHP Joe Ross and RHP Jackson Rutledge

From the Cubs' perspective, this scenario makes the least sense of the three. Trading Bryant and Schwarber would open up payroll space for the Cubs to address other holes on the roster. Bryant is projected to make $18.5 million next season, while Schwarber is projected to make $8 million.

The idea here is the Cubs would shed salary but still remain competitive. Eaton — who slashed .279/.365/.428 last season — would present the Cubs with an everyday leadoff man, something they’re seeking this offseason. Ross would fill their rotation vacancy, while Rutledge — Washington’s top pitching prospect and first-round pick last season — has the potential to be an ace down the road.

That’s a solid package, but not in exchange for both Bryant and Schwarber. Trading Bryant alone would put a dent in the Cubs’ lineup. Sure, Eaton could replace Schwarber in left field, but the latter is coming off a stellar second half last season. The Cubs have invested a ton in Schwarber, remaining patient during his trials and tribulations since 2017. Now is not the time to trade him.

Bryant and Schwarber are both under contract through 2021. Eaton will make $9.5 million next season and has a club option for 2021; Ross is projected to make $1.4 million next season is arbitration eligible through 2021.

Add that up, and the Cubs would be trading two cogs in their lineup for:

-A year, maybe two, of a 31-year-old year outfielder
-A year or two of a back-end starter/reliever
-A pitching prospect with high-upside

The idea of shedding payroll makes sense, but this package specifically wouldn’t work for the Cubs. 

Only time will tell if the Cubs trade Bryant and what they'd get back for him. As they consider any potential proposals, they'll have to ensure what they're being offered will help the organization now and going forward. 

Scott Boras and Kris Bryant ‘more than willing’ to discuss extension with Cubs

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Scott Boras and Kris Bryant ‘more than willing’ to discuss extension with Cubs

Kris Bryant’s name has frequented trade rumors this offseason. That doesn’t mean the Cubs will move him, or that they can’t work out an extension with their superstar third baseman.

Tuesday, Bryant’s agent — Scott Boras — said while the focus is on Bryant’s 2020 contract, the two are, “more than willing” to discuss a multi-year contract extension with the Cubs.

Bryant is under contract through 2021, but the Cubs could move him if they feel they won’t be able to reach an agreement on an extension. Trading the 2016 National League MVP would help the Cubs replenish their barren farm system and avoid losing him for nothing when he hits free agency.

But despite the non-stop Bryant rumors, Boras said trades involving superstar players rarely happen, following up on the history lesson he gave at last month’s GM Meetings.

“I think in these markets that you can never, ever anticipate anything other than great players who are close to free agency in one or two years are always bandied about as potentials in the marketplace,” Boras said. “It happens every year. Trades rarely happen. Sometimes they do. You can go back and talk about anyone who is not signed to a multi-year contract that is in that position and is an MVP-type player, they always get that attention.”

There’s also the issue of Bryant’s ongoing service-time grievance. If he wins, he’ll become a free agent after next season rather than after 2021. This would complicate a potential trade, as teams would likely offer the Cubs less for Bryant if he is only under team control for one more season.

Plus, the Cubs don’t get better by trading Bryant, at least not in the immediate future.

“Rarely, core, premium, All-Star, MVP-type players, they’re so valuable to a team,” Boras said. “It’s hard to think how you ever replace them, and so when you get into those levels, historically, it’s normally not something that’s done.”

Multiple options are open when it comes to Bryant at this point. The incessant rumors may say otherwise, but trading him is no foregone conclusion.