Cubs

After World Series tribute, will Cubs turn Javier Baez into Jon Lester’s personal second baseman?

After World Series tribute, will Cubs turn Javier Baez into Jon Lester’s personal second baseman?

ST. LOUIS – Calling it “a tribute to the World Series,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon made Javier Baez the Opening Night second baseman and aligned the outfield like this from left to right at Busch Stadium: Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

Sitting Baez against the St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” didn’t feel right to Maddon. Not after Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base and became a breakout star with his highlight-reel defense last October. 

Maddon has repeatedly identified Zobrist as his primary second baseman this season, with Baez blocked by a World Series MVP and ticketed for a super-utility role, particular matchups and late-game defensive situations.  

But with his sixth sense for tags, the range to make acrobatic plays and a rocket arm, Baez could help Opening Night starter Jon Lester control the running game and manage a throwing issue now magnified with former catcher David Ross on “Dancing with the Stars.” 

Will the Cubs pair up last year’s National League Championship Series co-MVPs again? Could Baez become a personal second baseman for Lester? 

“It depends,” Maddon said. “You’d like to have Javy playing second base with anybody pitching. He’s one of the top maybe two or three second basemen in all of baseball. But we’re just going to, again, try to fit everything in as well as we possibly can.

“I always try to set Javy up based on the pitcher and where I thought the ball was going to be hit. A lot of that had to do with Schwarber being hurt last year, Dexter (Fowler) got hurt, ‘KB’ (Kris Bryant) having to go in the outfield more often, and then it was more open.

“I don’t want it to happen again that way. I don’t want anybody to get hurt. I want to have to make these decisions daily just based on keeping guys rested, giving guys opportunity. But you can make the argument to play Javy at second base every day of the year.”

Baez won’t, because Theo Epstein’s front office constructed another deep, versatile roster and Maddon’s coaching staff will be focused on the idea of rest and peaking at the right time again after playing into early November.     

“It made a lot of sense to have Javy in the lineup,” Epstein said. “He was on the field for just about every inning in the postseason. It would be odd not to have him out there for Opening Day.

“Everyone was in agreement that this is a nice nod (for Javy). Going from here, (Joe’s) going to have a lot of good choices day-to-day. And we know he’ll make it work.”  

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

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AP

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

It won't be long before baseball fans get their first look at the Cubs under new manager David Ross.

ESPN announced Thursday they will broadcast two of the Cubs' first four games in 2020: March 29 against the Brewers in Milwaukee (Sunday Night Baseball) and March 30 against the Pirates (3 p.m. first pitch). The latter game is the Cubs' 2020 home opener.

Ross worked as a color analyst for ESPN from 2017-19 before the Cubs hired him as manager in October. So, not only will his club be in the national spotlight early in the season, but his former co-workers will be the ones analyzing him as his managerial career kicks off.

The Cubs open the season on March 26 against the Brewers.

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Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per MLB.com) to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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