Bottom line: Cubs need more pitching by trade deadline


Bottom line: Cubs need more pitching by trade deadline

CINCINNATI – The Cubs are under no illusions as they prepare for the July 31 trade deadline: It’s the pitching, stupid.

Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer already placed their bets on big bats in the draft, on the international market and through trades. The next 10 days should be focused on acquiring another quality starter, even if it’s not someone at the level of David Price or Cole Hamels.

“You can’t have enough pitching,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I really believe that. Offensively, we have it. It’s here. Some of it’s dormant at times, but you got to work through it. Everybody goes through those moments during the season.”

The Cubs trudged through a suspense-free 9-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park.

In an ideal world, Kyle Hendricks – with his poise, command and Ivy League education – would probably become the reliable No. 5 starter on the playoff team the Cubs envision themselves becoming.

[MORE CUBS: Kyle Schwarber is the big bat the Cubs absolutely need]

Hendricks didn’t get hit all that hard – two infield choppers, shortstop Addison Russell’s throwing error and a walk to Joey Votto set it in motion – but the Cubs still got buried in a 4-0 hole in the first inning.

“‘Weird’ is a good word for it,” Hendricks said. “Honestly, I’ll be the first one to tell you when I don’t make good pitches. But I thought I was throwing pretty well, even from the first. Just some bad breaks. It wasn’t my day.”

Hendricks looked sharp at times and made it through six innings, giving up five runs and getting nine strikeouts. But these issues aren’t specifically about Hendricks (4-5, 3.66 ERA).

With the bullpen in “dire straits” – Maddon’s words – the Cubs had to scramble after using six relievers in Tuesday night’s 13-inning victory. And the starter – Jason Hammel, who hadn’t pitched since July 8 – used a brace to get through five innings and talked afterward about the “lingering effects” from his hamstring injury and developing soreness in his calf muscle.

“Our trainers aren’t giving me like the whole panicked-or-concerned vibe about it,” Maddon said. “So I think he’s going to be OK. At this point, honestly, I’m not (concerned). But you never know.”

[MORE CUBS: Let the David Price madness begin]

To strengthen the bullpen, the Cubs called up Yoervis Medina from Triple-A Iowa and designated Clayton Richard for assignment. Medina got rocked in the seventh, giving up four runs and needing 42 pitches to finish the inning.

The Cubs hope Richard will stay in the organization after a whirlwind July – plucked from Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate and two spot starts bookending that emergency appearance when Hammel went down.

The Cubs can line up Hammel (Sunday vs. Philadelphia) and Hendricks (Monday vs. Colorado) on normal rest next week at Wrigley Field. And then possibly bring back Iowa right-hander Dallas Beeler – Wednesday’s Game 2 starter – on July 28 against the Rockies.

This is a lot of uncertainty for a team that has legitimate playoff hopes and entered this doubleheader with a 3.30 rotation ERA that trailed only the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pirates in the National League.

Jon Lester is the $155 million ace with two World Series rings. Jake Arrieta and Hammel became part of the All-Star conversation in the first half. Pitching coach Chris Bosio and catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello deserve a lot of credit for the infrastructure they helped build here.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The bottom line is the Cubs need to do something to get through the final 68 games and into October. The pitching isn’t a mirage. It’s just inherently fragile. If there’s any help on the way…

“I’m not getting any sense,” Maddon said. “I’ve not spoken to Theo or Jed at all about any of that.

“I don’t really worry about that stuff, because I have faith in the guys that are there, that we’ll figure it out somehow. And hopefully be able to get a chance to hold onto Clayton as well.

“Big picture, I got to be more about today. And so that’s where I’m at, man. They’re the ones putting it together. It’s our job to make it work. I am certain we’ll be fine.

“Our guys will figure it out somehow.”

Eventually, someone from the front office will send you a text message.

“Exactly,” Maddon said. “I’ll get a text. I’ll read it. And then I’ll do whatever it says.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items


Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.