Cubs

Carl Edwards Jr. showing Cubs he can handle being thrown in the fire

Carl Edwards Jr. showing Cubs he can handle being thrown in the fire

MILWAUKEE — Carl Edwards Jr. is pitching in the majors in April for the first time ever but he's making the case that he's Joe Maddon's most valuable reliever.

The Cubs have a very talented bullpen that features three guys who have had a lot of experience closing games, yet Edwards and his 43 career games have earned Maddon's trust.

In the Cubs' season-opening series against the Cardinals in St. Louis, Edwards got some big outs, including preserving the 6-4 victory Thursday with a pair of strikeouts.

"I have a lot of faith in him," Maddon said. "I'll put him in any situation — hot spot or whatever you want to call it. No doubt.

"I don't want to lose the game in the sixth inning if that's the vital moment. He's the kinda guy where you say, 'CJ, we need you in the sixth,' it's not going to impact his psyche. It's not like he's not gonna be ready because you're surprising him. He'll be ready.

"He's the kinda guy you want in a big moment — a dirty moment — inning in progress and he can still hold his own and work his way through it. I like him in that moment."

Edwards attributes a lot of his success in the "dirty" moments to getting in control of his emotions and keeping his breathing in rhythm. 

That was something he spent a lot of time working on last season after getting a cup of coffee in the big leagues toward the end of 2015.

Edwards understood the mental component of the game and as he got in control of his emotions through breathing, his confidence soared. A 2.84 ERA in eight postseason games during the Cubs' World Series run certainly helped, too.

"[My confidence] is pretty much the same as it was last year," he said. "I try to stay in the middle. I don't try to get too high or anything. 

"I try to keep it as simple as possible. Just try to go out there and do what I have to do to get outs and help my team."

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Edwards said he has a good feel for all his pitches right now and knows in a Joe Maddon bullpen, he can be called upon at any time, in any situation. 

Which is just the way he likes it.

"I feel like from last year to this year, I would be put in the fire," Edwards said. "When everything gets running and they call [down to the bullpen], I have a good feeling it could be me. I like that role — has a lot of pressure and a lot of adrenaline."

The Cubs have made sure not to overuse the 25-year-old Edwards, refusing to pitch him on back-to-back days with an eye on keeping his rail-thin frame healthy down the stretch.

But Edwards may make that a hard thing to stick by as the 2017 progresses as he proves he can be effective — and dominant — in any situation. 

Maddon pointed to Edwards' exchange with Cardinals slugger Jedd Gyorko Thursday where Edwards threw a 2-2 curveball the Cubs thought was in the zone but didn't get the call. So Edwards came right back on the full count with another curveball, this one undoubtedly a strike.

"That's the kinda stuff that you really get good — when you're able to have the confidence making that pitch," Maddon said. "Moving forward, they're writing stuff down, they got all the reports — he did this to Gyorko, etc.

"So that brings the fastball into play on a full count next time, too, so the hitter is uncertain. He just continues to develop."

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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