Cubs

Cubs: After tough season, Javier Baez expects big things in 2016

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Cubs: After tough season, Javier Baez expects big things in 2016

Heading into a pivotal offseason, there might not be a Cubs player surrounded by as much uncertainty as Javier Baez.

Will he be traded for pitching this winter? What position will he play next season? Will the adjustments he made in 2015 stick? Will he make the Opening Day roster?

At this point, even the Cubs don't have all those answers. Not after a roller-coaster season for Baez, who will turn 23 in December.

After failing to make the team out of spring training, and then dealing with the death of his sister in early April, and then missing roughly six weeks with a broken finger, Baez didn't make it back to the big leagues until rosters expanded on Sept. 1.

[RELATED - Unfinished business: Epstein built Cubs into World Series contender in Year 4]

But he was right in the middle of a playoff run and wound up starting each game of the National League Championship Series at shortstop with Addison Russell (strained hamstring) sidelined.

"It's been a tough year for me and, obviously, my family," Baez said. "As a team, we didn't give up until the last pitch and the 27th out. I'm just proud of my teammates for the year that they gave to the fans.

"Obviously, I wasn't here the whole year, so I couldn't say much about the things they went through. But I'm just proud of my teammates and ready to come (back) next year and do the same thing."

Baez began his postseason career with four hits in his first five at-bats, including a big two-out, three-run homer off John Lackey in the divisional-round clincher against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But Baez collected just one hit in 10 NLCS at-bats and committed two errors at shortstop in the playoffs.

Baez admitted as the series with the New York Mets wore on, the Cubs became frustrated with how many balls they hit hard, but right at defenders. That being said, he's stoked to put the playoff experience to good use.

[MORE - Cubs facing another big decision with Starlin Castro this offseason]

"For me, [it was all about learning to handle] the pressure," Baez said. "Usually, there's a lot of pressure when you're in the playoffs.

"This team, we didn't play with the pressure on us. We just didn't do the little things that we had to do to get some runs. The [Mets] pitchers just had four straight good games and we couldn't respond to them.

"I didn't play with pressure. Obviously, I made a couple errors, but you learn from those. You learn from everything you do. Next year, I'm pretty sure it will be easier for us."

Baez impressed manager Joe Maddon from Day 1 in spring training with his infield defense, swagger, speed and baseball intelligence. He wound up playing all four infield positions in the big leagues, getting in at least 12 games at second, third and shortstop including the playoffs.

But there's also been whispers of the Cubs being open to giving Baez a look in the outfield, given all the young talent already established in an infield that includes Russell, likely NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo and the resurgent Starlin Castro.

"The overriding policy is the more versatility, the better," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, pointing out how much success Maddon had in 2015 by moving players - rookies and veterans - all over the field.

Baez has said in the past that he's open to testing the outfield waters if the organization asked him to. And it's a pretty safe bet he won't be spending a lot of time checking out the Cubs page on MLB Trade Rumors this winter.

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The former top prospect is just ready to get back out on the field with a young core hoping to take the next step.

"For sure, this is [just the beginning]," Baez said. "We got a young team that has a lot of talent. Every one of us knows what we can do.

"We didn't ever give up because we know what we can do. We didn't do it this year, but we just gotta come back next year and do the same thing."

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below:

 

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers.