Cubs

Cubs: Bryant, Rizzo take their All-Star experience in stride

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Cubs: Bryant, Rizzo take their All-Star experience in stride

CINCINNATI - Anthony Rizzo doesn't see how any of this could ever get old.

Even though it was his second straight All-Star Game appearance, it was still a week of firsts for Rizzo and rookie teammate Kris Bryant.

Both sluggers took part in their first Home Run Derby and Rizzo also found his name in the starting lineup as the designated hitter, which made things even more special for the 25-year-old.

"I never would have thought something like this would happen," Rizzo said. "[The All-Star Game] is equally awesome this time around. It's fun. Something that I don't think will ever get old."

Rizzo finished 0-for-2 with a groundout to first base and a fly out to center field as the American League beat the National League 6-3.

Rizzo is in his first pennant chase with the Cubs this season, but he still saw the two-day detour to Cincinnati as a break, even though his schedule was packed to the brim with obligations, appearances, parades and so on.

[SHOP CUBS: Get an Anthony Rizzo All-Star Game jersey right here]

Rizzo spent the week posing for pictures with fans and hanging around every player he could, not necessarily trying to pick up tips, but just taking everything in stride.

From chatting with veteran stars like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to young bucks like Joc Pederson and Bryce Harper, Rizzo was content to just have a good time. Case in point:

 

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"I just like to talk," he said. "Whatever they're talking about, just listening, absorbing, trying to take it all in."

Rizzo and Bryant will both go home with some lifelong memories and souvenirs that include jerseys signed by each player on the NL roster.

On a roster packed with third basemen - hometown slugger Todd Frazier got the start while Colorado's Nolan Arenado relieved him - Bryant's versatility came in handy as NL manager Bruce Bochy put the Cubs rookie out in left field to start the sixth inning.

Bryant walked in his first plate appearance in the seventh inning and then flew out to the warning track in the bottom of the ninth off Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins.

But it didn't really matter what transpired Tuesday, as Bryant's best memory came in the Home Run Derby Monday night, when his dad pitched to him.

[RELATED - Home Run Derby an 'emotional roller coaster' for Bryant family]

"Nothing's gonna top that," Bryant said.

Just like with that Home Run Derby, Bryant said the result of Tuesday's All-Star Game didn't really matter much to him.

"It's more the experience," he said. "I think 20 years from now, I'm not gonna remember what the score was or what I did in this game. I'll just remember that this is my first All-Star Game and I had a blast."

Bryant and Rizzo are in the middle of a heated NL Central battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, but found a way to coexist in the same locker room with the combined 10 All-Stars those two teams sent to Cincinnati.

"It's good. We're all baseball players. We're all human beings," Bryant said. "We're on the field competing against each other and we want to beat 'em, but any time other than that, I think, we're friends.

"We're all in this together, playing this crazy game because we love it and enjoy it. Everybody - from the Pirates to the Cardinals - they're all really good people and very friendly, so I think it's actually pretty cool."

[MORE - Reds fans and Albert Pujols boo the Cardinals during All-Star Game introductions]

Bryant took the same path as Rizzo, spending his first All-Star Game soaking it all up.

"Just looking at guys and how they're preparing for a game, how they take their batting practice round," Bryant said. "I think sometimes, you can learn more from not even talking to them, just watching how they go about it. There's a lot of guys here to watch."

Bryant and Rizzo only have two days off now before the season's unofficial second half resumes Friday, but that's enough time for them.

"It's gonna be nice to go home and chill out for a couple days," Rizzo said. "Reset, recharge the batters and then back in the saddle.

"We're ready to go. We have a lot left to do potential-wise."

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

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USA TODAY

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.