Cubs

Cubs closing in on Aroldis Chapman deal with Yankees

Cubs closing in on Aroldis Chapman deal with Yankees

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs are in the final stages of a blockbuster deal that could bring superstar closer Aroldis Chapman to Chicago and would involve sending elite shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres to the New York Yankees, sources familiar with the situation said Sunday night.

The exact details aren’t clear, but the talks reached a point where the Cubs pulled Torres from the lineup at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, at least sensing the strong possibility of a trade that would add a 105-mph closer to a first-place team that entered the year as World Series favorites.

Chapman, 28, began this season serving a 30-game suspension covered by Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy after a dispute with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall. In absorbing a supremely talented player with real baggage, the Cubs would believe in manager Joe Maddon’s personality and a strong clubhouse culture, figuring it might only be a two-month-plus rental before Chapman cashes in as a free agent. 

That incident scared the Cubs away during the offseason, when a Chapman trade between the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers collapsed at the winter meetings as those police reports surfaced. The Yankees waited for the price to drop, acquired the flame-throwing lefty at a steep discount and weathered the PR storm. 

Chapman enjoyed the bright lights and performed in New York, converting 20-of-21 save chances and striking out 44 batters in 31-plus innings. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo – who once challenged the Cincinnati dugout to a fight after Chapman buzzed two 100-mph pitches near a teammate’s head – said last month: “The game’s over when he comes in.”

That would be the idea for Theo Epstein’s front office, creating a dominant force that could help carry the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908. 

Even Hector Rondon – who’s developed into a very good closer while the Cubs rebuilt their organization (77 saves since 2014) – recently admitted he would understand if the Cubs decided to trade with the Yankees.

“If they bring in a Chapman or (an Andrew) Miller, if they put him in my spot, whatever, s--- happens,” Rondon said last week. “I can’t control that. The most important thing for me is to come into the game, pitch my inning – whatever inning they put me in – and do my job.
    
“If we get one of those guys, I’m fine. It’s better for us.”

Torres is only 19 years old and a consensus top prospect, showing up in the midseason rankings on ESPN (No. 26), Baseball America (No. 27) and Baseball Prospectus (No. 34). The Cubs had signed Torres out of Venezuela during the summer of 2013, giving him a $1.7 million bonus and trying to stockpile enough assets to create a perennial contender. It sounds like it’s almost time to cash in one of those huge trade chips.

Cubs' all-time saves leader Lee Smith elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

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AP

Cubs' all-time saves leader Lee Smith elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

Lee Smith is headed to Cooperstown.

Smith, the Cubs' all-time saves leader, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Today's Game Era Committee on Sunday night. 

Smith, 61, pitched in 18 MLB seasons, eight with the Cubs. He posted a 3.03 ERA in 1,022 career games, saving 478 games. At the time of his retirement, Smith was was MLB's all-time saves leader, though he now ranks third behind Mariano Rivera (652 saves) and Trevor Hoffman (601).

After spending the first eight seasons of his career (1980-87) with the Cubs, Smith went on to pitch for the Red Sox (1988-1990), Cardinals (1990-93), Yankees (1993), Orioles (1994), Angels (1995-96), Reds (1996) and Expos (1997). He is a six-time All-Star, making the team with the Cubs twice (1983, 1987). 

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If Bryce Harper wants to live up to his upcoming mega-deal, here's how he can improve

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USA Today

If Bryce Harper wants to live up to his upcoming mega-deal, here's how he can improve

Someone, somewhere, sometime soon is going to give Bryce Harper a *lot* of money. 

Whoever decides to pay Harper $330-350 million over the next 6-8 years will also look for a *lot* of return on investment, which stands to reason. Gone are the days of 10-12 guys getting massive, above-value contracts per offseason. Love it or hate it, fiscal prudency is all the rage in baseball, and teams are going to look long and hard before handing out the type of contracts that they were throwing left and right only half a decade ago. 

Because Harper exsists in the 1% of pro baseball players that are still going to get nine-digit contract offers, whichever fanbase he ends up playing in front of for 82 games a year will dissect his performance in a way that few players before him have experienced. Want to get Cubs' or Yankees' or Phillies' or Mystery Teams' fans off your back? Here's what Harper can improve upon during the first year of his new deal. 

Strike out less 

It's the goal of every pro baseball not named Mookie Betts or Jose Ramirez to cut down on the strikeouts, and while may be obvious to point out that it'd be nice if Harper K'd less, it should be noted that Harper was especially free-swinging last season. His K% was all the way up at 24.3 percent, his highest since 2014. He had 169 strikeouts in 2018, which is far and away his worst season in that regards. Ironically enough, his next-worst season was the 2015 campaign, when he notced 131. He also notched the MVP that season, so. 

Power hitters are going to strike out, especially in the increasingly-infamous Three True Outcome era. Minus a radical change to plate approach -- which NO team that's about to give someone 300 million dollars wants to hear about -- Harper's strikeout percentage is always going to sit in the low-20s.  With that said, there's a big difference between 20-21% and 24%, as you know, and only two hitters with higher wRC+'s than Harper also had higher K% -- Paul Goldschmidt and Brandon Nimmo. Even getting back close to his career average (21.2%) would be a win for him next year. 

Get better on the bases again  

Harper's bat grants him baserunning leniency, but it'd be nice if he got back at least not having a negative impact on the basepaths. According to FanGraph's baserunning metrics, it's been two years since Harper's been worth even one run on the bases. In his first five years with the Nationals, he was worth at least two runs four times - and even got above three twice. How active Harper is on the basepaths has a lot to do with whoever's his manager next summer, but he has the speed to at least be a plus runner. Does he need to haul down the line to beat out a grounder to 2nd in a late-August game in Texas? No. But considering only eight guys got on base more often than Harper did last year, it'd be nice to see him take some more chances with all the opportunities he's given. 

Get luckier 

This one only kind of counts, because obviously Harper has no ability to control the type of luck he gets. A lot of Harper's bizarre 2018 season stems from the fact that he was historically unlucky, especially in the first half of the year. His .226 BABIP during that stretch was 18th-worst in all of baseball, putting him with the likes of Texas' Joey Gallo and Baltimore's Chris Davis. He posted a .378 BABIP in the 2nd half, which is even better than his career average (.318). Not convinced yet? Harper hit .249, slugged .496 and posted a .376 wOBA. Per Baseball Savant, his expected results in those categories were .270, .506, and .398, respectively. He was a much better hitter last season than he gets credit for, and suffered because of a prolonged slump that looked bad in all the wrong categories. Even being a smidge more lucky over the first eight weeks of next year will go a long way.