Cubs could have a new Mr. October coming in Addison Russell

Cubs could have a new Mr. October coming in Addison Russell

Addison Russell can stand on his hands, do Ozzie Smith backflips and dance like Michael Jackson. That explosive athleticism allows him to make highlight-reel plays on defense — running, sliding, leaping — and profile like a middle-of-the-order hitter.

At the age of 22, Russell also has this incredible sense of calm in the batter’s box, an inherent quality that could turn him into a Mr. October for the Cubs.

Russell did it again with the bases loaded on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, lifting the two-out, two-run, go-ahead single into shallow left in the seventh inning of a 5-4 win over the San Francisco Giants. A quiet kid couldn’t help showing his emotions, pumping his fist as he ran toward first base and the crowd of 38,536 started shaking.

“I feel pretty confident there,” Russell said. “It’s more of a mental at-bat, so I just try to take my time. Just take a deep breath and just try to put the ball in play.”

Cubs players almost never wear Cubs gear outside of the workplace, but Russell is so young that he actually wore a white throwback Cubs hat out of the postgame clubhouse, like it was an updated version of the letterman’s jacket.

The Cubs can thank Jeff Samardzija and Billy Beane for their franchise shortstop and future MVP candidate on an All-Star infield already anchored at the corners with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Honestly, Russell couldn’t have envisioned his career going any better than it has since Theo Epstein’s front office pulled off that blockbuster Fourth of July trade with the Oakland A’s in 2014.

“I’m very happy that the Cubs organization gave me the opportunity,” Russell said. “I definitely wanted to take full advantage of it. And now that I’ve put my foot in and kind of made a splash in the big leagues, I’m just trying to keep pushing it.”

The Cubs made Samardzija work during his first Wrigley Field start in a road uniform, scoring three quick runs and forcing him to throw 47 pitches in the first inning. This has been an up-and-down first season of a five-year, $90 million contract for Samardzija and the Giants (72-61) — and this game would be no different.

Samardzija recovered to throw three scoreless innings and escape with a no-decision, leaving him on a pace for a good-but-not-great season (11-9, 4.06 ERA, projected 30-plus starts and 200 innings). And a Giants team that had the best record in the majors at the All-Star break — and has been baseball’s worst group in the second half — still finds itself right in the middle of playoff contention.

[SHOP CUBS: Get an Addison Russell jersey right here]

In Russell, the Cubs have a dangerous postseason hitter who’s already put up 19 homers and 88 RBIs this year. Remember, Russell missed last year’s National League Championship Series with a strained hamstring. Not that one rookie’s presence alone would have beaten the New York Mets and their power pitching and reversed a four-game sweep, but any talk about the lineup’s year-over-year improvement will have to include Russell’s emergence.

“I think I’m still developing, so there’s going to be some upside,” Russell said. “Especially with the young core that we have here, it’s going to be pretty good moving forward.”

With Samardzija knocked out early, Russell got jammed and still won his matchup against right-hander Cory Gearrin, the fifth of six relievers Giants manager Bruce Bochy used out of an expanded September bullpen. Russell notched his 11th game-winning RBI this season (10th at Wrigley Field) and finished with his team-leading 25th multi-RBI game.

“It’s the same Addie,” second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “That’s what makes him great in those situations — he’s the same guy. That consistency plays really big in those big situations. If you get too heightened, that’s when you make mistakes you wouldn’t normally make.

“He’s just been extremely clutch. And at home, I mean, you might as well walk him with the bases loaded. He’s been that good at getting those big hits for us.”

Russell is now 8-for-18 (.444) with 23 RBIs in bases-loaded situations this year, helping the Cubs chop their magic number to clinch the division down to 15.

“He has that nose for the RBI,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s working good at-bats. He’s not just chasing and opening up his strike zone. He’s really maturing offensively.

“He’s got extremely strong hands (and) he’s really strong from the fingertips to the elbows. That’s what you look for in really good hitters.

“Still, think about him in two or three years.”

The thought crossed Zobrist’s mind when he reported to Arizona, coming off a World Series run with the Kansas City Royals and meeting his new shortstop.

“In spring training, I think I told somebody that he’s a potential MVP type of guy,” Zobrist said with a laugh. “We got a couple different guys like that in this clubhouse, obviously. But I think he’s got the speed, the glove, the bat, the power — everything you kind of have to have to be that electric player. And he’s only going to get better. As long as he can stay healthy, the sky’s the limit.”

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures in rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a mere seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

NBC Sports Chicago

Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

SportsTalk Live is on location in San Diego for the final day of the MLB Winter Meetings.

0:00- Chuck Garfien, Tony Andracki and Vinnie Duber join Kap to recap the Winter Meetings. Tony was right-- the Cubs didn't make a move. Plus, should the White Sox have done more in San Diego?

12:00- Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons joins Kap and Chuck. The talk about the price for pitching and what the Cubs might do with Kris Bryant. Plus, Gammons talks about a text he received saying the White Sox were talking with the Red Sox about Andrew Benintendi and David Price. Would that make sense for the Southsiders?

20:00- White Sox World Series winning closer Bobby Jenks joins Kap to discuss his emotional article in The Players Tribune. They discuss his injuries with the Red Sox, the back surgery that almost cost him his life and then his downward spiral into addiction.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast