Cubs

Cubs finally starting to see ‘wins don’t just happen because you’re talented and you show up’

Cubs finally starting to see ‘wins don’t just happen because you’re talented and you show up’

WASHINGTON – If the Cubs hadn’t just won the World Series less than eight months ago – and Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon didn’t already have Hall of Fame resumes – this indictment would sound a lot like the team president putting the manager on the hot seat.

“I don’t think we’ve found our edge yet that we’ll need to play with to win games,” Epstein said after dumping veteran catcher Miguel Montero. “Wins don’t just happen because you’re talented and you show up.

“You have to come to the park with an edge every day and come together as a team every day and play to win. You have to play with a certain edge that we’re striving for as a group.”

It would look a lot like this 5-4 comeback win on Thursday at Nationals Park: Jon Lester delivering as the $155 million ace, a B lineup scraping together a two-out, three-run, ninth-inning rally against an awful Washington bullpen and Wade Davis slamming the door on a first-place team.

There are only so many buttons left to push and Epstein clearly wanted to rattle the clubhouse, because Jake Arrieta isn’t the sensitive type and didn’t really care about or disagree with Montero’s scathing comments about his inability to control the running game.

But for all the drama so far, the Cubs are 4-4 on a road trip that began with the Kyle Schwarber-to-Iowa news and now a game over .500 as the season nears the halfway point this weekend in Cincinnati.

“We’ve never been able to get on a roll, and with that comes that edgy kind of a feeling,” Maddon said. “We’ve underachieved offensively. And our starting pitching has not been as good as we thought. So we’ve been playing from behind a lot. It’s hard to create edginess under those circumstances.

“We’re missing some folks from last year, and we’ve been injured a little bit. So, again, I understand the comment. And to a certain extent I totally agree with it. But it’s not for a lack of effort or lack of caring.”

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With reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant resting a sprained right ankle, Jeimer Candelario launched his first big-league homer in the seventh inning off Joe Ross and started the ninth-inning comeback when Blake Treinen’s 99-mph fastball smashed into his left knee (the X-rays were negative).

“We got some underclassmen playing right now,” Maddon said. “We’re breaking in that group, so it’s different. It’s hard to accuse these guys of not quite getting it, because they’re still trying to figure some stuff out.

“There’s a difference from last year to this year, I think. And, again, in spite of all the maladies to this point, thank God we’re in this division right now."

The Cubs are running out of shock-value moves – and not playing like a team that will force the front office to pick up rental players or win an insane bidding war for a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Whatever that “edge” is, the Cubs will either find it and have Wrigleyville rocking in October or slowly turn this into a developmental season.

“We’re right there,” said Lester, who gave up one run in six innings and got the no-decision. “The record and the way we’ve been playing is not ideal. We all can admit to that here in this clubhouse.

“But at the end of the day, we’re one (Milwaukee) loss away from being in first place. That’s what you’re playing for during the season – to make the playoffs – no matter how you get in.”

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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Cubs add four players to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 Draft, including top prospect Miguel Amaya

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MiLB

Cubs add four players to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 Draft, including top prospect Miguel Amaya

In preparation for next month’s Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs have added four players to their 40-man roster. 

Wednesday, the Cubs selected the contracts of right-hander Tyson Miller and infielder Zack Short from Triple-A Iowa and right-hander Manuel Rodriguez and catcher Miguel Amaya from Single-A Myrtle Beach. The Cubs 40-man roster now stands at 36 players.

The Rule 5 Draft is Dec. 12 at the Winter Meetings. Teams can “draft” players from other organizations if that player is not on a 40-man roster and also matches one of the following criteria:

-If the player was signed when they were 19 or older, they must have at least four years of professional baseball experience

OR

-If the player was signed when they were 18, they must have at least five years of professional baseball experience.

Miller is a fourth-round draft pick from 2016. He went 7-8 with a 4.35 ERA in 26 starts between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa in 2019. The 24-year-old was much better with Tennessee (2.56 ERA, 15 starts) than with Iowa in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (7.58 ERA, 11 starts).

The Cubs drafted Short, 24, in the 17th round in 2016; he can play shortstop, second base and third base. He gets on base at a decent clip (career .377 OBP) but hasn’t had much success offensively (.241 career average) in his four minor league seasons.

The Cubs signed Rodriguez, 23, to a minor league deal in July 2016. He posted a 3.45 ERA in 35 relief appearance with Myrtle Beach in 2019, faring much better than he did in 2018 with Single-A South Bend (7.59 ERA, 32 appearances).

Amaya is the Cubs' No. 2 prospect and No. 90 overall in MLB (per MLB Pipeline). The Cubs signed him during the international signing period in July 2015, giving him a $1.25 million signing bonus. The 20-year-old posted a .235/.351/.402 slash line in 99 games with Myrtle Beach in 2019. His OPS jumped from .714 in the first half to .790 in the second half.

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