Cubs

Cubs: Gary Sheffield sees Javier Baez taking game to next level in playoffs

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Cubs: Gary Sheffield sees Javier Baez taking game to next level in playoffs

NEW YORK – The Cubs wanted Gary Sheffield to see this prospect with boom-or-bust potential and played the video of Javier Baez on a laptop.

Sheffield met with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and then-manager Dale Sveum in an Opryland hotel room during the 2012 winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. They had played together for the Milwaukee Brewers, Sheffield taking over at shortstop after Sveum broke his leg in a devastating outfield collision in the late 1980s.

Sheffield got certified as an agent after playing 22 seasons in the big leagues and represented Jason Grilli, a reliever who interested the Cubs but would ultimately take a two-year, $6.75 million offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates and develop into an All-Star closer.

At a time when the Cubs wouldn’t spend big on free agents and needed to sell their vision of the future, Sveum gave Baez the ultimate compliment, saying Baez had Sheffield’s bat speed.

“I thought he had the goods then,” Sheffield said before Sunday’s Game 2 at Citi Field, where he’s working the National League Championship Series as an analyst for TBS.

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With all these young power pitchers, the New York Mets had been viewed as an obvious trading partner for a Cubs organization stocked with up-the-middle players. But within the last two years, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said there was never a point where he thought the two sides gained traction and moved that close to an actual deal.

“No,” Alderson said. “They’re probably happy they didn’t make a trade, and we’re happy we didn’t make a trade.”

It’s been a rollercoaster, but Baez is showing that he can play shortstop in October and deliver big postseason hits while Addison Russell is sidelined with a strained left hamstring.

Baez can be viewed as a player with a high ceiling and a low floor, which might make him difficult to move as a centerpiece if the Cubs try to trade for pitching this winter.

Baez is still only 22 years old, with a first-round pedigree and an intriguing skill set that made him Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect after the 2013 season.

“I see the talent, and it’s showing in these playoffs,” Sheffield said. “(It’s) just maturity. With some guys, it takes a little while. But to be at his age and be up here in this situation, he’s handling himself very well.”

Sheffield — who got on base almost 40 percent of the time, never struck out more than 83 times in a season and retired with 509 home runs — understood Baez would have to shorten his swing.

Baez can still look out of control at times, but he’s more streamlined and disciplined than the rookie who struck out 95 times in 52 games with the Cubs last year.

Manager Joe Maddon wanted Baez on the Opening Day roster, but the Cubs waited for a September call-up. Baez took an extended leave of absence following the death of his younger sister and then missed more time at Triple-A Iowa with a fractured finger.

“Of course, he’s definitely an everyday kind of player,” Maddon said. “There’s no doubt about that. You just have to wait your turn sometimes. I remember when Sandy Alomar was coming up and Benito Santiago was catching. You knew Sandy Alomar should be an everyday catcher, but Benito Santiago was in the way.

“You don’t want to hold somebody back too long, because at that point it can become a negative. But it’s not bad to hold somebody back just long enough in regards to him really earning his spot and making sure that he’s ready.”

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The San Diego Padres wound up trading Alomar after the 1989 season, and the Cubs could finally be nearing that tipping point with Baez or Starlin Castro, a three-time All-Star shortstop who’s reinvented himself as a second baseman.

This October has showcased Baez, Castro and Russell, how the Cubs are creating a competitive culture and positioned for future playoff runs.

“Guys have to be patient, keep playing, keep getting better, keep understanding the game better,” Maddon said. “The result is a better brand of baseball where you’re not just like force-feeding guys into a spot.

“They have a good month or two months — and all of a sudden they’re ready — and then you see the mistakes on the major-league level and maybe a watered-down version of the game. So I’m good with — if you have that kind of depth — making people earn their stripes.”

Scott Boras' history lesson illustrates why Cubs are unlikely to trade Kris Bryant

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AP

Scott Boras' history lesson illustrates why Cubs are unlikely to trade Kris Bryant

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As the Cubs move into a new era, the Kris Bryant Decision looms large over the entire organization.

Should they trade him now, two years out from free agency (or one year away if he actually wins his service time grievance)? Or is now the time for the Cubs to deliver a huge offer and lock him up long term?

Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, has been one of the most powerful men in baseball over the last couple decades and he's seen many teams go through the same dilemma the Cubs are currently weighing.

In encountering similar situations with players of Bryant's caliber (a former MVP and Rookie of the Year), Boras shed some light on how unlikely it is that the Cubs would actually wind up dealing him.

"Certainly every player I have that is at that level, they're always asking the question about, 'will they? Won't they? Will they trade him? Will they do it?'" Boras said. "And the answer to that is always: I can give you a percentage over a decade of how many of those players get traded and the answer is very low. If you think that much of him and to get something back for him with a limited period of time is always very hard."

He's got a strong point there. Bryant has a career .901 OPS and averages 32 homers, 92 RBI and 112 runs scored per 162 games over his five years in the big leagues. He proved that the lack of power and production in 2018 was injury related with a strong bounceback season this past year, finishing 14th in WAR in the National League while battling through a lingering knee issue. 

Bryant provides a ton of value to the Cubs and his presence on the roster increases the likelihood of winning another World Series over the next two seasons. In order to trade him, they would need a huge haul in return — a package of players that sets the franchise up for success the future without completely sacrificing the short-term and current window of contention. Will some team actually meet the Cubs' asking price?

The service time grievance is a major issue here, as the difference between one and two years of Bryant would be vast. Red Sox star Mookie Betts is a free agent a year from now and Boston is in a similar situation in that they're weighing a potential trade now rather than risk losing Betts to the open market and getting only draft pick compensation in return.

Boras pointed to how the Red Sox and Cubs both won World Series with Betts and Bryant earlier in their careers, leveraging the star players on cheaper deals to allow more resources to augment the roster around them. But now both guys are due a hefty sum of money in 2020 (MLB Trade Rumors estimates the arbitration figure to be $18.5 million for Bryant and $27.7 million for Betts) and it's time for each team to decide which path to go down.

The prevailing thought around the game is that Bryant won't win his grievance, which puts the Cubs in a different spot than the Red Sox in that they have two years of control left. That's key to either dangle in a trade or to allow more time for the two sides to reach an agreement on an extension.

"I've seen clubs take this decision on and it's often been a decision that they regret — whether they've kept him or whether they've traded him," Boras said. "Again, because they're great players, they're really key decisions."

If no team is able to — or decides to — meet the Cubs' price for Bryant in any trade talks, how likely is it the two sides would work out an extension that keeps him in Chicago beyond 2021?

Both sides waved off any notion that the service time grievance has done anything to damage the relationship between Bryant and the club, with Boras emphasizing that this was a "union matter" and was more about being an "advocate for the rights of players." Even if the arbiter rules against Bryant's grievance, it could still be a major step forward in changing the structure of free agency and service time for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In the matter of extension talks, Bryant and Boras are all ears.

"Look, we're open to talking with them and we've always said that to them," Boras said. "It's always been Kris' philosophy with the team. 

"I would certainly keep the terms and conditions of the contract negotiations private with the Cubs, but obviously it's always a fairness standard. You want what's fair for him and where he stands in the industry and that's true of any player." 

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Cubs continue behind-the-scenes makeover by hiring new scouting director

Cubs continue behind-the-scenes makeover by hiring new scouting director

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The Cubs are close to the point of the offseason where their sole focus will be on the roster.

As the final coaching staff comes together, the organization also announced their scouting director Wednesday, adding Dan Kantrovitz as the VP of scouting.

Kantrovitz, 41, spent the last five seasons as the assistant general manager to Billy Beane with the Oakland A's and previously served as the director of scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals for three seasons (2012-14). He is a Brown University graduate and also got his Master's Degree at Harvard.

Kantrovitz is a St. Louis native and was reportedly discussing a return to the Cardinals this winter before he took the job with the Cubs:

He was part of the Cardinals scouting department that drafted Jack Flaherty 34th overall in 2014, plus current Cubs reliever Rowan Wick in the ninth round (300th overall) in 2012 and has other successful high picks on his resume (Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, Luke Weaver).

"We're really excited to be able to bring Danny Kantroviz on board," Theo Epstein said Wednesday at the MLB GM Meetings. "To be able to hire somebody to run our drafts who's already held that position and already run successful drafts in the past, it's a unique opportunity. Guys don't usually go back once they reach the assistant GM level. But in Dan's case, he has just discovered that his passion is running the draft.

"It really fits the exact profile we're looking for. He can scout - he goes out and sees 200 players a year when he's running the draft - and he can really relate very well to scouts and he's also got experience building advanced analytical models and combining both those worlds in a really effective manner. I think he fills a big void for us and look forward to working with him for years to come."

Epstein also called the Kantrovitz hire a "best case scenario" for the Cubs as they reshape their front office infrastructure. In September, Epstein moved Jason McLeod from head of scouting and player development (the position he held since coming over to the Cubs after the 2011 season) into a special assistant role in the big-league front office and shook up the player development department.

They wanted a fresh perspective and new insight into the draft and developing players given the organization's inability to produce homegrown pitchers in the eight years under Epstein's reign. Kantrovitz is the guy they've chosen to now lead the scouting department and the hope is he's able to find more success in the draft.

"Dan is as qualified as maybe anyone out there in baseball to do [balance all the information on draft day] since he has scouted extensively and is on the road the entire draft season seeing players and has done so for many years," Epstein said. "He also is one of the top quants [quantitative analyst] in the game as well. Builds his own models and understands it on a granular level - not just to the R & D department, but being a part of it and not just relating to scouts but being one. He brings a really unique skillset and set of experiences to the position."

That's another big hire to check off the list for the Cubs as the offseason starts to heat up. Epstein and Co. can now turn their attention to fine-tuning the roster to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in 2020. 

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