Cubs

Cubs get 3B Stewart in four-player trade

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Cubs get 3B Stewart in four-player trade

Apart from several rumors, the Cubs were quiet during this weeks MLB winter meetings in Dallas and headed back to Chicago without any new additions to the club.

But just as the weeks events wrapped up, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer pulled off their first trade.

The Cubs sent Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu to the Colorado Rockies for third baseman Ian Stewart and pitcher Casey Weathers.

Were really excited for both of these guys, Hoyer said in a conference call after the move was made official. Stewart is the first guy we circled at the beginning of the offseason. He had a disappointing 2011 season, but has a ton of potential, provides a left-handed bat at third base and is affordable. We expect big things out of Ian.

Its a classic change-of-scenery move for two former first-round picks as both Colvin and Stewart suffered through dismal 2011 seasons.

Stewart volleyed between the Rockies and their Triple-A affiliate all season while Colvin spent his share of time at Triple-A Iowa and struggled to find his groove after an impressive rookie season.

Both players hit in the .150s last season (Colvin hit .150 while Stewart didnt fare much better at .156). Stewart did not hit a home run and Colvin managed just six in 222 big-league plate appearances.

At 26, the Cubs expect a rebound from Stewart.

A change of scenery can make a big difference, Hoyer said. I read a couple quotes from Stewart at the end of the year saying he did need a change of scenery but that he wanted to see things through in Colorado. I really respect that attitude that he felt like he wanted to make it work there.

I do think a change of scenery can work and were certainly hopeful it does.

Stewart, who was taken as the 10th overall pick of the 2003 draft by the Rockies, showed promise earlier in his career, slugging 25 homers and 70 RBI in just 425 at-bats in 2009.

The deal has been in the works for a few days, but was held up until Stewart could get checked out by the Cubs doctors after finishing last season with a wrist injury.

Our doctors were very thorough, Hoyer said. We consummated deal on Tuesday evening and we ended up flying Ian into Chicago to have him checked out. Everything looks very good. Hes been hitting off tees and hes been working out. The wrist injury that bothered him at the end of the year is cleared up and hes ready to go.

The Cubs project Stewart as the starting third baseman next year and are counting on a return to form. Hoyer cannot point to anything specific as to what plagued Stewart last season, but believes the young slugger was constantly changing his stance and pressing at the plate, something he also attributes to Colvins struggles with the Cubs.

With a guy like Stewart, we control him for 3 years, Hoyer said. Hes affordable. Hell play next year at 27. Well get three years at his prime when a lot of players come into their own. Theres plenty of examples of players like this -- like Stewart, like Colvin -- who have struggled in their 20s, had a poor season and bounced back. And were hopeful Ian is one of them.

The Cubs drafted LeMahieu in the second round of the 2009 draft and hes shown a good glove all over the infield as well as a career .317 minor-league batting average.

Weathers is another former first-round pick who turned in a solid 2008 season with Colorados Double-A affiliate (3.05 ERA, 11.0 K9) but had Tommy John surgery after the season and sat out all of 2009. Hes struggled since, posting a 5.32 ERA and 48 walks in 45.2 innings at Double-A last year.

Were hoping hes a change of scenery guy as well, Hoyer said. Hes shown glimpses of his talent, but he hasnt put it together. Were hopeful that our coaches and our staff can bring it out of him.

Including the David DeJesus signing last week, this marks the second move of the Theo era at Wrigley, providing a glance at the thought process the new front office has in trying to turn this franchise around.

With our first two moves, weve attempted to make the team less right-handed than it has been and weve attempted to add better defense, Hoyer said. \We feel pretty good with both the moves that weve made.

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.