Cubs

Cubs GM Hoyer: Time to be patient with Javier Baez

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Cubs GM Hoyer: Time to be patient with Javier Baez

As the Cubs lose patience with Starlin Castro, they don’t seem to be in a hurry to promote Javier Baez from Triple-A Iowa.    

Joe Maddon still hasn’t unveiled his big plans for the roster once catcher Miguel Montero (thumb) comes off the disabled list. But the manager has shared his ideas with Theo Epstein’s front office, thinking about ways to create platoon advantages, exploit matchups and give players extra rest (while keeping everyone relatively happy).

That could mean downsizing Castro’s role – at least from the All-Star shortstop’s idealistic goal of playing all 162 games every season. But it doesn’t sound like the Cubs are on the verge of a major shakeup that would involve adding Baez to run point on their middle-infield defense and give this lineup another potentially explosive bat.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“It’s (almost) a constant assessment,” general manager Jed Hoyer said before Thursday’s showdown against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field. “The biggest thing is his season’s been so truncated. He missed April, basically, and then he had the hand injury. I just feel like with those two things he hasn’t had a natural season. 

“We’d love to get him going – and not just a week-to-10-day hot stretch. But really let him establish (himself), get in a rhythm down there and get playing. That’s what we’re focused on now.” 

Maddon pushed for Baez to make the team out of spring training and didn’t win that debate over the former first-round pick who struggled to adjust to big-league pitching last year (95 strikeouts in 52 games). Baez took an extended leave of absence after his sister died in April and fractured his finger on a headfirst slide in June. 

[MORE: Are Cubs trying to phase out Castro at shortstop?]

Since rejoining Iowa, Baez is hitting .279 with three homers, 14 RBI and a .982 OPS through nine games. He’s also struck out 15 times in 43 at-bats. At the age of 22, he has the potential to become an elite defender at shortstop or second base.

Baez would have been a natural target in any trade talks with the Cleveland Indians (Carlos Carrasco) and San Diego Padres (Tyson Ross), but the Cubs didn’t land a building-block pitcher at the July 31 deadline.

“I have no idea what the future brings,” Hoyer said. “We can have an urgent need. But right now, I think we’re really comfortable letting him play. Just keep getting better in Triple-A and sort of provide some normalcy to a season that’s been kind of weird.”  

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.